|Supposed portrait of B. Traven
(Traven Torsvan, 1926)
|Born||February 23, 1882
February 25, 1882 ?
May 3, 1890 ?
|Died||March 26, 1969 (aged 87)?
Mexico City, Mexico
|Citizenship||Mexico (from 1951?)
before this U.S?
|Notable work(s)||The Death Ship
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
The Jungle Novels
|Spouse(s)||Rosa Elena Luj¡n (1957-1969)?|
B. Traven (February 23, 1882?, February 25, 1882?, May 3, 1890? – March 26, 1969?) was the pen name of a writer who wrote his books originally in the German or English language and whose real name, nationality, date and place of birth and details of biography are unknown or are subject of dispute among literary scholars. What is only certain is that B. Traven lived for the most part of his life in Mexico, where the action of the majority of his novels and short stories is also set. There are many, sometimes fantastic, hypotheses on the true identity of B. Traven. Scholars usually identify him with the theatre actor and anarchist known as Ret Marut, who lived in Germany in the early 20th century and who supposedly left Europe for Mexico around 1924. There are also speculations that Traven's real name was Otto Feige and that he was born in Schwiebus, modern day Åšwiebodzin in Poland. In his biographies, Traven is most often identified with two figures: Berick Traven Torsvan and Hal Croves, both of whom appeared and acted in different periods of the writer's life. However, the persons who passed themselves off as Torsvan and Croves always denied being Traven and claimed that they were only Traven's agents, representing him in contacts with his publishers.
B. Traven is the author of twelve novels, one book of reportage and several short stories, in which the sensational and adventure subjects combine with a critical attitude towards capitalism, betraying the socialist and even anarchist sympathies of the writer. B. Traven's best known works include the novels The Death Ship from 1926 and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre from 1927, in 1948 filmed by John Huston, and the so-called Jungle Novels, also known as the Caoba cyclus (from the Spanish word caoba, meaning mahogany), a group of six novels (including The Carreta, Government), published in the years 1930-1939, set among Mexican Indians just before and during the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century. B. Traven's novels and short stories became very popular as early as the interwar period and retained this popularity after the war; they were also translated into many languages. Most of B. Traven's books were published in German first, their English editions appeared later; nevertheless the author always claimed that the English versions were the original ones and that the German versions were only their translations. This, like most details of B. Traven's biography, is a subject of controversy.
The writer with the pen name B. Traven, previously completely unknown, suddenly appeared on the German literary scene in 1925, when the Berlin daily Vorwrts, the organ of the Social Democratic Party of Germany published the first short story signed with this pseudonym on 28 February 1925. Soon, the newspaper also published Traven's first novel: Die Baumwollpflcker (The Cotton Pickers), which appeared in installments in June and July of the same year. The expanded book edition was published in 1926 by the Berlin based Buchmeister publishing house, which was owned by the left-leaning, trade unions affiliated book sales club Bchergilde Gutenberg. The title of the first book edition was Der Wobbly, which was a common name for members of the anarcho-syndicalist trade union Industrial Workers of the World; in later editions the original title Die Baumwollpflcker was restored. In the book, Traven introduced for the first time the figure of Gerald Gales (in Traven's other works his name is also Gale, or Gerard Gales), an American sailor, who looks for a job in different occupations in Mexico, often consorting with suspicious characters and witnessing capitalistic exploitation, nevertheless not losing his will to fight and striving to draw joy from life.
In the same year (1926), the book club Bchergilde Gutenberg, which was Traven's main publishing house until 1939, published his second novel Das Totenschiff (The Death Ship). The main character of the novel is again Gerald Gale, a sailor who, having lost his documents, also virtually forfeits his identity, the right to normal life and home country and, consequently, is forced to work as a stoker's helper in extremely difficult conditions on board a "death ship" (meaning a coffin ship), which sails on suspicious voyages around the European and African coasts. The novel, which, according to the author, was first written in English and only later translated by him into German, is an accusation of the greed of capitalist employers and bureaucracy of officials who deport Gale from the countries where he is seeking refuge. In the light of findings of Traven's biographers, The Death Ship may be regarded as a novel with autobiographical elements. Assuming that B. Traven is identical with the revolutionary Ret Marut, there is a clear parallel between the fate of Gale and the life of the writer himself, devoid of his home country, who might also have been forced to work in a boiler room of a steamer on a voyage from Europe to Mexico.
