Lee Harvey Oswald and the Jews

Soviet Colleagues and Girlfriend Influenced Assassin of JFK

End of the Line: In Moscow in 1960, three years before he would assassinate JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald tried to kill himself, after which the KGB sent him to Minsk.
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End of the Line: In Moscow in 1960, three years before he would assassinate JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald tried to kill himself, after which the KGB sent him to Minsk.

By Peter Savodnik

Published October 10, 2013, issue of October 18, 2013.
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Oswald met other Jews at the factory, including Sasha Rubinchik, an engineer and one of his Russian tutors; Leonid Botvinik, a metal-lathe operator, and Maxim Prokhorchik, also a metal lathe operator, who later married German.

Many of the people Oswald worked with at the Experimental Department of the Minsk Radio Factory were partly Jewish. There were two reasons for this: elements of the huge, prewar Jewish community that had not been eradicated by the Germans, and anti-Semitism in Moscow, which fueled official fears of too many Jews working on important things related to the defense of the country (like rockets and radar systems) and channeled them into more bourgeois capacities, such as designing television sets. The Jews, like the Americans, had been consigned to a factory that made things the Politburo did not care that much about.

In his diary, Oswald, who had met few Jews in the United States, signaled that he was aware of religious differences. He spent most of his childhood in Louisiana and Texas, though he lived for a year and a half in New York. He called German a “Jewish beauty,” and there is a passage in his essay, “The Collective,” that describes the death camp in Minsk and a man at the factory with a brand on his forearm.

And there is even a vague suggestion in Oswald’s writings that he wanted to belong to this community, in so far as there could be said to be a Jewish community in a country that was officially godless. He enjoyed the sense of family — the Zigers often had him over for dinner, and the New Year’s Eve he spent with German and her extended family, replete with heavy drinking and dancing, was probably his most memorable night in the Soviet Union — and he admired Alexander Ziger’s and Rubinchik’s intelligence and culture.

Oswald had fashioned himself an intellectual before he arrived in the Soviet Union, and he frequented the opera and music conservatory, things that he almost certainly associated with Jews.

But Oswald probably did not appreciate the ways in which the Jewish sense of otherness shaped his thinking. In fact, this sense of otherness had made itself felt long before Oswald even knew there was a country called the Soviet Union. It was a random protester, demonstrating on behalf of the Rosenbergs, who first alerted him to radical politics.

This probably took place in late 1952 or 1953, when people were still protesting the Rosenbergs’ conviction and when the Oswalds were living in New York, where Lee would have been likelier to encounter a sympathizer of the Rosenbergs than in, say, Texas.


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