A 1990s article surveying the then recently-acquired Ret Marut archive, now residing with the University of California. The documents confirm certain known facts of Marut's life and times, prior to his (now generally accepted) transformation into the reclusive anarchist novelist B. Traven. The collection also provides some further fuel for speculation on the life and identity of the enigma that remains B. Traven.
Marut and his partner Irene Mermet published the anti-war anarchist magazine "Der Zeigelbrenner" (The Brickmaker or Brickburner) throughout the 1st World war - and continued post-war, after Marut became a fugitive wanted for his participation in the Bavarian Council Republic. Distributed mainly by subscription, it emerges from the archive correspondence that the magazine had at its wartime peak a print run of 6,000 and that many copies went to serving soldiers, some copies distributed by sympathetic officers.
Several unpublished manuscripts form part of the Marut archive, which has been incorporated into the Traven archive.
Pictures of some items in the B. Traven archive can be seen here; http://library.ucr.edu/?view=collections/spcol/Traven
See our Traven biography; http://libcom.org/library/b-traven-anti-biography
Since the appearance of Dos Totenschiff in 1926, the author's carefully and successfully concealed identity has remained one of the century's most durable real life mysteries. Who was B. Traven? The son of a Norwegian fisherman; Jack London; Charles Trefny, an American theology student; Arthur Cravan, the pugilist, dadaist nephew of Oscar Wilde; and an illegitimate child of Kaiser Wilhelm II have been among the proposed answers. Despite much research-the most substantial being Rolf Recknagel's groundbreaking discoveries about Traven's German period (1); also Will Wyatt's much-publicized but problematic “solution” to the mystery (2) and most recently, the authorized biography by Karl S. Guthke, who was the first to be allowed unrestricted access to Traven's archive in Cuernavaca (3) - much about B. Traven, including his true identity and origins, remains unknown.
The identification of Traven with Ret Marut, a pseudonymous actor, anarchist, and author in the last years of Wilhelmine Germany, was first suggested in the 1920s. It was substantiated by Recknagel and finally confirmed by Traven's widow after his death in 1969. For some time the question, "Who was B. Traven?" has been inseparable from the question, "Who was Ret Marut?" But what is known about Marut is limited, vague, and arcane. As effectively as his alter ego, Marut concealed himself even from those closest to him. Whereas it is clear that both names were used by the same man, the definitive identification of Traven with Marut has done little to get closer to the truth about Traven.
The acquisition of the Ret Marut archive by the University of California at Riverside offers the first chance for direct in-depth research with his primary material. The archive is the only substantial collection of original Marut manuscripts and correspondence in the world. Guarded privately for many years, the archive has never, until now, been available for thorough scholarly research. Recknagel was denied access to it; indeed, except for Guthke, who examined the papers briefly in 1985, the Marut archive is essentially untouched. This essay outlines some of the more significant biographical data, and the new biographical questions, revealed by the Riverside archive.
The facts of Marut's biography can be summarized briefly: Nothing is known about his birth or childhood. Marut claimed he was born in San Francisco, no doubt knowing that all birth records from that city had been destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. The name "Ret Marut" is recorded for the first time in 1907, in a theatrical directory, where he is listed as an actor at the city theater of Essen, Germany, for the 1907-1908 season. From 1907 to 1912, Marut worked as an actor on various provincial stages and in the city of Danzig, (4) where his girlfriend, Elfriede Zielke, gave birth to a daughter. In the summer of 1912, he joined the well-known Dusseldorfer Schauspielhaus. At about that time, he also began to publish stories and aphorisms in newspapers and magazines. In 1915, together with his new friend and partner Irene Mermet, Marut moved to Munich where they published the anti-war novella An dos Fraulein von S ... under the new pseudonym "Richard Maurhut." In September 1917, Marut launched Der Ziegelbrenner, a radical, anti-war, individual-anarchist magazine, most of which he wrote himself. Thirteen issues of Der Ziegelbrenner appeared during the following five years. In the aftermath of World War I, Marut figured in the Bavarian Raterepublik as a censor, authoring a plan for the socialization of the press. When the Raterepublik was brutally suppressed in May 1919, Marut, by his own account in Der Ziegelbrenner, narrowly escaped summary execution. He spent the next three years underground, attempting to keep his magazine in circulation and eventually fled the continent sometime in 1923. On November 30, 1923, Marut was arrested in London as an alien without papers, and in February 1924, he was freed from jail -whereupon he disappeared. (5) Whereas some episodes of Marut's life are recorded in greater detail, the weight of lingering questions tips the balance: Who was he? Where did he come from? What was his real name? What was his literary background? Where did he learn politics? economics? How did he fmance his magazine? How did he elude his would-be captors and survive underground? Why did he conceal his identity? What happened to transform him into B. Traven?