Traven's best known novel, apart from The Death Ship, was The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, published first in German in 1927 as Der Schatz der Sierra Madre. The action of the book is again set in Mexico, and its main characters are a group of American adventurers and gold seekers in this country. In 1948 the book was screened under the same title (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) by the Hollywood director John Huston. The film, starring Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston, was a great commercial success, and in 1949 it also won three Academy Awards.
The figure of Gerald Gales returned in Traven's next book – The Bridge in the Jungle (Die Brcke im Dschungel), which was serialized in Vorwrts in 1927 and published in an extended book form in 1929. In the novel, Traven first dealt in detail with the question of the Indians living in America and the differences between Christian and Indian cultures in Latin America; these problems also dominated his later Jungle Novels.
In 1929 B. Traven's most extensive book The White Rose (Die Weie Rose) was published; this was an epic story (supposedly based on facts) of stealing land of its Indian owners, which was taken over by an American oil company. According to some sources, the title of the book could have been the inspiration for the name of the anti-Nazi student organization White Rose, active in Munich during the Second World War, whose members were executed in 1943.
The 1930s are mainly the period in which Traven wrote and published the so-called Jungle Novels – the series of six novels consisting of The Carreta (Der Karren, 1931), Government (Regierung, 1931), March to the Monteria (Der Marsch ins Reich der Caoba, 1933), Trozas (Die Troza, 1936), The Rebellion of the Hanged (Die Rebellion der Gehenkten, 1936), and The General from the Jungle (Ein General kommt aus dem Dschungel, the Swedish translation was published in 1939, the German original appeared in 1940). The novels describe the life of Mexican Indians in the state of Chiapas in the early 20th century, who are forced to work in inhuman conditions at clearing mahogany in labour camps (monterias) in the jungle, which results in a rebellion and the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution.
After the Jungle Novels, B. Traven practically stopped writing longer literary forms, publishing only short stories, including the novella or Mexican fairy tale Macario, which was originally written in English but first published in German in 1950. The story, whose original English title was The Healer, was honored by The New York Times as the best short story of the year in 1953.
Traven's last novel, published in 1960, was Aslan Norval (so far not translated into English), the story of an American millionairess, married to an aging businessman and at the same time in love with a young man, who is going to build a canal running across the United States as an alternative for the nuclear arms race and space exploration programmes. The subject and the language of the novel, which were completely different from the writer's other works, resulted in its rejection for a long time by publishers, who doubted Traven's authorship; the novel was also accused of being "trivial" and "pornographic". The book was only accepted after its thorough stylistic editing by Johannes Schnherr, who adapted its language to the "Traven style". Doubts about Aslan Norval still remain and make the problem of the writer's identity and the true authorship of his books even more obscure.
Apart from the above twelve novels, B. Traven is also the author of many short stories, some of which have never been published. Besides the already mentioned Macario, the writer adapted for example the Mexican legend about The Creation of the Sun and the Moon (Sonnen-Schpfung, first published in Czech translation in 1934, the German original appeared in 1936). The first collection of Traven's short stories entitled Der Busch appeared in 1928 (its second, enlarged edition was published in 1930), from the 1940s onwards many of his short stories also appeared in magazines and anthologies in different languages.
A separate position in Traven's oeuvre is The Land of Springtime (Land des Frhlings) from 1928, a travel book about the Mexican state of Chiapas, and in reality the presentation of the leftist and anarchist views of the writer on the contemporary world. The book, published by Bchergilde Gutenberg like his other works, contained 64 pages of photographs taken by B. Traven himself.
B. Traven's works can be best described as "proletarian adventure novels". They tell about exotic travels, outlaw adventurers and Indians; many of their motifs can also be found in Karl Mays and Jack Londons novels. Unlike the majority of adventure or western literature, Traven's books, however, are not only characterized by a very detailed description of the social environment of their protagonists but also the consistent presentation of the world from the perspective of the "oppressed and exploited". Traven's characters usually come from the lower classes of society, from the proletariat or lumpenproletariat circles, they are more antiheroes than heroes, and despite that they have this primal vital force which compels them to fight. The notions of "justice" or Christian morality, which are so visible in adventure novels by other authors, for example Karl May, are of no importance here.
