Lee Harvey Oswald in Russia
The Lee Harvey Oswald Minsk Audio Tapes Video Segment Copyright © Peter
Ernst Titovetz plays the tape, Minsk, May 1992.
When Lee Harvey Oswald arrived in Minsk in the winter of 1960, Ernst Titovetz was a medical student avidly studying English. Through mutual friends from the television factory where Oswald worked, Titovetz met Oswald. Titovetz and Oswald became friends and often went out together in search of female company. Titovetz wanted to learn how to speak English as a native American speaker and one day in the summer or autumn of 1960, invited Oswald to a language lab with reel-to-reel audiotape recorders at the Minsk Foreign Languages Institute. There Titovetz recorded a series of tapes, for the purpose, he says, of studying Oswald's accent and pronunciation.
When I met Titovetz in 1991 he was a senior medical scientist . Despite his academic success, he appeared bitter and deeply suspicious. Although he told us of the recording sessions, when I asked about what happened to the tapes, he was vague. It would take nearly a year before Titovetz revealed that he indeed had the audio recordings. Convincing him to play the tapes for me and to allow me to sample a minute portion took several more months. Titovetz believes, and perhaps rightly so, that the tapes are very valuable and fears playing them or revealing too much of their content. Titovetz played the tapes for me in return for my mediating the use of his tapes by PBS's Frontline documentary on Oswald (1993). He did not allow me to take any notes and aside from the 30 seconds I was allowed to record on video, I could not copy the tapes.
The majority of the nearly two hours of audio recordings consisted of Oswald reading from text books, college guides, works of literature, and other reading material found at the language school. Oswald read from works of Shakespeare, Faulkner, and I remember him in particular reading a passage from The Killers by Hemingway. Several segments consisted of Oswald and Titovetz improvising a press interview. Although one should not make more out of this than necessary, Oswald did present himself as an assassin in the mock interview. The Frontline documentary used that particular portion of the tape, where Oswald is asked by Titovetz why he's under arrest, and he replies: "I killed some derelicts on the Bowery. I killed them with a machinegun. Then I killed a woman on a bridge carrying a loaf of bread."
"Why did you do that?" "I wanted her bread," Oswald retorts.
But the sense of the improvisation was very light and playful - there was no sense of intensity or brooding menace. Oswald sounds boyish and his assassin fantasy is offered in a very sophomoric and light-hearted tone.
The significance of these tapes are twofold. Firstly, since we have voice recordings of Oswald from 1963 (from after his arrest and from the radio interview he did in New Orleans in the summer) the Minsk tapes offer us a possibility to voice-print identify Oswald between 1960 and 1963. This would lay to rest any theories that Oswald was substituted in the Soviet Union - at least from the summer-autumn of 1960. The Oswald in the Minsk tapes is with little doubt the same Oswald from the 1963 recordings.
Secondly, the tapes are a rare glimpse into Oswald's reading disability. Even in the short portion on this web page, we can hear how Oswald has dyslexic obstacles in his attempt to read the word "matriculate." And for those who wonder how is it that Oswald sometimes can write well, while at other times his spelling is completely mangled, we hear in Oswald's own voice the obvious solution: "I'll look that one up," he says.
I had hoped that there might be some samples of Oswald speaking Russian on the tapes, so that we can once and for all resolve just exactly how well did Oswald speak Russian. The fact that there was no Russian spoken by Oswald on the tape, supports Titovetz's assertion that the tapes were made for the purpose of studying Oswald's accent.
Lee Harvey Oswald in Russia
An Unauthorized History from the Kennedy Assassination
Lee Harvey Oswald Minsk Audio Tapes
Copyright © Peter Wronski 1991-2004