The Riverside archive contains material dating from as early as 1901 to as late as 1923, with the bulk stemming from the productive period between 1917 and 1919, when Marut published the first nine issues of Der Ziegelbrenner. In addition to material relating to Der Ziegelbrenner, there are manuscripts of over sixty short stories, essays, and aphorisms, many of them unpublished; book-length manuscripts of three novels, two of them unpublished, the third a version of An dos Fraulein van S ... ; hundreds of original letters both to Marut and from Marut, the latter in the form of retained carbon typescripts; as well as early, immature manuscripts and notebooks, magazines, official documents, and other unusual and fascinating items from various phases in Marut's short career.
The only proposed account of Traven's childhood is that of the BBC's Will Wyatt, who traced a Marut alias to an actual birth certificate, His theory, though it appears convincing, has never been fully accepted by Traven scholars. The name on the birth certificate was Hermann Albert Otto Maximilian Feige, born in 1882 in Schwiebus, Posen, a province of Prussia now within Polish borders. Wyatt interviewed surviving siblings of "Otto" Feige, who recounted their memories of his youth. The first child of Adolf Rudolf Feige, a brickmaker-or "Ziegelbrenner"-and Frederika Hormina Wienecke, he was born out of wedlock and legitimized by his parents' marriage three months later. At fourteen, he was apprenticed to a locksmith and remained in Schwiebus until his family moved to nearby Wallensen in 1900. Between 1902 and 1904, Otto Feige served in the Kaiser's army with the Seventh lager Battalion at Buckeburg, After staying briefly with his parents in Wallensen, Otto left sometime in 1904 or 1905. He had an unhappy love affair with a girl named Elsa, the daughter of a mill owner from Dresden, who came to the Feige house in Wallensen and waited for Otto's return. But he did not come back. The last his family heard of him was a postcard written from England sometime after the end of WWI saying that he was in trouble with the English authorities and about to be thrown out of the country.
Wyatt's hypothesis suffers from a lack of hard documentary evidence. The Riverside archive does little if anything to make up for this deficit. The earliest item in the archive is a two-page manuscript dated "21.4.1901," when Feige would have been nineteen. It is entitled "Im Walde," with the subtitle "Skizze von .... " (6) The hand is a studied Sutterlin script, and it is difficult to state with certainty that it was written by the same person who, using the Roman alphabet, wrote the Marut manuscripts. The text is a naive piece of descriptive prose, bearing no recognizable relation to the later work. But the fact that the author chose to leave his name off the piece is tempting: if it was written by the man who was Marut, then he may have begun hiding his identity as early as 1901. If not, then one must wonder how and why it came to be preserved among his papers. This could be the earliest known piece of writing by B. Traven.
The next manuscript is more substantial: an octavo notebook titled "Lieder eines Menschen" and filled on fifty-seven pages with handwritten poetry: love poems, sentimental and satirical verse, protest poems, and doggerel, now written in Roman characters. (7) Signed "Ret Marut" on the first page, the book contains poems dated "1906" and "Febr. 1906," a year before the first appearance of that name in the Essen City Theater. The poems display many of the salient characteristics that would become familiar to readers of Der Ziegelbrenner and, later, the Traven novels: sarcasm, contentiousness, pessimism, and idealism. Already in these poems, Marut pokes fun at the publisher August Scherl - whom he would attack in Der Ziegelbrenner-while other targets include censors, religion, German "Burger," and theater-goers. The most telling poems in the notebook, however, are the love poems. Some are light-hearted, lusty poems of wooing and seduction, addressed to "Marianne," "Rosa," and “Mathilde” but others, revealing a more introspective, painful, and complicated relationship are addressed to "EIsa." Another tempting coincidence? In one of two early play-outlines under the combined title "Entwurfe,"(8) a boy from the lower classes named Hermann is apprenticed at the home of a well-to-do industrialist and has an illicit romance with the daughter. When Hermann's father commits a crime against the girl's family, the young lovers begin to quarrel. Although the boy has done nothing wrong, the guilt of his father leads to the couple's breakup. Could this be a retelling of Otto Feige's troubled romance with Elsa? The poems mentioning that name, and this brief sketch of a troubled love are as close as the Marut archive comes to supporting Wyatt's hypothesis.