Instead, there is usually an anarchist element of rebellion in the centre of the action of the novel. It always results from the rejection of the degrading living conditions of the hero, and it is always the oppressed who make themselves liberated or at least are trying to achieve this. Apart from that, there are virtually no political programmes in Traven's books; the clearest manifesto which ever appeared in his books is maybe the general anarchist demand "Tierra y Libertad" in the Jungle Novels. Professional politicians, including the ones who sympathize with the left, are usually shown in negative light; if they are mentioned at all, they usually play the roles of black characters. Despite this, Traven's books are par excellence political works. Although the author does not offer any positive programme, he always indicates the cause of suffering of his heroes. This source of suffering, deprivation, poverty and death is for him capitalism, personified in the deliberations of the hero of The Death Ship as Caesar Augustus Capitalismus. Traven's criticism of capitalism is, however, free of blatant moralizing. Dressing his novels in the costume of adventure or western literature, the writer tries to appeal with them to the less educated, first of all the working class.
In his presentation of oppression and exploitation, Traven did not limit himself to the criticism of capitalism, in the centre of his interest there were rather racial persecutions of Mexican Indians. These motifs, which are mainly visible in the Jungle Novels, were a complete novelty in the 1930s. Most leftist intellectuals, despite their negative attitude to the European and American "imperialism", did not know about, or were not interested in persecutions of natives in Africa, Asia or South America. Traven deserves the credit for drawing public attention to these questions, long before anti-colonial movements and struggle for emancipation of black people in the United States.
B. Traven sent his works, himself or through his representatives, for publication from Mexico to Europe by post and gave a Mexican post office box as his return address. The copyright holder named in his books was "B. Traven, Tamaulipas, Mexico". Neither the European nor the American publishers of the writer ever met him personally, or at least the people with whom they negotiated the publication and later also screening of his books always maintained they were only Traven's literary agents, the identity of the writer himself was to be kept secret. This reluctance to give any information about his life was explained by B. Traven in the words which were to become one of his best-known quotations:
Although the popularity of the writer was still rising (the German Brockhaus Enzyklopdie devoted him an article as early as 1934, B. Traven remained a mysterious figure. Literary critics, journalists and others were trying to discover the author's identity and were proposing more or less credible, sometimes fantastic hypotheses.
The author of the first hypothesis concerning B. Traven's identity was the German journalist, writer and anarchist Erich Mhsam, who conjectured that the person who hides behind the pseudonym was the former actor and journalist Ret Marut. Marut, whose date and place of birth are unknown, performed on stage in Essen, Suhl, Crimmitschau, Berlin, Danzig and Dsseldorf before the First World War; from time to time, he also directed plays and wrote articles on theatre subjects. After the outbreak of the war, in 1915, he declared to the German authorities that he was an American citizen. He also became politically engaged: in 1917 he started to publish the periodical Der Ziegelbrenner (The Brick Burner) with a clearly anarchistic profile (its last issue appeared in 1921). After the proclamation of the Bavarian Soviet Republic in Munich in 1917, Ret Marut declared his support for the new authorities and was appointed director of the press division of the Central Council of the Soviet Republic and member of the Soviet Government propaganda committee. It was then in Munich that he met Erich Mhsam, who became his friend. Later, when B. Traven's first novels appeared, Mhsam compared their style and content with Marut's works which were known to him and came to the conclusion that they must have been written by one and the same person. Ret Marut himself was arrested after overthrowing the Bavarian Soviet Republic on 1st May 1919 and sentenced to death but managed to escape from prison and avoid execution, later he vanished into the blue. If B. Traven is identical with Ret Marut, these events may explain why the writer always claimed to be American and denied any connections with Germany – in the German Reich, a warrant was out for Ret Marut's arrest since 1919. 
Rolf Recknagel, an East German literary scholar, came to very similar conclusions as Erich Mhsam after the Second World War. In 1966, he published his Traven's biography, in which he claimed that the books signed with pen name B. Traven (including the post-war ones) had been written by Ret Marut. At present, this hypothesis is accepted by many "Travenologists".
The Ret Marut hypothesis did not explain how the former actor and anarchist got to Mexico; it did not provide any information about his early life either. In the late 1970s, two BBC journalists, Will Wyatt and Robert Robinson, decided to investigate this matter. The results of their research were published in a documentary broadcast by the BBC on 19 December 1978 and in Wyatt's book The Secret of the Sierra Madre, which appeared in 1980. The journalists got access to Ret Marut's files in the United States Department of State and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where they discovered that Marut was trying to get from Europe via Britain to Canada in 1923, but was turned back from that country and was finally arrested and imprisoned as a foreigner without a residence permit in the London Brixton jail on 30 November 1923. Interrogated by the British police, Marut testified that his real name was Hermann Otto Albert Maximilian Feige and that he had been born in Schwiebus in Germany (modern day Åšwiebodzin in Poland) on 23 February 1882.
