The Independent, 21.04.2013


Hello Lenin! How the 'Red Elvis' went East

Book traces fate of Cold War defectors who went the 'wrong way'

With his wavy hair and raunchy stage voice, Dean Reed was feted by the rulers of communist East Germany as socialism's answer to Elvis Presley. He was one of the most famous Westerners to defect to the East during the entire Cold War. Yet Reed, an American singer with socialist convictions who moved to East Berlin in 1973, was not an isolated case among the disgruntled Westerners who defected the "wrong way" during Europe's post-war division.

Where Is Lieutenant Adkins?, a new book by the German author Peter Köpf, reveals that there were hundreds of Dean Reeds. Most were British, American and French Nato soldiers who fled East while serving in West Germany during the Cold War. Köpf traces the fates of many of the more than 200 who defected east in the 12 years before the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. "This corrects our picture of history which holds that it was mainly soldiers from the East who escaped to the West," the author told The Local, a German website.


The author was able to find and interview only one former US army defector who went East. Victor Grossman still lives in Berlin. Born Stephen Wechsler, he joined the US army at the height of the McCarthy era, having lied to the authorities about his membership of leftist organisations. He defected to East Germany from his unit in Nuremberg in 1951 and subsequently worked as a journalist for the communist regime. In 1994, the case against him was closed and he was able to travel to America and obtain an official army discharge.

Grossman is one of the few defectors whose story did not end in tragedy. Even Dean Reed, the "Red Elvis" of the East, committed suicide. His body was found in an East Berlin lake in 1986 three years before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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