Kennedy + assassination + Latvia

mamantovPresident John F. Kennedy was assassinated 54 years ago in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. I saw a headline that noted this fact and was taken aback. I have some dim childhood memories of the events surrounding this tragedy.
I decided to put kennedy+assassination+latvia in my search engine and was surprised by the result: several hits came up. I shouldn't be, but I continue to be surprised about the probability defying frequency of Latvian and Latvia connections, in almost any matter or subject.
Dorothy (Doroteja) Gravitis was seventy-four years old when she gave testimony for the Warren Commission. A week after President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, his successor, Lyndon Johnson, established a commission to investigate Kennedy’s death. The commission was led by Chief Justice Earl Warren (1891-1974). Her testimony was facilitated by translation by her son-in-law Ilya Mamantov, who had given his own testimony a month earlier in March, 1964.
According to her testimony she was born in Latvia and married in 1913. From 1915 to 1919 she lived in Petrograd (St. Petersburg, Leningrad) with her husband and later daughter. She returned to Latvia in 1919 with her daughter but her husband was not allowed to leave Soviet Russia until February, 1923. She taught mathematics and Russian in Zilupe. He was employed as a railroad station manager until 1941, when he was arrested after the Soviet occupation of Latvia. Mrs. Gravitis stated that she had recently received a letter from her sister-in-law stating that her husband had died in Siberia, without any further details.
In 1943 she left Zilupe, a small village that borders Russia and moved in with her daughter and son-in-law in Riga. They joined the refugee stream and fled to Germany in advance of the returning Red Army the following year.
Ilya Mamantov, his wife and her mother were all interned in the Guenzburg Displaced Persons (DP) Camp for Latvians. Even though he was an ethnic Russian he was active in the camp's self-government and Latvian Boy Scouts.
Ilya Mamantov was born in February, 1914 in Estonia. His family moved to Latvia during his childhood. According to his Warren Commission testimony Mamantov graduated from the University of Latvia and was also fluent in Russian and English. Mamantov, his wife and mother-in-law emigrated to the US and settled in Dallas in 1951. Mamantov, who studied geology worked in the local petroleum industry. Both Gravitis and Mamantov were active in the local Russian speaking community and he helped found the Dallas area Saint Nicholas Eastern Orthodox Church.
Ilya Mamantov had also came to know Jack Chrichton, who was a local reserve officer in US Army Inteligence and also worked in the petroleum industry. In fact, Chrichton help establish the 488th Military Intelligence Detachment in Dallas and served as the unit's first commander. Many of the unit's reservists were also Dallas police officers. Mamantov and Chrichton were both fervent anti-communists and traveled in some of the same circles.
On Nov. 22nd 1963 at around 5:00 pm Ilya Mamantov's life changed. He was called first by Chrichton and minutes later by Dallas Deputy Police Chief George L. Lumpkin.The police needed an interpreter in order to interview Lee Harvey Oswald's wife Marina, who spoke Russian but had limited English. She married Oswald during his short lived defection to the Soviet Union and immigrated to the United States with him. Mamantov was transported to police headquarters by a cruiser with sirens and lights. This wasn't so much a rendezvous with destiny but rather a rendezvous with the enduring Kennedy assassination conspiracy industry.
Mamantov was deposed by Albert E. Jenner, Jr., and Wesley J. Liebeler, assistant counsels of the President's Commission. Chicagoans will probably recognize the former. He was a name partner at the powerhouse law firm of Jenner & Block. The transcript is a bit confusing with Manantov recalling the police and FBI interview of Marina Oswald. He offered some personal insight in a few spots. He made a distinction between communists and nationality:
“As you know, Communists are in Latvia, Communists are in Russia, and Communists are in Germany, and nothing to do with the nation. I am using this as an occupational force I'll put it this way.”
Kennedy assassination conspiracy enthusiasts exploited the Mamantov angle. Various researchers have reached the most sinister conclusions, by suggesting that:
  • Mamantov and Crichton, who were acquainted shared a right-wing orientation centered in the Republican Party.
  • That Crichton was a central player in a military/intelligence conspiracy.
  • That there was a strong military intelligence and local police linkup.
  • That Mamantov's translations were skewed toward Marina implicating her husband in Kennedy's assassination.
  • That Mamantov knew James Herbert Martin, a purported associate of Jack Ruby, a stripclub owner who fatally shot Lee Harvey Oswald on November 24, 1963, while Oswald was in police custody.
  • That fleeing the Red Army made him a pro German fascist.
Ilya Mamantov had heard of Lee Harvey Oswald before that day in Dallas. The local Russian speaking community was small. His defection and quick change of heart and arrival with a wife he married in Minsk was beyond unusual and certainly suspicious. He was at the dentist's office when he heard the name Oswald over the radio. He felt compelled to call the FBI to report his limited information. That was a half-hour before the Chrichton/Lumpkin calls. He testified that, “I felt it is my duty to notify the FBI that I know of him and knew fairly well his background here in Dallas.”
I don't doubt that Ilya Mamantov was a strong anti-communist and deeply connected to Latvia. He also appears to have been a very descent person. His mother-in-law moved in with him and his wife in Riga, Latvia in 1943 during the German occupation and they lived together, through difficult times until her death in 1978.
Dorothy Gravitis' touched on some interesting and nuanced matters during her testimony. She was born in in 1890 and obviously was a strong-willed woman for her period. She was educated during the Czarist period and studied in Moscow. She was teaching in the port city of Ventspils, during WWI, when she evacuated to St. Petersburg, as the result of German military gains. She experienced the Bolshevik takeover in Russia and returned after Latvia achieved independence and continued teaching. She lived through the Soviet occupation of 1940, when her husband was arrested and simply disappeared.
Mrs Gravitis taught private Russian language sessions at the local Berlitz School. In addition, she took on teaching Mrs. Ruth Paine and came to somewhat know her. Ruth Paine in-turn was well acquainted with Lee Harvey Oswald and his wife Marina. Gravitis never met the Oswald's but spoke twice on the phone with Marina. She was suspicious and uncomfortable. She wondered how Marina Oswald was granted a Soviet exit visa. But, she was particularly concerned about what Marina told her about her American born husband. Based on one or more things that were mentioned, Mrs. Gravitis considered Lee Harvey Oswald to be particularly dangerous: a devoted communist without a party card:
 “I mean that this is the most dangerous stage, because this person or during this stage, they are spying on other people. They are spying on other people to gain personal reward from the communistic people ........ When I was  teaching from 1940 until 1941, people like this, who were in this particular stage, who were not yet members of the Communist Party, were spying on me, listening behind the door when I was teaching in the class, and this way it is my experience from that.”
I don't know what was gained from the recollections and insight provided by Dorothy Gravitis and Ilya Mamantov. Neither one had ever spoken to Lee Harvey Oswald. Their testimony is reflective of the Cold War and quite understandably their weariness of anything Communist or Soviet. Mr. Mamantov's grave marker prominently includes the inscription Latvia, even though he was born elsewhere. He also was loyal to his new homeland. He was part of the generation that believed they were duty-bound to warn the American public about the threat of Soviet Communism. ----  Artis Inka 
Laiks, Nr.23 (20.03.1968)

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