Wyatt and Robinson did research in the Polish archives and confirmed the authenticity of these facts: both the date and place of birth and the Christian names of Feige's parents agreed with Marut's testimony. What is more, Otto Feige's father was a potter, which would correspond with the title of the periodical "Der Ziegelbrenner" ("The Brick Burner") published by Marut. The British journalists also found out that after his apprenticeship and National Service in the German army around 1904/1905 Otto Feige disappeared leaving no trace of himself.
Ret Marut stayed in the Brixton jail till 15 February 1924. After his release in the spring of 1924, he went to the US consulate in London and asked for confirmation of his American citizenship. He claimed that he had been born in San Francisco in 1882, signed on a ship when he was ten and had been travelling around the world since then, but now wanted to settle down and get his life in order. Incidentally, Marut had also applied for US citizenship earlier, when he lived in Germany. He filed altogether three applications at that time, claiming that he had been born San Francisco on 25 February 1882 to parents William Marut and Helena Marut ne Ottarent. Naturally, the consulate officials did not take this story seriously, especially as they also received the other version of Marut's biography from the London police, that about his birth in Schwiebus, which he had presented during the interrogation. In the opinion of Wyatt and Robinson, the version presented by Marut to the police is true – B. Traven was born as Otto Feige in Schwiebus (modern day Åšwiebodzin) and only later changed his name to Ret Marut.
The hypothesis that B. Traven is identical with Ret Marut and Otto Feige is accepted by many scholars, but it is also often rejected as improbable. Tapio Helen points out that the adoption of such a version of the writer's biography would be very difficult to reconcile with many Americanisms present in his works and the general spirit of American culture pervading them – these must be proof of at least a long life of the writer in the American environment, which was not the case in Feige's or Marut's biography. On the other hand, if Marut was not identical with Otto Feige, it is difficult to explain how he knew the details of his birth so well, including his mother's maiden name.
The Otto Feige hypothesis was also rejected by Karl S. Guthke, who believed that Marut's version about his birth in San Francisco was nearer the truth even though Guthke agreed with the opinion that Marut fantasized in his biography to some extent..
After his release from the London prison, Ret Marut supposedly got from Europe to Mexico. The circumstances of this journey are not clear either. According to Rosa Elena Luj¡n, the widow of Hal Croves, who is identified with B. Traven by many scholars (see below), her husband signed on a "death ship" after his release from prison and sailed to Norway, from there on board another "death ship" to Africa and, finally, on board a Dutch ship, reached Tampico on the Gulf of Mexico in the summer of 1924. He allegedly utilized his experiences from these voyages later in the novel The Death Ship. These allegations are partly supported by documents. Marut's name is on the list of the crew members of the Norwegian ship Hegre, which sailed from London to the Canary Islands on 19 April 1924; the name is, however, crossed out on this list, which could imply that Marut did not take part in the voyage in the end.
In the early 1920s, Mexico was a place where many American wobblies with extreme left views sought shelter; they also moved to this country fleeing conscription when the United States joined the First World War in 1917. One of the leading activists in these circles was Linn A.A. Gale. As early as 1917, when he still lived in New York City, he started publishing the periodical GALE's International Monthly for Revolutionary Communism, which began appearing again in Mexico City in October 1918. In 1918, the Mexican section of the anarcho-syndicalist trade union Industrial Workers of the World was also established. This was certainly a favourable environment for an anarchist and fugitive from Europe, and Gale's name could have been the inspiration for the literary figure of Gerald Gale, the hero of many novels by B. Traven, including The Cotton Pickers (first published as Der Wobbly) and The Death Ship. From Traven's preserved notes, it appears that he also had to work in difficult conditions as a day labourer on cotton plantations and oil fields.
However, these are only conjectures. It is not known for sure whether it was Ret Marut who, having arrived in Mexico (if he got there at all), assumed the pen name B. Traven, under which he started publishing his books. Tapio Helen points at the enormous contrast between the previous life experience of Marut, a coffeehouse intellectual from Central Europe, and the content of his novels and short stories, characterized by their in-depth knowledge of Mexican and Indian cultures, seafaring themes, problems of itinerant workers, political agitators and social activists of all descriptions, pervaded with many Americanisms and a thorough knowledge of American culture to boot.
