Lee Harvey Oswald in Minsk
Over its hundreds of years of existence, Minsk has been through, and continues to go through a lot. But one more unusual slice of history is of constant fascination to tourists to the city, and for American visitors in particular.
Between the years of 1959 - 1962, the city of Minsk was the home of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man believed to have assassinated John F. Kennedy. While Oswald died before he was able to appear in court or be officially convicted, four subsequent government investigations have concluded that Oswald was indeed the sniper who killed JFK on that fateful autumn day in 1963. The strange story of an alienated American man, who for a time defected to the Soviet Union, only to return to his home country and assassinate its President, is undoubtedly gripping one. And even today, the story is a favourite of conspiracy theorists - not just because Oswald was himself assassinated 48 hours after the death of JFK, live on network television no less.
The story of Lee Harvey Oswald in Minsk begins in 1959, when he arrived at the age of 19 in Moscow through a student visa he had obtained by submitting fictional university applications. Since his mid-teens, Oswald had developed a fondness for Marxist principles and even began to learn a little Russian. He arrived in Moscow looking to become a Soviet citizen, though his application was at first revoked. Russian authorities, and the KGB in particular, were skeptical of this sudden arrival of a former US Marine, though once they established that he appeared to be of little threat, Oswald was sent to Minsk to work.
Supplied with a fully furnished apartment in the city centre, Oswald was assigned to work as a lathe operator at the Horizon Electronics Factory producing radios, televisions, and other electronics. While he did remain under constant surveillance, Oswald lived a fairly normal life in Minsk and even married a local - Marina Prusakova. The young couple met in March 1961, and married in April of the same year, giving birth to their first child June in February 1962.
While Lee Harvey Oswald lived comfortably in Minsk, a veritable Soviet paradise he had seemingly always imagined for himself, he quickly became bored of the city, writing in his diary: "I am starting to reconsider my desire about staying. The work is drab, the money I get has nowhere to be spent. No nightclubs or bowling alleys, no places of recreation except the trade union dances. I have had enough."
In 1962, Oswald decided to return to the US, bringing along his wife and child. One year later, the American President was dead. Marina, now Marina Oswald Porter, continues to live in the Dallas, Texas area.
See For Yourself
There are a few curious sites related to Oswald available to see for American history buffs in Minsk, the most prominent being his former apartment. While Belarusians are still a little baffled by some tourists' curiosity towards this site (there is no signage or markers anywhere nearby), Oswald's apartment building is easy to find with a map of Minsk.
The former home of Lee Harvey Oswald is located just west of Ploshchad Pobedy (Victory Square), or directly across the Svisloch river from Yanka Kupala Park, at Kommunisticheskaya Street number 4. Some sources say his apartment was at the top right of the building, and others say the bottom left. If you want to take your curiosity even further, one company is offering short-term apartment rentals for tourists in the same building, using Oswald's infamy as some sort of bizarre marketing gimmick.
Another site on the offbeat tourist trail in Minsk, is of course the imposing building home to the KGB - the feared secret service that was keeping an eye on Oswald during his stay in Minsk. While Russia, and all post-Soviet countries for that matter, changed the name of their Secret Services after 1991, Belarus continues to, rather ominously, call its security and intelligence department the KGB.
You can find the yellow, columned Minsk KGB building just past Independence Square at Nezavisimosti 17. It is forbidden to take photos of this huge building, so unless you care for an uncomfortable talk with the KGB's security, it's best to keep your camera in your pocket!