Before Lee Harvery Oswald became the assassin who shot President John F. Kennedy, he defected to the then USSR. Soviet authorities found Oswald a job at a radio and tv factory in Minsk and gave him an apartment in the center of town.
The BBC's David Stern recently went to Minsk and spoke with some of Oswald's old friends, who still remember him fondly. Their picture of the man is surprising.
Oswald was the first American that most people in Minsk had met, so he became a minor celebrity there, says Stern. Inna Markava met Oswald when she was a student and remembers him as someone who would laugh unusually loudly in public.
After a while, many grew tired of Oswald, when they realized there wasn’t much more to him, says Stern.
So, what did his Minsk friends make of the JFK assassination? "They just couldn’t believe Oswald did it, and mostly still can’t," says Stern. In fact, he couldn’t find a single person in Minsk who believes it was Oswald who killed Kennedy.
America was mostly an unknown for Minsk citizens back then. One of Oswald’s best friends, Ernst Titovets, told Stern that he knew nothing about the US at the time, as if it was a country of ghosts and the only real person was Lee.
“Suddenly it turned out that those ghosts were dangerous, and the real person I knew was assassinated also,” said Titovets. He deeply believes that Oswald was innocent: “He was incapable of killing anybody.”
Stern was surprised in Minsk when a former coworker of Oswald’s, Vladimir Zhidovich, asked the BBC reporter whether he would put some flowers on Oswald’s grave for him.
Zhidovich remembered Oswald as a “good guy.” Stern didn’t know what to say, so he thought about the heartfelt request for a while, and decided, in the end, that he just couldn’t do it.
PBS Frontline has a documentary on Lee Harvey Oswald.
Editor's Note: This article was updated to remove the word "Russians."