September 7, 2017

1949. U.S. Officials Appeal to Soviets to Release Two American Youths

East Germany Drifts Further Into the Soviet Military Sphere
The Soviet side of the Helmstedt-Marienborn border crossing at the end of the Berlin Blockade, May 12, 1949 (Photo by Walter Heilig – source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

August 29, 1949

The British-licensed German press service this morning says that the Soviet Union has ordered the East German railroad directorate to make immediate plans to widen their roadbeds to conform with the wide-gauge rail system used in Russia.

This report, if true, would mean that the USSR is planning to move its strategic communications further westward than any time in history, and would be the most decisive step toward incorporating Eastern Germany into the Russian military sphere since the end of the war.

The German press service said that Soviet authorities were interested in getting their wide-gauge rail system into German industrial centers in order to facilitate delivery of reparations goods and simplify trade with the Iron Curtain countries. The Russians already are believed to have at least one wide-gauge line across Poland running to Küstrin on the east bank of the Oder river, near Frankfurt on Oder.

At this point, East-West rail traffic must change over because of the difference in the gauges of the tracks, causing much delay in movement of Soviet occupation troops and much difficulty in the trans-shipment of supplies.

General George P. Hays is sending a second note to Soviet authorities today demanding that the Russians release two youths believed to be the University of Pennsylvania students missing for a month on a bicycle tour of Germany.

General Hays says he is reasonably certain the young men are Warren Oelsner and Peter Sellers, who were believed to have been arrested by Soviet authorities when the two bicyclists tried to travel from Hamburg to Berlin without the proper credentials. They are said to be held in a village near Lübeck.

Hays said that the Russians have officially referred to the youths as hostages, although they implied that the students would be returned if American authorities turn over three Soviet deserters said to be in our hands.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

September 10, 1949

High Commissioner John McCloy has intervened personally in an attempt to obtain the release of two Pennsylvania students being held by the Russians, it is revealed today, but thus far General Vasily Chuikov, Soviet military governor of Germany, is giving McCloy the silent treatment.

The American High Commissioner's office this morning released the text of a letter McCloy dispatched to the Russian general five days ago asking for the release of Warren Oelsner and Peter Sellers, who were arrested June 30 when they attempted to bicycle from Hamburg to Berlin without the proper permits.

McCloy's letter is the second official appeal to the Russians. An earlier letter sent by General George Hays three weeks ago also is unanswered. The American High Commissioner told General Chuikov that "I feel you would wish to know that the detention of these two individuals by the Soviet military authorities has resulted in wide publicity in the United States and is creating a very bad reaction against the Soviet Union among the people of the United States."

The letter continues: "The arbitrary detention of these two individuals by the Soviet military authorities for no other reason than their lack of proper documentation has created the impression that the Soviet military authorities are holding these two individuals as hostages for the return of deserters from the Soviet army."

Oelsner is 21 and lives in Oyster Bay, New York. Sellers is 19 with his home in Radnor, Pennsylvania. The chief of the American liaison mission with the Russians, General Walter W. Hess, was permitted to see the two youths earlier this week. They are being held near the British-Soviet sector border near Hamburg. General Hess says they are in good health and are not being mistreated.

Down in Bavaria, German authorities have arrested Hermann Esser, the fugitive former Bavarian economics minister under Hitler. Esser was picked up when he contacted a local publisher about printing a book he had just completed. The name of the book was to be "Adolf Hitler, the Great Lover."

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.