7: Contrasts Between the Oswalds

I’m a Patsy! by George de Mohrenschildt

Lee Oswald’s Soviet Memoirs

One day Lee brought to me typescripts of his experiences in Russia. He was interested in publishing them in a form of an article in a magazine or possibly to develop them into a book. A few typed pages, and poorly at that, in substance could not add much to what he had already told me. And what he had told me was of interest only to me, because I was familiar with the locale, but not to other readers. But it was important for him to get my recognition since he knew that I published many articles in Europe and in this country did some theatre reviews for the Variety Magazine. And so Lee sat on the sofa and looked hopefully at me.

“What do you think of this?” he asked.

“Remember I am not a professional writer, I was lucky enough to have had some articles published, your story is simple and honest but it is very poorly written. It is deprived of any sensational revelations and it’s really pointless. Personally I like it because I know Minsk, but how many people know where Minsk is? And why should they have interest in your experiences? Tell me!”

“Not many,” Lee agreed mildly.

I did not say, not to affend him, that his grammar was poor and the syntax was abominable. And those long, pompous words …

But that was the result of his poor, formal education. And the only things in his favor stood out — his sincerity and his obvious good will to inform correctly.

“If you add some sensational, detective story type details, a beautiful female spy, depraved, masochistic policemen, if you depict all Russians as degenerate monsters, then your script will be published.”

“No, thank you,” said Lee proudly. “I do not want to tell lies. My purpose is to improve Soviet–American relations.” And he added quickly, “People here should know how decent and generous Russians are. How well they treated me, a simple American ex–marine, with kindness and generosity — I did not find anything monstrous in Soviet Russia.”

“I agree with you personally. Also you talk about some individuals you met there. It’s good and factual, they are decent people. But who is interested in comrade this or that, in refugees from Argentina or in some cheerful Cuban students? Correct?”

Lee agreed and I handled him back his pages.

The same typescripts were shown me later for identification by the Warren Commission lawyer and they were printed in the Warren Commission Report. So Lee’s wishes came true after his death.

Lee Oswald’s Interest in Russian Literature

This was a period of relative tranquillity for Lee, as he was working for Taggart’s, developing and enlarging photos, posters and maps and he seemed to enjoy his work. But Marina was dissatisfied and complained to Jeanne again. “He comes home tired, hardly talks to me, only to the baby, then reads Russian books and is seldom tender and loving to me.”

Incidentally I never saw him interested in anything else except Russian books and magazines. He said he didn’t want to forget the language — but it amazed me that he read such difficult writers like Gorki, Dostoevski, Gogol, Tolstoi and Turgenieff — in Russian. As everyone knows Russian is a complex language and he was supposed to have stayed in the Soviet Union only a little over two years. He must have had some previous training and that point had never been brought up by the Warren Commission — and it is still puzzling to me. In my opinion Lee was a very bright person but not a genius. He never mastered the English language yet he learned such a difficult language! I taught Russian at all levels in a large university and I never saw such a proficiency in the best senior students who constantly listened to Russian tapes and spoke to Russian friends. As a matter of fact American–born instructors never mastered [the] Russian spoken language as well as Lee did.

The fact that Lee reserved Marina as a perfect Russian conversationalist for himself was foolish and selfish. Being in [a] close relationship with the Oswalds we noticed the signs of the coming disintegration of their already fragile relationship. Lee seemed to be fond of Marina but he mostly cherished baby June. Maybe he was too secretive a person to show his affection and Marina’s slavic nature demanded more attention and tenderness. But Lee never spoke badly to us about his wife, he never criticized her but neither did he ever express any deep feeling for her. Even in his typewritten memoirs he spoke very little of her.

Marina, on the other hand, annoyed and criticized Lee, due possibly to a perversity of her Russian character. “He is so puny, so dull, he never drinks, only works, tires easily, is only interested in books,” she complained to me and my wife. And she said that behind his back and obviously to him directly when we were to there. Never did we hear from her that she loved her husband. But there was nevertheless an element of strong attachment which tied together these two so different people, but we did not notice it at the time.

Lee was indeed all wrapped up in his work, books, his ideas on equality of all people, especially of all races; it was strange indeed for a boy New Orleans and Texas poor white family, purely Anglo, to be so profoundly anti–racist. “Segregation in any form, racial, social or economic, is one of the most repulsive facts of American life”, he often told me. “I would be willing any time to fight these fascistic segregationalists — and to die for my black brothers.”

