EXTRA NEW YORK LATE CITY EDITION
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 1958
East German Defects In Holland
Tunnel; Later Visits Mayor Wagner
State Department To Decide Fate
By Hank Dulgarian
From the Metropolitan Dispatch Bureau
NEW YORK, Sept. 17—–Gunthar Rheinhardt, 33, of Sangerhausen,
East Germany, here in the United States as part of a goodwill exchange
between the two nations, declared his intention to defect to the West
yesterday morning as traffic jammed in the Holland Tunnel, the result
of a minor vehicular accident. The international incident occurred four
vehicals behind the traffic accident at approximately 10:00a.m. Eastern
standard time near the halfway point between New York State and New
Jersey under the Hudson River.
Mr. Rheinhardt, a pianist, along with two unnamed East German musi-
cians, an unnamed East German security officer, and their host, Bernard
Bellinger, interim Executive Assistant to New York City mayor Robert F.
Wagner, Jr., were passengers in a private limousine traveling westward,
from Manhattan to Newark, to attend the opening of the ‘Berlin Club’, a
cultural exchange center, where Mr. Rheinhardt and his fellow musicians
were to perform; conversely, a trio of American musicians, representing
the U.S. in the program, were sent to Leipzig, East Germany to complete
the adversaries’ détente.
As the car the five men were traveling in braked for the accident, Mr.
Rheinhardt stated in English, “I want to defect. I want asylum.” Then, as
the vehicle came to a stop, Mr. Rheinhardt opened the back door nearest
him and stepped out, standing against the tunnel wall, arms folded. At that
moment the East German security officer stepped out and attempted to
wrestle Mr. Rheinhardt back into the limousine, but was intervened by Mr.
Bellinger who, with assistance from the limousine driver, reminded the East
German security officer that the situation was then a matter of international
concern, to be handled by the U.S. State Department.
As traffic resumed, Mr. Bellinger reassured Mr. Rheinhardt that he was,
“now in American hands until the matter could be addressed officially, and
according to protocol.” Then all four men returned to the limousine, where
upon it continued on to daylight on the New Jersey side, and then turned
around heading back into Manhatten, directly to City Hall. Mr. Bellinger
then escorted Mr. Rheinhardt to the mayor’s office, while the limousine de-
livered the East German security officer, and the two other East German
musicians, to the Soviet Mission to the United Nations, located on the
Upper East Side.
Mr. Rheinhardt was received by the mayor and his staff with open arms,
and was treated in accordance with international law, until the State De-
partment could take over the case. According to Mr. Bellinger, Mr. Rhein-
hardt seemed satisfied with his choice to defect, and was observed as
being relaxed, and relieved as he answered questions. Mr. Bellinger also
noted that Mr. Rheinhardt was overjoyed with the reception, thanking
everyone there repeatedly.
It is not as of yet known by this reporter how well the East German
security officer or the two other East German musicians were received
and treated by the Soviets upon their return to communist control.
Later when asked why he defected, Mr. Rheinhardt told a senior State
Department official, “I want to play jazz music the way it was meant to
be played—the American way.”
by John Patrick Seekamp, 2012