Marut's distinctive traits include a strong opposition to authority, sympathy with the working man, and the senses of irony and of individual justice. These convictions were reinforced by his experience during his theatrical period. In addition to observing a cross-section of society on extensive performing tours, Marut must also have come under the influence of Naturalism, as represented by the work of Gerhart Hauptmann-whom he mentions in the story "Liebe des Vaterlands” (9) and promoted by such critics as Maximilian Harden and Siegfried Jacobsohn. (10) To these and other members of Berlin's Freie Buhne society, the function of the theater was "to inculcate culture and progress in the heart of the Wilhelmine Burger. Through the ruthless presentation on the stage of 'truth, nothing but the truth,' -the creed of the 'naturalists' -the Burger, by definition servile, materialistic, pompous, bigoted and conventional was to be persuaded to become a modem and, therefore, better man." (11)
Between October 1910 and July 1911, Marut toured with the company Berliner "Neue Biihne" through East and West Prussia and the province of Posen,(12) acting in or directing over sixty plays, including works by Hauptmann. On this tour, a labor dispute erupted in which Marut, as representative of the actor's union, figured prominently. A lengthy letter (possibly by Marut) to the union's Rechtsschutzbureau on behalf of the actors913) details the issues, complaining that they were literally starving on some days and hoping to warn other union members about the delinquent theater managers. The case so embittered Marut, or else appealed to his contentious nature enough, that he pursued it for several years. He continued to correspond about it as late as February 1918, well after his departure from theatrical life. (14)
His years in the theater were Marut's period of political maturation. Wyatt states that Feige became a "convinced socialist" during his military service around 1902. (15) Marut, an outspoken opponent of the Social Democratic party, mentions having addressed political meetings in Westphalia in 1905, (16) a time when workers' unions skirmished with the party at their Cologne congress. By the time of the Berliner "Neue Buhne" dispute, Ret Marut was developing into a politically motivated and articulate man. Toward the end of 1911, he corresponded with the great feminist activist and author Lily Braun. In a letter to Marut,(17) Braun writes that she is very interested in his remarks (unfortunately not preserved) and would like to speak with him further. "I am less of a politician than you think," she tells him, "and am becoming less and less so because I take pains to avoid getting tied up in any kind of scheme, and I want to keep it that way.“ (18) She hopes that Marut will visit her so they can talk at length, saying that she is interested in the "battles being fought on the stage today . . ." and, besides, that she finds him appealing. Whether or not Marut, who would later refuse all visitors and shy away from public appearances, actually met with so prominent a political figure as Lily Braun is unknown. But his contact with her implies that he developed his political acumen in less isolation than has been thought.
After being hired by Louise Dumont and Gustav Lindemann, the husband and wife team who ran the widely respected Dusseldorfer Schauspielhaus, Marut began a slow exit from his theatrical career. At about this time, he completed what may be his first full-length novel, a morality tale called Die anamitische Furstin or Das Vermachtnis des Inders,(19) The story follows a young French engineer to Indochina, where he receives a magical torch from a jungle prince, and back to Europe for a melodramatic denouement. In a letter about the novel (calling it by a third title: "Die Fackel des Fursten") (20) Marut attempts to convince a potential publisher of its basis in his own experience. He mentions having spent a few weeks in Indochina some fifteen years earlier (ea. 1899), as well as his plans to return there for a longer stay. Marut appends to this letter a bibliography of source material listing twenty-two titles of works on Indochina, most of them in French. Marut may have been playing the kind of game here that he later enjoyed as B. Traven, aggressively prompting a critical reader with his own enthusiasm for his work. As Traven, he was fond of inventing stories about himself, and there is no reason to assume he would not also have done so as Ret Marut. Nevertheless, the novel and the letter about it invite some speculation about his early years.
Marut and Traven claimed to have travelled the world at an early age, Traven as a sailor, (21) Marut as a kitchen boy, an actor, and a dancer.(22) If he was indeed in Indochina in 1899, then he could not have been simultaneously a locksmith's apprentice in Posen. But perhaps there are other autobiographical nuggets hidden in this first novel. Traven, to be sure, liked to leave a teasing trail of references to his real past in fiction, mentioning such unlikely locations as Suhl or Crimmitschau, where he had acted as Ret Marut. It is certainly conceivable that he would have done the same in his earlier works.
