Lee Harvey Oswald in Russia
ABOUT THE PROJECT
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I was the first Westerner ever to interview Russians who knew Lee Harvey Oswald during his journey to Moscow and Minsk from 1959 to 1962. In some cases, not even the KGB had interviewed the witnesses I located.
When JFK was assassinated on November 22, 1963, I was seven years-old, living in Toronto, Canada.. I understood it was a momentous event because all the cartoons on TV were pre-empted for the next three days. The headlines in the newspapers that my father brought home were enormous and everybody talked of nothing else. In Toronto we received all the US television channels from Buffalo and Canadian TV covered the event extensively. On Sunday I was playing with some toy cars on the floor when I heard my cousins gasp in the next room as they saw Oswald shot dead on live TV.
I was probably around twelve when I
began to clue-in as to who Oswald was and the nature of the criticism leveled at
the Warren Commission Report. Soon after the House Select Committee on Assassinations
Hearings took place when I was in high-school and I followed the
proceedings. In the post-Pentagon Papers-Watergate era I avidly read
Kennedy assassination conspiracy literature, and found no reason to disbelieve
the various accusations.
Somewhere along the way I read Priscilla Johnson McMillan's Marina and Lee and Jay Epstein's Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald and became aware that Oswald had spent time in the country of my ancestors: Russia. In those pages I also learned that despite numerous requests, the Soviets had consistently refused to allow any Western government investigators, journalists, researchers or academics to interview Russian citizens who had contact with Lee Harvey Oswald. While we knew their names and faces from the letters and photographs seized by the FBI from the Oswalds, the witnesses themselves remained mute and unreachable behind the Iron Curtain.
In 1988 as Gorbachev began to liberalize the Soviet
Union, I made my first trips into Russia as a television documentary producer.
As I spoke Russian relatively fluently, I found myself frequently producing
documentaries in the Soviet Union on a variety of subjects.
In late 1990 I was sitting in some bleak Moscow hotel bar with my cinematographer Tony Wannamaker when the late night conversation turned to what I was planning to do next. I had no idea; but it made me think; and suddenly I remembered the "missing" Russian witnesses.
The idea of locating and interviewing the witnesses began to obsess me. I never undertook any research of my own in the area of the Kennedy assassination but I was familiar with some of the literature and was fascinated with the phenomena: the rumors of the Byzantine conspiracies, the stories of the murdered witnesses, and the special language of its own with terms like "grassy knoll", "magic bullet","umbrella man", "badge man", "babushka lady", "Frame 313." It was a world as remote and as mysterious to me as the surface of planet Mars. I saw a chance to take a voyage to this world and see things for myself -- wander into a territory unexplored and untouched by any previous investigators or researchers (other than the KGB, I presumed.)
Around that time private television
production houses began to be formed in the USSR, and having facilitated some things
for them in Europe, I found some in my debt. One such company,
a news journal called Vzglyad ("Viewpoint"). They asked what
could they do for me in the USSR in return for the help I had given them..
Based on the names and addresses I supplied to Vzglyad from Oswald's address book (as reproduced in the Warren Hearings Exhibit volumes) they began to search for the witnesses. Vzglyad was very well adapted for the task. In the winter of 1991, they were the showpiece of new Soviet media freedom. Often critical of official government policies, even though they were broadcast on state television (Gosteleradio), Vzglyad was often referred to as the "Sixty Minutes" of Soviet television. Vzglyad was also run by Misha Lyubimov, the son of Mikhail Petrovich Lyubimov, a retired senior KGB officer, who coincidentally, was stationed in Finland as the deputy of Gregory Golub, the Soviet official in Helsinki who issued Oswald's visa -- a KGB officer as well. (I did not learn this until much later.)
Around April 1991, I was contacted by Vzglyad and informed that they had located many of the witnesses I had been seeking in Moscow and Minsk. They urged me to come immediately as things in the USSR were going badly. Vzglyad had been summarily taken off-air and there was serious talk of an impending coup. (The coup attempt would actually take place in August--but failed.) I was told that this perhaps might be the only moment in history to slip through the bureaucracy and interview the witnesses. Vzglyad would contribute some $10,000 in services, such as hotel rooms, local transport, support crew, but I needed to raise another $40,000 for a primary crew, travel to the USSR, the broadcast-quality equipment with which to videotape the interviews and freight costs to ship it to Moscow. Remarkably, in a span of several weeks I was able to find $20,000 in cash from a private investor in Canada and the remaining $20,000 in equipment from an Italian television production company based in Venice -- Panavideo. My curiosity had a high ticket price -- $50,000.