A solution to this riddle was proposed by the Swiss researcher Max Schmid, who put forward the so-called Erlebnistrger ("experience carrier") hypothesis in a series of eight articles published in the Zurich daily Tages-Anzeiger at the end of 1963 and the beginning of 1964. According to this hypothesis (which was published by Schmid under the pseudonym Gerard Gale, being the surname of one of the main heroes in B. Traven's novels), Marut arrived from Europe to Mexico around 1922/1923 and met an American tramp (someone who was similar to Gerard Gale) who wrote stories about his experiences. Marut obtained these manuscripts from him (probably by trickery), translated them into German, added some elements of his own anarchist views and sent them, pretending that they were his own, to the German publisher.
Schmid's hypothesis has both its adherents and opponents, at present its verification seems to be impossible. Anyway, B. Traven's (Ret Marut's) life in Mexico was as mysterious as his fate in Europe.
Most researchers identify B. Traven with the person named Berick Traven Torsvan, who lived in Mexico at least since 1924. It is known that he rented a wooden house north of Tampico in 1924, where he often stayed and worked till 1931. Later, since 1930, he lived in a small house on the outskirts of Acapulco, from which he set off on his travels to Mexico. As early as 1926, Torsvan took part as a photographer in an archeological expedition to the state of Chiapas led by Enrique Juan Palacios; one of the few photographs showing probably B. Traven, wearing a pith helmet, which is reproduced at the beginning of this article, was taken during that expedition. He also travelled to Chiapas as well as to other regions of Mexico later, probably gathering materials for his books. He showed a lively interest in Mexican culture and history, taking part in summer courses of the Spanish and Mayan languages, history of Latin American literature and history of Mexico at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in the years 1927 and 1928.
In 1930 Torsvan received a foreigner's identification card as the North American engineer Traven Torsvan (in many sources, there also appears another first name of his: Berick or Berwick). It is known that B. Traven himself always claimed to be American. In 1933, the writer sent the English manuscripts of his three novels – The Death Ship, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Bridge in the Jungle – to the New York City publishing house Alfred A. Knopf for publication, claiming that these were the original versions of the novels and that the earlier published German versions were only their translations. The Death Ship was published by Knopf in 1934, it was soon followed by other Traven's books which appeared in the United States and the United Kingdom. However, the comparison of the German and English versions of these books shows significant differences between them. The English texts are usually longer, in both versions there are also fragments which are missing in the other language. The problem is made even more obscure by the fact that Traven's books published in English are full of Germanisms whereas those published in German full of Anglicisms.
B. Traven's works also enjoyed a soaring popularity in Mexico itself. The person who contributed to this was Esperanza Lpez Mateos, the sister of Adolfo Lpez Mateos, the later President of Mexico, who translated eight books by Traven into Spanish since 1941 and in subsequent years was his representative in contacts with publishers and the real owner of the copyright – she was to take care of it to transfer it later to his brothers.
The commercial success of the novel The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, whose English edition was published by Knopf in 1935, induced the Hollywood Warner Bros. company to buy the film rights of the book in 1941. The company intended to entrust the director John Huston with its screening; however, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor caused an interruption in the work on the film, which was renewed already after the war.
In 1946, Huston arranged to meet B. Traven at the Bamer hotel in Mexico City to discuss the details of the screening. However, instead of the writer, an unknown man turned up at the hotel and introduced himself as Hal Croves, a translator from Acapulco and San Antonio, and showed an alleged power of attorney from B. Traven, in which the writer authorized him to decide on everything in connection with the screening of the novel on his behalf. Croves, instead of the writer, was also present at the next meeting in Acapulco and later, as a technical advisor, all the time on location during the shooting of the film in Mexico in 1947. As early as then, this mysterious behaviour of the writer and his alleged agent made a great number of the crew members believe that Hal Croves was B. Traven himself in disguise. When the film became a big box office success after its premiere on 23 January 1948 and later won three Academy Awards, a real Traven fever broke out in the United States. This excitement was partly fuelled by the producer Warner Bros. itself; American newspapers wrote at length about a mysterious author who took part incognito in the screening of the film based on his own book.