In Die anamitische Furstin, Marut's protagonist, Gajus Vautour, is a youth of a well-to-do background (23) with extraordinary intelligence and uncommon ability, yet he lacks motivation. In engineering school, he befriends a boy who is poor but ambitious, serious, and keenly intelligent. When his friend suddenly dies, at the age of twenty-three, Gajus vows to devote all his energies to fulfilling those unreallzed ambitions. Should any of this scenario be taken as submerged autobiography, then a twist to the Feige theory becomes possible. Otto Feige left home at about twenty-three, in 1904 or 1905, a time when, in response to the revolution in Russia and the first Moroccan crisis, Germany's left wing was becoming restive. Is it possible that Feige, increasingly ambitious and political in outlook, regarded this moment as a kind of "death," the chance to create a new identity to carry him out of the provinces and into the cultural battlefield of Berlin? Or could it be, as Guthke has already suggested.(24) that a close friend, a comrade and a look-alike, taken with young Otto's ideas and energies, assumed his identity or at any rate stored it for later use-following Feige's own untimely death?
In another novel-manuscript, Der Mann Site und die grunglitzernde Frau: die Geschichte eines Lebens, das nach einem Ziele strebte (25) Marut uses the pseudonym "Richard Maurhut," which would appear-or had perhaps already appeared-on the novella An das Fraulein von S. . .. This immature work contains the themes of identity and origin that would surface again, especially in Das Totenschiff. When a woman travels to an unnamed oriental city, she meets a mysterious man whom she believes to be, like herself, a German. When she asks him, he replies evasively, remarking that "nationality is pure coincidence. The spirit makes the man, and not his place of birth or residence of his parents . . . and a long as we have so-called political borders humanity will never reach the height of culture .... " The man makes a deep impression on the woman with his philosophical mind and mysterious manner. He shows her a novel that he is writing, which moves her profoundly. They do become close friends, but she soon realizes that she still did not know his family name. Was Felix his first name or his father's name? But in the end what does a name mean to a human being? Name and title are for the average, for those who need names and titles to sort out the mass. The greater and more complete a person is, the less his name will change anything to his favor or disfavor. ...
The circumstances under which Marut ultimately left Dusseldorf are, not surprisingly, obscure and poorly documented. Correspondence in the archive, however, suggests that he may have departed under a cloud of controversy. A series of letters from early 1916 concerns a bitter dispute sparked by a Viennese violinist named Amely Heller, who had been hired by Dumont and Lindemann for a limited engagement. She became friendly with Marut, at least enough so that he kept among his other papers a small manuscript of hers as well as her original contract with the theater. (26) The dispute included charges of plagiarism against Marut and led him to threaten a volley of libel suits.(27) The entire matter, however, was connected to an emotional, personal conflict with deeper ramifications.
According to one letter, a man had interrogated Marut's concierge, particularly about Marut's relations with women.(28) The man was Fritz Mermet, the stepfather of Irene Mermet, who was eager to learn whether she was Marut's mistress. In a letter to Fritz Mermet, Marut denies the suggestion strenuously, claiming that Irene has now filed suit against him based on that false report. He says he is sure that the source of the slanderous rumors is Amely Heller and, in turn, threatens a suit against her. Furthermore, he insists that Mermet inform a certain Captain Maurhoff that the accusation, which Maurhoff had repeated, is a fabrication. Otherwise, Marut continues, he will be obliged to file suit against Maurhoff as well, "as much as it might hurt [him] to attack an officer currently in the service of his country" (29 )
This was Marut at his most litigious. It is not known whether any of these slander suits was ever settled, although it is not very likely. Two scenarios suggest themselves: One is that Marut had an affair with Amely Heller, who became jealous when she realized his plans to abandon her and go to Munich with Irene Mermet. In her anger, she spread malicious rumors about Marut that he strove to deny. A second possibility is that Marut himself, in concert with Irene Mermet and Amely Heller, engineered the whole sequence of mock libel cases, perhaps in an attempt to extort some payments in order to leave for Munich with a bit of money in his pocket: a serious charge, with little evidence to back it up. Still, the whole correspondence assumes a suspicious character when one realizes that it comes two months after both Marut and Mermet had moved to Munich.