In June we arrived in the USSR and videotaped the first series of interviews. The Western crew consisted of myself, cinematographer Tony Wannamaker, and my co-producers Sergio Pastrello and John Gundy. Through Vzglyad we had also applied to the KGB to view their files on Oswald but were constantly being stalled. In August, the attempted coup unfolded and collapsed and suddenly things began to open in the USSR. ABC-News which had more clout (and dollars) than myself or Vzglyad made the same request we did, and were quickly given a "peek" into the Oswald dossier in November 1991. In the meantime I had returned that same month and taped further interviews and would continue to videotape until May 1992. In the post-coup period, I found that many Russians were more open to speaking with me, than back in the spring of 1991 when I first began the project. It was in November 1991, when I finally convinced Marina Oswald's uncle, retired MVD Colonel Ilya Prusakov to allow me through his door. Although he refused to be interviewed on videotape, I spent an afternoon with him discussing his MVD career, his impression of Oswald and the chain-of-events. He was a gracious man, a veteran of the Second World War with a classic officers bearing. Shortly after my meeting with him, he passed away. I never got a chance to record a videotaped interview with him and I remain the only Westerner to have interviewed him about Oswald.
It was during this period also that I discovered numerous artifacts left behind from Oswald's sojourn in Minsk. I located and heard audio tapes of Oswald recorded in Minsk by his friend Ernst Titovetz. I also found a series of letters that Marina sent from the US to the USSR in 1962 and 1963 that contain descriptions of events back in Fort Worth, New Orleans, and Dallas -- fixed and frozen as if in a time capsule -- untouched by the post-assassination events which unfolded later. (And no doubt subject to CIA HT/LINGUAL intercepts.) There were many photographs, although none of Oswald that I had not seen before, and sad small artifacts left behind by Oswald -- books, a ceramic statue kept to this day by a woman he dated and the remains of the rotting wooden flower boxes on the balcony of his apartment, hammered together by him during his first spring in the USSR.
Most of the interviews took place in Russian. Almost every witness was videotaped for three or four sessions. I would attempt to first interview the witness without exposing them to any Kennedy assassination material or evidence, including even letters written by the witnesses themselves. This was not always possible, however, as some had followed the history of the assassination and read American materials translated into Russian over the years. In the second session, in order to jog their memory, I would give the witnesses an opportunity to view primary sources, such as Oswald's diary, photographs, letters, and other documents. In a final third session, I would expose the witnesses to some of the Kennedy assassination literature, to see if anything there might further jog their memory or give some kind of new context to the events they may recall.
I did not have then, nor do I have now, any theory. I came simply to collect information upon which I hope to some day base a conclusion. I did, however, in my questioning, probe in the various directions that some conspiracy theories proposed, such as the possibility of Oswald being an intelligence agent for either the US or USSR, his possible contacts with Cubans in Minsk, that he might have been brainwashed, trained, and even the possibility that there were more than one Oswald, that Marina Oswald might have been a KGB agent, or that Oswald was sent to specifically marry a Russian female, and even that he was the shooter exactly as the Warren Commission concluded.
Upon returning from Russia, I published a preliminary report of my research in The Third Decade (Vol. 8 # 4 May 1992 pp. 30-35.) When asked, I also shared my material with researchers: David Lifton, John Newman, Larry Schiller & Norman Mailer, Ray & Mary La Fontaine, Jane Rusconi, A.J. Weberman, the producers of PBS's Frontline, and Documentary Associates in Toronto, and others. But I take no responsibility for what they have done with it or how they chose to interpret my data.
As far as conclusions go, I disagree with everybody. And I mean everybody - from Warren to Stone. Nobody has yet, to my satisfaction, introduced a single credible, sustainable scenario explaining the events that unfolded in Dealey Plaza the day JFK was assassinated--paradoxically one of the most witnessed crimes in history. The key to the mystery remains buried with Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin of President Kennedy. I chose to look into a small part of his life-- just to see what is there out of personal curiosity and in the knowledge that nobody had been there before me. This website is the result.
Copyright © Peter Wronski 1991-2004