Many biographers of B. Traven repeat the thesis that the director John Huston was also convinced that Hal Croves was B. Traven. This statement is not true. Huston denied identifying Hal Croves with Traven as early as 1948. Huston also brought the matter up in his autobiography, published in 1980, where he wrote that he had been considering first that Croves might be Traven, but after an observation of his behaviour he had come to the conclusion that this was not the case. However, according to Huston, Hal Croves played a double game during the shooting of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Asked by the crew members if he was Traven, he always denied, but he did so in such a way that his interlocutors came to the conclusion that he and B. Traven were one and the same person.
The media publicity which accompanied the premiere of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and the aura of mystery surrounding the author of the literary original of the film (rumour had it that the Life magazine set a reward of 5,000 dollar for finding the real B. Traven) induced a Mexican journalist named Luis Spota to try to find Hal Croves, who disappeared after the end of the shooting of the film in the summer of 1947. Thanks to information obtained from the Bank of Mexico, in July 1948, Spota found a man who lived under the name of Traven Torsvan near Acapulco. He formally ran an inn there; however, his shabby joint did not have many customers; Torsvan himself was a recluse, called El Gringo by his neighbours, which would confirm his American nationality. Investigating in official archives, Spota discovered that Torsvan had received a foreigner's identification card in Mexico in 1930 and a Mexican ID card in 1942; in both documents the date and place of birth was 5 March 1890 in Chicago. According to official records, Torsvan arrived in Mexico from the United States, crossing the border in Ciudad Ju¡rez in 1914. Using partly dishonest methods (Spota bribed the postman who livered letters to Torsvan), the journalist found out that Torsvan received royalties to the name of B. Traven from Josef Wieder in Zurich; on his desk, he also found a book package from the American writer Upton Sinclair, which was addressed to B. Traven c/o Esperanza Lpez Mateos. When Spota asked Torsvan directly whether he, Hal Croves and B. Traven are one and the same person, he denied this angry; however, in the opinion of the journalist, he got confused in his explanations and finally admitted indirectly being the writer.
Spota published the results of his investigations in a long article in the newspaper Maana on 7 August 1948. In reply to this, Torsvan published a denial in the newspaper Hoy on 14 August. Soon after that, Torsvan disappeared, like Hal Croves earlier. The only information about him from later years was that he received Mexican citizenship on 3 September 1951.
The already mentioned Esperanza Lpez Mateos had been cooperating with B. Traven at least since 1941 when she translated his first novel The Bridge in the Jungle into Spanish (later she also translated seven other novels of his). Esperanza, the sister of Adolfo Lpez Mateos, the later President of Mexico, played an increasingly important role in Traven's life. For example, in 1947, she went to Europe to represent him in contacts with his publishers; finally, in 1948, her name (along with Josef Wieder from Zurich) first appeared as the copyright holder in his books. Josef Wieder, as an employee of the Bchergilde Gutenberg book club, had already been cooperating with the writer since 1933. In that year, after taking power by Adolf Hitler in Germany, the Berlin based book club Bchergilde Gutenberg, which had been publishing Traven's books so far, was closed by the Nazis (Traven's books were forbidden in Germany in the years 1933-1945), and the author transferred the publication rights to the branch of Bchergilde in Zurich, Switzerland, where the publishers also emigrated. In 1939, the author decided to finish his cooperation with Bchergilde Gutenberg; since then, his representative was Josef Wieder, a former employee of the book club, who, however, never met the writer personally. Esperanza Lpez Mateos died, committing suicide, in 1951; her successor was Rosa Elena Luj¡n, Hal Croves' future wife.
In January 1951, Josef Wieder and Esperanza Lpez Mateos, and after her death Rosa Elena Luj¡n, started publishing hectographically the periodical BT-Mitteilungen (meaning in free translation Announcements about B. Traven's Life), which promoted Traven's books and appeared till Wieder's death in 1960. According to Tapio Helen, the periodical used partly vulgar methods, often publishing obvious falsehoods, for example about the reward set by the Life magazine when it was already known that the reward was only a marketing trick. In June 1952, BT-Mitteilungen published Traven's "genuine" biography, in which it claimed that the writer had been born in the Midwestern United States to an immigrant family from Scandinavia, that he had never gone to school, had had to make his living since he was seven and had come to Mexico as a ship boy on board a Dutch steamer when he was ten. The editors also repeated the thesis that B. Traven's books were originally written in English and only later translated into German by a Swiss translator.