The most striking element of this fiasco is the uncanny resemblance of the names Marut, Maurhoff, and Maurhut. Marut's letter to Fritz Mermet implies a romantic link between Irene and Captain Maurhoff, which raises another series of questions in relation to the novella An dos Frauiein von S. . . . The book takes the form of a diary of a dead soldier, received and read by the woman he had loved. It has been suggested that the impetus for the work was the emotional jolt Marut received when Elfriede Zielke left him for an officer about to go off to war. (30) But this puzzling correspondence suggests another possibility. Might Captain Maurhoff have been the ill-fated officer? Might Irene Mermet have been the woman who sent a prior paramour off to the front before taking up with Ret Marut? Might Marut and Mermet have borrowed the first part of Maurhoff's name in creating the author "Richard Maurhut"? (31)
Whatever the circumstances of Marut's flight to Munich, he must have been well enough off to devote himself wholeheartedly to literary work, to complete the novella An dos Fraulein von S ... , and to lay the groundwork for the magazine that would become his pulpit. In that city, with its lively artistic and counter-cultural scene, where the poet Erich Muhsam could produce his own anarchist magazine called Kain, "a magazine for humanity"; where a journalist named Kurt Eisner, political and drama editor for the Munchener Post, would openly criticize the war and the Social Democratic party's support of it, Marut had discovered a comfortable political climate.
Two years would pass before the appearance of the first issue of Der Ziegelbrenner, during which time Marut would undergo a transformation. The coming of war put his political commitments to the test. War fever was strong even among liberals and left-wing intellectuals. Many writers who would later repudiate the war were carried away by the nationwide tide of patriotic passion. In the early phase of the war, opposition was difficult and dangerous. The newly forged sense of collective national purpose crossed over class lines with surprising effectiveness, and censorship forced those who would protest to do so in a veiled and ambiguous manner. The brand of individual anarchism that Marut promoted in Der Ziegelbrenner required not only courage but also cunning. The Marut of 1915, who wrote such war-related stories as "Geschichten vom Bahnhof" and "Der fremde Soldat," was moved by the personal tragedies of the war and the irony of senseless deaths, sympathies he no doubt developed through visits to the front lines as an entertainer, (32) as well as by witnessing the homecoming of the wounded and the dead. These stories display sadness and a loss of innocence but do not openly oppose the war. By 1917, however, Marut had become an ardent anarchistpacifist, who, steeped in the teachings of such philosophers as Gustav Landauer and Max Stimer, raised his voice against the war and its supporters.
The Riverside archive reveals another possible influence on the political philosophy of Der Ziegelbrenner: Bertrand Russell. In early 1917, Marut and an unknown collaborator (33) translated Russell's anti-war lectures that had been published in England as Principles of Social Reconstruction. The project was sponsored by a certain Geo. [sic] von Kaufmann of Munich, who arranged for the printing of the translation without Russell's permission. In an "open letter" to Russell. (34) Kaufmann apologizes for this piracy, defending himself with his honest intentions and offering to pay Russell royalties once it is again possible to transact business between Germany and England. That this translation was actually printed is inconclusively evidenced by the correspondence. Such a book is entirely unrecorded; if it did appear, it must have been an extremely small edition. Wartime restrictions on paper, together with the harsh dicta of military censorship, would have made a large edition unthinkable. Furthermore, a second, authorized translation, also undertaken at Kaufmann's behest, appeared legitimately in 1924.
Russell delivered the lectures in March 1916 and published them that November. In them, he proposes that man's actions are primarily the result of "impulse," a force that society tries to check but that is not subject to rational control. He calls for the societal liberation of impulse in order to promote individual creativity, as opposed to the violence that results from the restriction of impulse. Freeing people from compulsion, Russell argues, would permit them to gain control over their own fate and to develop freely toward a more perfect, spiritual, and intellectual excellence. (35)
These lectures, with their emphasis on individual liberty, even if not a direct influence on Marut' s thinking, fit neatly with his opinions and aims. But the project may have benefited Marut in other ways. Kaufmann's son was a student of Russell's in Cambridge and an activist in the No-Conscription Society of which Russell was a leader. He was ultimately detained as a conscientious objector in early 1917, (36) but, while hiding out, was sheltered at the home of the radical M. P. Josiah Clement Wedgwood, whose daughters, Helen and Rosamund, were at the center of the English pacifist movement. In the archive is a transcript of a letter that Kaufmann received from Helen Bowen Wedgwood, assuring him of his son's well-being on the eve of his incarceration. (37) Kaufmann sent it to Marut noting cryptically that Marut would be interested in it because he was "already so deeply involved with the fate of my son .... " (38) When Marut fled to England in 1923, he was aided by another English pacifist, Sylvia Pankhurst. (39) Because he was clearly on good terms with the elder Kaufmann, it is conceivable that Marut gained valuable contacts in English pacifist circles through him as early as 1917, even prior to the first appearance of Der Ziegelbrenner.