He obviously intended to do just that, as we shall see from the later chapters and from Marina’s inscription on Lee’s picture. Warren Commission completely disregarded this unusual aspect of Lee’s character and eliminated my statement from the report.

Otherwise, we seldom heard from Lee much talk about women, Marina, on the other hand, spoke freely to Jeanne and to myself about her pre–marital experiences, her admiration for strong, sexy men. She spoke enthusiastically about the Cubans she met in Russia. “They were outgoing and gay. Often they carried their guitars with them, sand their catchy Carribean tunes, danced so well. They were such fun!”

This was an indirect criticism of her husband, who did not like music, except Russian folkloric sad tunes, who did not play any musical instruments and could not dance. And let’s face it he wasn’t particulary entertaining with her.

Lee Harvey Oswald’s Sense of Humour

Here I want to dispel once more the impression I may have given that Lee did not have a keen sense of humour. For instance I remember this one he told me. “A Russian doctor had a parrot who was able to say ‘how do you do’, ‘good night’ etc. One hot evening the doctor left the parrot on the windowsill to cool off. A Russian mujik [peasant] passes by and hears [the] parrot’s greetings. He takes his hat off and says: ‘excuse me, comrade, I thought you were a bird!’“

On American politics he expressed the following opinion. “Under dictatorship people are enslaved but they know it. Here the politicians constantly lie to people and they become immune to these lies because they have the privilege of voting. But voting is rigged and democracy here is a gigantic profusion of lies and clever brain–washing.“

Also he said something about FBI which did not strike me at the time as very clever, but history proved his judgement correct. “Knowledge is a great power, especially if you know it about very important people.” Obviously J. Edgar Hoover’s files must come to your mind.

Also he told me the joke which must have been circulating at the time in the Soviet Union, “A strip–tease joint was opened in Moscow for the tourists. It was decorated and run just like in Paris and lots of money was spent on this establishment. Yet it did not attract much trade. A state Economic Commission questioned the worried director. He explained: ‘I did my best, hired the best decorators, imitated a place in Paris.’ — ‘How about the girls?’ asked a member of the commission. ‘No trouble with them, they are all at least for thirty years good, party members.’“

Lee also liked jokes about southern hillbillies and rednecks but I cannot recall any of them not. He subscribed to Krokodil, a Soviet satirical publication, somewhat similar to the New Yorker or to the British Punch. Krokodil, which we often read together, featured mainly Russian self–criticism in the form of short stories or cartoons. Animals frequently featured local politicians, and in the manner of Krilov’s fables, emphasized the foibles of the Soviet bureaucracy. It also took swipes at the bourgeois world quite sharply.

Lee read Russian classics and discussed some at length with me, especially I remember The Idiot by Dostoievski, a psychoanalytical study. He understood the pre–revolutionary life in Russia, which I did not know but heard about from my parents. Russian classics belong exclusively to the pre–revolutionary or early revolutionary days and modern Russians are fascinated by those days of extravagant aristocracy, Tsarist power and abuses of it, great wealth and great waste, ownership of slaves, temporal strength of the Greek–Orthodox church — these aspects of the old days Lee observed with distaste but the elegance and the gaiety of the certain occasions gave him a feeling of nostalgia, as he were Russian himself.

Marina Oswald’s Interests

Marina did not care about any of this, she was a super–materialist, really destined by nature for the mediocre, middle–class American life: new clothes new buildings, plastic, neutral surroundings, tall, well–dressed men.

“Lee, when shall we get a car?” she kept on nagging. “Everyone here has one, even the poorest people!” And poor Lee even did not know how to drive a car. And when Marina was talking to Jeanne he said: “I never wanted a middle–class wife, mediocre, obscure, money–loving who would have the taste of vanity, of luxury, of comfort, of all that bourgeois nonsense.”

Well, you have one, I thought.

Marina liked wine, he objected to it. She smoked, he detested the smell of tobacco. So whenever she was without him she would become a chain–smoker, inhaling deep, asking for drinks, enjoying these forbidden pleasures. She called Lee, a slender, ascetic man, but by no means a weakling, a bookworm. He respected education and knowledge, especially in others, she was just the opposite; she didn’t value her degree as a pharmacist.

“It must have been difficult to get it?” I asked her once.

“Not for me, I got by easily, used ponies [sic] and passed my examinations,” she answered breezily.