In the meantime, Hal Croves, who temporarily disappeared after shooting the film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, appeared on the literary scene in Acapulco again. He acted as a writer and the alleged representative of B. Traven, on behalf of whom he negotiated the publication and screening of his books with publishers and film producers. Rosa Elena Luj¡n became Croves' secretary in 1952, both got married in San Antonio, Texas, on 16 May 1957. After the wedding, they moved to Mexico City, where they ran the Literary Agency R.E. Luj¡n. Following Josef Wieder's death in 1960, Rosa was the only copyright holder for Traven's books.
In October 1959, Hal Croves and Rosa Elena Luj¡n visited Germany to take part in the premiere of the film The Death Ship based on Traven's novel. During the visit reporters tried to induce Croves to admit being Traven, but in vain. Such attempts ended without success also in the 1960s. Many journalists tried to get to Croves' home in Mexico City; but only very few were admitted to him by Rosa, who guarded the privacy of her already very aged, half blind and half deaf husband; the articles and interviews with Croves always had to be authorized by his wife. Asked by journalists if he was Traven, Croves always denied or answered evasively, repeating Traven's sentence from the 1920s that the work and not the man should count.
Hal Croves died in Mexico City on 26 March 1969. On the same day, his wife announced at a press conference that her husband's real name was Traven Torsvan Croves, that he had been born in Chicago on 3 May 1890 of the Norwegian father Burton Torsvan and mother Dorothy Croves of Anglos-Saxon descent and the had also been using the pseudonyms B. Traven and Hal Croves in his life. She read this information from her husband's will, which had been drawn up by him three weeks before his death (on 4 March). Traven Torsvan Croves was also the name on the writer's official death certificate; his ashes, following cremation, were scattered from an airplane above the jungle of the Chiapas state.
This seemed the final solution to the riddle of the writer's biography – B. Traven turned out, as he always claimed himself, to be an American, not the German Ret Marut. However, the solution was only seeming. Some time after Croves' death, his widow gave another press announcement in which she claimed that her husband had authorized her to reveal the whole truth about his life, also the facts that he had left unsaid in his will. The journalists heard that Croves had also been a German revolutionary named Ret Marut in his youth, which reconciled both the adherents of the theory of the Americanness and the proponents of the hypothesis about the Germanness of the writer. Rosa Elena Luj¡n gave more information about these facts in her interview for the International Herald Tribune on 8 April 1969, where she claimed that her husband's parents had emigrated from the United States to Germany some time after their son's birth. In Germany, her husband published the successful novel The Death Ship, following which he went to Mexico for the first time, but returned to Germany to edit an anti-war magazine in the country "threatened by the emerging Nazi movement". He was sentenced to death, but managed to escape and went to Mexico again. This interview raises serious doubts first of all because of mixed chronology – The Death Ship first appeared in 1926, not before the First World War.
On the other hand, the hypothesis of B. Traven's Germanness seems to be confirmed by Hal Croves' extensive archive, to which his widow granted access to researchers sporadically until her death in 2009. Rolf Recknagel conducted his research in it in 1976, and Karl Guthke in 1982. These materials contain, among other documents, train tickets and banknotes from different East-Central European countries, possibly keepsakes Ret Marut retained after his escape from Germany after the failed revolution in Bavaria in 1919. A very interesting document is a small notebook with entries in the English language. The first entry is from 11 July 1924, and on 26 July the following significant sentence appeared in the notebook: "The Bavarian of Munich is dead". The writer might have started this diary on his arrival in Mexico from Europe, and the above note could have expressed his willingness to cut himself from his European past and start a new existence as B. Traven.
The above hypotheses, identifying B. Traven with Hal Croves, Traven Torsvan, Ret Marut and possibly Otto Feige, are not the only ones concerning the writer's identity which have been appearing since the mid 1920s. Some of them are relatively well-founded; others are quite fantastic and incredible. Some of the most common hypotheses, apart from the already mentioned, are presented below:
This article is based on one or more articles in Wikipedia, with modifications and additional content contributed by
Connexions editors. This article, and any information from Wikipedia, is covered by a
Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA) and the
GNU Free Documentation
We welcome your help in improving and expanding the content of Connexipedia articles, and in correcting errors. Connexipedia is not a wiki: please contact Connexions by email if you wish to contribute. We are also looking for contributors interested in writing articles on topics, persons, events and organizations related to social justice and the history of social change movements.
For more information contact Connexions