With Der Ziegelbrenner, which built on such examples as Erich Muhsam's Kain, Karl Kraus's Fackel, and Franz Pfemfert's Aktion (copies of the latter two are preserved in the archive), Marut developed his distinctive voice. The little that is known about it has been derived primarily from interpretation of the magazine itself and secondarily from interviews with surviving subscribers, assistants, and correspondents. (40) What the Riverside archive reveals about the magazine's production, distribution, and audience is largely contained in correspondence, both to and from Marut, from the end of 1917 to the autumn of 1918. The Ziegelbrenner-readership included some notable literary figures (Wilhelm Herzog, "Klabund," Hans Riemann (41)) but was largely comprised of educated urban citizens, soldiers, and even officers. Readers' letters came from all over Germany, as well as Austria and Denmark. In letters written after he became a fugitive, Marut boasts of having sent copies of his magazine to "universities and educated comrades in Argentina, India, Japan and China. “ (42) A good portion of the incoming correspondence is in the form of Feldpostbriefe, sent from the front. That the majority of these letters express complete sympathy with Marut is impressive, although it is perhaps misleading because Marut may not have retained many letters that attacked him. Some of these letters are preserved, however, including one stating that Der Ziegelbrenner is the "most stupid and vulgar thing I've ever seen. . . ,"(43) which Marut printed in Ziegelbrenner 2.
Two fellow radicals with whom Marut engaged in a meaningful exchange were Gust van Werveke and Pol Michels, leaders of a student union in Luxembourg (44) and both connected to the Aktion circle. (45) Although Marut pointedly reiterates his published ban on visitors to his office, the correspondence also implies that he met with these two in neutral locations to discuss what action they might be able to take together. Apparently he came into contact with them through the expressionist poet Karl Otten,(46) a close associate of Franz Pfemfert, Die Aktion's editor. It was probably through this circle that Marut would later encounter the artist Franz Wilhelm Seiwart, one of his closest allies during his fugitive period.
Another reader was Siegfried Jacobsohn, editor of Berlin's Die Schaubuhne, which became one of the most important left-wing journals in Germany. Jacobsohn was famed for his relentless provocation of leading journalists and political figures. Even more than Marut, he relished the competitive field of the libel court. His letter to Marut of March 12, 1918, (47) though provocative, shows a kind of grudging admiration, as he expresses his wonder at the level of agitation that Marut was able to exercise. Jacobsohn had suffered considerably at the hands of the military censors who frequently seized his magazine or banned its export. In the early period of the war, he avoided trouble (and military service) by printing pro-war propaganda,(48) something that can hardly have endeared him to Marut. (49) His remarks to Marut are peppered with such jibes as "I used to think that you were a woman ... but then again 'Ziegelbrenner' sounds quite masculine. Still, whether man or woman, I thank you for this magazine . . . that such a paper is tolerated can only be accountable to Bavarian sloppiness [Schlamperei]." In four angry drafts of a reply to Jacobsohn, Marut argues defensively the difficulties he has in dealing with censors, even in Bavaria. But the fifth version, the one that he apparently sent, reduces his response to a short note, citing Max Stirner's remarks to the effect that "even the hardest censorship could not hinder him in writing anything he wanted to." (50)
Although Marut referred in the magazine to his "private fortune," (51) and Irene Mermet certainly played an important role as partner and aide, the source of the money for Der Ziegelbrenner remains unknown. The correspondence makes it clear that he was hardly free of financial worries. In several instances, when writing to potential benefactors, he polemicizes and flatters effusively in an attempt to lure them into making cash contributions or loans, although in the end he always insists on the "humanity" behind the money, ready to turn aside contributions from politically unacceptable sources.
One reason Marut was eager to raise money was his founding in March 1918 of the "Ziegelbrenner Verlag GmbH," together with Irene Mermet, a move that they may have felt necessary in order to attract investors. Until now, there has been no evidence that a GmbH named "Ziegelbrenner" ever actually existed. (52) The Riverside archive contains the founding document, which was prepared and signed on February 17, 1918, before a Munich notary. (53) The rather flexible terms of this incorporation cast further doubt on Marut's claim of a "private fortune." Marut and Mermet are counted as equal partners; (54) the founding capital was 20,000 marks, to be paid by equal investments of 10,000 marks each by Marut and Mermet, with an initial down payment of twenty-five percent; during the war, no profits were to be distributed, and until the entire founding capital had been paid, all profits were to be directed toward reducing the remainder of that debt.