But she would remember some handsome fellows she had met and shared [her] bed with, of real Soviet–type orgies. She confided in Jeanne. Those parties were organized in Minsk by richer sons of the bureaucrats who disposed of comfortable apartments while their parents were gone. The kids drank and slept indiscriminately. “This was terrific,” she reminisced. “And I also remember a handsome boy who instead of joining us on holidays would take a book and would go all day to the forest to study. Some people are crazy,” she concluded.

Lee Harvey Oswald and Religion

In my conversations with Lee, I found out that he was an open and straightforward agnostic. Religion did not interest him. He was that way probably since his early childhood. His agnosticism was of the type of Jefferson’s or Franklin’s — and it was fine. He was not an aggressive atheist who wanted to impose his point of view with violence. He must have read Toynbee and Bertrand Russell because his argumentation against organized religion was solid. One day he said, “The doctor sees a man at his weakest, the lawyer sees the man at his wickedest and the priest sees a man at his stupidest,” he chuckled. “I read it somewhere, it’s pretty good?”

Lee was always very humble with me and he really blossomed when I showed some interest in what he had to say. But aren’t we all the same way?

Only once, while discussing organized religion, he expressed his views with cold disdain. “What I dislike,” he said, “are the materialistic aspects of the American type religion, not all, but the large denominations with their ridiculously garish churches, their tax–deductible tricks and finagling.” Lee seems quite versed in the matter. Here he was rather instructing me. And I had to agree with him on the greedy aspects of our modern Christianity, so far removed from the original teachings of poverty and humility.

The Oswalds and the Russian Community in Dallas

I remember talking to my wife about Lee and she mentioned that we both treated him on a perfectly equal basis, and never scorned him, while other people who helped the Oswalds did it for Marina only or for the child. And Lee did not like any help, especially that type. He was occasionally rude to the people who interfered in their lives being intrisically a very independent, self–sufficient person. And so he began refusing invitations, which infuriated Marina.

Many local people, especially Russian refugees, resented Lee because he had deserted these United States, the “country of the brave and the free,” and many considered him an outright traitor. And he, a hundred percent, native–born American smiled and would say: “who are the real Americans? Only the Indians, Blacks and the Mexicans from the South–Western states, to whom this country originally belonged.”

We have a different attitude. We like young people who search to solve some problems which bother them. He disliked many aspects of American life and thought that maybe somewhere else it was better. Being with him took me back to my young days at the University of Liège, when we spent entire [sic] discussing various problems of life without any respect for the rules or for the establishment.

It was not the first time that he mentioned that he was disappointed in the Soviet Union because he did not find there his ideal of justice. “Maybe it does not exist …” he said sadly one day. “And so I came back.”

The narrow–minded people condemned him without understanding his motivations, without giving him a chance to explain himself. And later on our Dallas police let him die without explaining himself and telling the truth.

But we are talking of the year 1962 and of people he met then. Many resented him — and he answered in kind. And we were the only ones who took [an] interest in him and gave him a chance to express himself.

Marina Oswald and Religion

Since I had mentioned Lee’s agnosticism, let’s go back to Marina’s attitude towards religion. We were positive that at the time Marina was also an agnostic, even an atheist, after all she was brought up in Soviet Russia in purely communist surroundings. She did not have the slightest idea of God, not any interest in anything divine — or so it seemed to us. But soon she realized that being religious in the United States would help her, as it usually does. And so she had her child June christened later in the Greek–Orthodox church in Dallas during one of her separations from Lee. This exacerbated their conflict. He told her in our presence: “you doublecrossed me, you should have consulted me before doing this to my child. This is unforgivable!”

And so there was another element added to their disputes.

Personally I do not criticize faith or religion, but these should be true and profound feelings, not the outward manifestations. Lee’s faith, his strongest belief was — racial integration. He told me on many occasions — “It hurts me that the Blacks to not have the same privileges and rights as white Americans.” And I agreed with him. This was the time when Blacks had to sit at the back of the bus, couldn’t eat in restaurants or stay in the hotels and motels reserved for the whites. It angered and annoyed me. At the time I didn’t have many contacts with the Blacks, except with some artists, teachers and preachers. But in my profession I couldn’t afford to have Black friends often in the house, I would have been blackballed and eliminated from the competitive field. Fortunately now the situation changed for me and I am very happy.

Fights Between Lee and Marina Oswald

Lee also resented the poor care of his child. This led to frequent quarrels and recriminations. Gradually fights between the Oswalds became frequent and vicious. Marina would arrive by bus with the baby and would complain to Jeanne: “He beat me up again,” and showed bruises on her body to Jeanne and a black eye to me.