In comparison with such a cultural institution as Karl Kraus's Fackel, editions of which reached up to 38,000 copies, (55) (although that number must also have been significantly lower during the war) the press-runs of Der Ziegelbrenner were no doubt relatively miniscule. Richter has estimated editions ranging from 800 copies at the lowest, up to 5,000 for the issues coming toward the end of the war. (56) The archive more or less provides proof of his contention, at least on the high end, but because documentation from the fugitive period has been lacking, his further estimates can only be guesswork. One letter from the fugitive period tells the recipient to expect a shipment of 1,900 copies of Der Ziegelbrenner 20/22, which appeared in January 1920. (57) Another announces that a second printing of that number has been ordered, twice as large as the first. (58) Already in the earliest numbers, Marut needed to go into second editions to accommodate heavy demand. In one letter after the second number, he promises an edition of at least 2,000 copies, and up to 4,000 if enough paper can be had. (59) In another letter,(60) Marut requests a reprint of Ziegelbrenner 4 of "not 2,000 but 4,000 copies." Having 6,000 copies of one number in print was surely the high point of Ziegelbrenner business. It must have declined somewhat in the post-war climate, in spite of the easing of paper restrictions. In peacetime, Marut would have lost a number of subscribers who had been attracted to his anti-war posture but did not necessarily sympathize with the revolution that followed and which was trumpeted by Marut with the same headline used by Lenin's Pravda in Russia: “The World Revolution Has Begun!” (61)
To reach soldiers with such a magazine during the war could not have been done openly. (62) Marut was able to accomplish this through such active allies among ranking officers such as a certain Major Kiesel, who distributed the magazine to his men (63) and may even have become an investor in the Verlag.(64) Another helpful officer, and one of the few Ziegelbrenner allies who has been previously documented, was Lieutenant Gotz Ohly, who would shelter Marut as a fugitive and even give him his own passport to use in dangerous border crossings.(65) In 1949, responding to the suggestion of a link between Marut and B. Traven, Ohly wrote an article for a Munich newspaper claiming to know Marut's true identity and his reasons for hiding it but swearing not to reveal it. (66)
The first contact between these two men was a fan letter Ohly sent to the J. Mermet Verlag after reading a copy of An das Fraulein von S ... , saying that he would "prefer to shake Mr. Maurhut's hand," and exclaiming that ". . . whoever can understand this novel, from his own experience, can find no words, only stuttering and nodding with wide, distantly dreaming eyes, can he show how deeply this book has shaken him. Finally someone has found the right melody, the terrible chord for all the violence of the World War, for the drums and cannons ... at last someone has the strength to make a symphony where others could only dance before. “ (67) The letter must have delighted Marut. Subsequent letters show that he and Ohly became much closer during the last days of the war, visiting one another and making clandestine plans. Shortly before the armistice, Marut printed Ohly's essay on Richthofen's Der rote Kampfflieger (68) in Der Ziegebrenner 5/6/7/8, interspersed with his own editorial comments.
After the summer of 1918, Marut was interested in increasing the book-publishing activities of his Verlag, although his enthusiasm waned quickly as the revolutionary movement led him to shift his intentions. Correspondence shows that he welcomed manuscripts and even published some small items in Der Ziegelbrenner. But, with the exception of a small pamphlet of woodcuts and writings by his artist friend Franz Wilhelm Seiwert (see below), the book-publishing scope of Der Ziegelbrenner never reached beyond his own Der Blaugetupfte Sperling, published in September 1918. This little book was a genuine anomaly, consisting of older stories and theater-related vignettes, some dating back as far as 1913. Marut, as if to disclaim even a hint of authorship, did not even put a pseudonym on it. In December 1918, in the printed program for one of his Ziegelbrenner evenings, Marut announced that "the written word no longer suffices for his aims .... “ (69) By early 1919, as Marut turned his attention to the problem of socializing the press, he almost gave up on publishing altogether. Had the revolution succeeded, that step would have probably even extended to the magazine Ziegelbrenner itself.