One day we visited them in their apartment on Elsbeth Street in Oak Cliff. It was on the ground–floor of a dreary red–brick building, the atmosphere of the house and the neighbourhood conducive to suicide. The living–room was dark and smelly, the bedroom and the kitchen facing bleak walls. But Lee was proud of his own place and showed me his books and magazines as well as some letters from Russia which we read together. The place was spruced up by the lovely photographs of the Russian countryside taken by Lee there and later enlarged by him. Trees and fields, charming peasant huts and cloudy skies contrasted strangely with the dreary walls and the lugubrious atmosphere. Some pictures were framed by Lee, others unframed were assembled carefully in an album. I also remember artistically taken pictures of Moscow and Leningrad, especially of the river Neva which I also slightly remembered from my childhood. He was happy to have access to elaborate photographic equipment. “Look at these churches, look at these statues,” he exclaimed proudly. Indeed almost all his pictures had a professional touch, he was justly proud of them.

While Lee and I were chatting on that moth–eaten sofa of his in the living–room, Marina invited Jeanne to come to the kitchen. There she cried and showed an infected spot on her shoulder. “The son of the bitch caught me smoking and he grabbed the cigarette and put it out on my bare flesh.”

“This is terrible, this is terrible,” shouted Jeanne, coming out of the kitchen. “Lee, what have you done to your wife?”

“Well, she smoked against my orders,” he said sullenly.

“You lived abroad only two years and picked up those customs,” Jeanne attacked him. “You could not have picked up this brutality in Russia where women are independent. And here you have no right to brutalize a woman just because she smokes occasionally.”

Right there we discussed with them very frankly their growing antagonism and tried to find a solution to it. We came up with an idea of a temporary separation but let it up to them. “Take it easy,” I told Lee, “and stop abusing your wife.”

“But she enjoys brutality,” he answered calmly. “Look at me. I am all scratched up.” Indeed, even in the darkish room we could see long red marks on his face — traces of Marina’s fingernails. “She is provoking me,” he added sadly.

“Still it’s no excuse,” I said. “Your temperaments obviously clash — it’s another reason for separation.”

The Oswalds remained silent, wrapped up in their misery.

“Do it,” said Jeanne, “before you really hurt each other. And you Lee are responsible because you are stronger.”

“Man, that woman loves to fight,” countered Lee seriously.

Marina and Jeanne went back to the kitchen where Marina cried on my wife’s shoulder. On the way home Jeanne related the complaints. “He is cold and hostile,” said Marina. “He goes to bed with me so rarely now. Once in a couple of weeks. He makes me so god–damn frustrated.”

Jeanne was amused by such frank revelation but could not find a better solution for Marina than advising her to be more feminine, use some perfume in the evening and occasionally put on a sexy, transparent negligée.

June Oswald and Nikita Khrushchev

But before leaving I remember taking a close look at baby June, laying in her crib, rather fat and not being able yet to say a word. “She reminds me of someone, of some celebrity.” I said.

And then the answer came to me. “Look at June,” I shouted. “Look she is a baby edition of Nikita Krushchev!”

I did not mean it as an insult, just the opposite. I rather liked that outgoing, earthy old man, and so did the Oswalds. So we all laughed and assembled around the crib, examining the baby. “Same pinkish color of the skin,” observed Jeanne. “Same rare, fluffy hair,” said Marina. “Same round Russian face,” agreed Lee smilingly.

And so we left that evening advising our young friends to talk over their problems and to stop torturing each other. Whatever their decision would be, we would be glad to help them in any way we could.

Driving back from the Oswalds we spoke of their problems and laughed [sic] June–Krushchev comparison. “Yes, the baby has the same slanting eyes and the same belligerent expression,” said Jeanne, “how come I did not notice it before?”

Yes, June was not a pretty baby at the time but perfectly normal and healthy. We have not seen her lately, for reasons I shall explain, but I am sure she grew up to be a lovely young girl. She has a step–father and knows probably little or nothing about her real father. And we remember with sadness how much Lee was devoted to her. “He is an unusually loving and tender father,” I mused aloud while driving.

“And he has a very good heart,” said Jeanne, “Look how much our dogs love him.”

“It’s so touching when Lee kisses June and calls her ‘moia malenkaia devochka’ [my little girl]. And never gets mad at her,” I concluded while we approached our house.