In an extraordinary letter of February 7, 1919, to the directors of the Liz Verlag in Berlin, (70) Marut offers to turn over to them the entire business end of Ziegelbrenner but proposes to keep editorial control in his Munich office. The letter almost makes that deal seem a fait accompli: Marut urges them to use all their salesmanship to spread the magazine and disseminate his views; he agrees to their proposal to advertise in Wilhelm Herzog's shortlived newspaper Die Republik( 71) and even asks them to tell him how many copies of the next number he should print. Finally, and indicative of just how dramatic Marut's turnabout as a publisher was, he announces that he has sent them 300 copies of Der Blaugetupfte Sperling, the book that he had published only five months before, noting that he wants to "get rid of them, sell them, not unnecessarily, dirt cheap. . . ."
Marut ventured into public action with the two Ziegelbrenner evenings in December 1918. These staged events featured Marut, hidden behind a darkened lectern, reading incendiary texts to an assembled audience. Whereas the Ziegelbrenner evenings attracted more hecklers than supporters,(72) they also drew the attention of at least one significant sympathizer: the Bavarian writer and Raterepublik radical Oskar Maria Graf, who was one of the first to publicly propose the identification of Ret Marut with B. Traven. (73) Correspondence in the Riverside archive confirms that Graf and Marut were in fact in direct contact.
When the Bavarian monarchy fell in November 1918 and the Independent-Socialist Kurt Eisner, who had unexpectedly become prime minister, began to solidify his position as the leader of a revolution, Graf rushed to take part in the historic events. He enthusiastically founded his own organization called Bund "Freie Menschen," to take up the call of the revolution and the goal of the republic.(74) Shortly after the first of the Ziegelbrenner evenings, Marut wrote to the Bund "Freie Menschen," (75) apparently in reply to Graf's invitation to him to help combat the "mendacity of the press." Marut seems open to Graf's suggestion, but he makes explicit some of his political motivations and aims. "We want to fight as individuals," he warns Graf, skeptical of joining with a government-backed group; "we would set back our aims and intentions if we didn't have the complete knowledge that an intellectual power was behind us." Marut affirms his support of the revolution and further states that he hopes it will not stagnate or come to an end with the election of a national assembly, but rather that the election might mark the true beginning of the revolution. His eagerness to take on the capitalist press, already long evident in Der Ziegelbrenner, seems ready to crystallize:
The press alone deprives the people of the success and fruits of the revolution. As long as we fail to annihilate the press, none of us will reach any goal. The only person who's recognized this-as long as we're only discussing public persons here-is Kurt Eisner. He doesn't know our magazine, but therefore it's so much better that he's realized the need to fight against the press, perhaps even better than we have.
After the assassination of Eisner and the formation of the Raterepublik,(76) Marut was called to serve in the central council's press division as censor of the MunchenerAugsburger Abend Zeitung; on April 5, he was named head of the press division and chief censor,(77) and he quickly published his "Pressefreiheit oder Befreiung der Presse" and "Sozialisierungsplan fur die Presse." But his hopes for meaningful change were soon lost. The Raterepublik lasted a mere three weeks. After a number of lurching, frantic changes of leadership, which saw a colorful array of poets, teachers, philosophers, and farmers in power, soldiers of the Freikorps, sent from Berlin by Minister of Defense Gustav Noske, invaded Munich, killing 600 men, seizing the republic's leaders, and crushing the Bavarian revolution. Somehow Ret Marut managed to escape.
Already a master of elusiveness, Marut now effectively vanished. He was aided during this period by many friends and allies, most notably Gotz Ohly and his new friend the artist Franz Wilhelm Seiwert. Seiwert is represented in the archive by Marut's letter to him of April 3, 1919, (78) proposing a publication; by a copy of the booklet Rufe, published under the Ziegelbrenner imprint sometime during 1919 or 1920, with a small woodcut that was used for its front cover; and by his own typescripts of two prose pieces, one of which was included in Rufe. The second piece is an early version of the essay "Zeichen" (79) a theoretical “attempt to sketch the dialectical development of the representation of world history” (80) which discusses Marx and Copernicus, as well as Masaccio, Seurat, Picasso, Rembrandt, and Beethoven. In 1925, Seiwert would publish a substantially revised version of "Zeichen" in Die Aktion, deleting a portion that was an integral part of this 1920 draft: his tribute to Ret Marut. (81) As one of his closest allies, and probably one of the last to see him in Germany, Seiwert must have been aware of Marut's intention to disappear into a new identity. Although Marut figured prominently in "Zeichen," his flight obliged Seiwert to remove him from the sketch of world history. But he did not forget about Marut. As late as 1932, in the art magazine that he edited, Seiwert advertised remaining copies of Der Ziegelbrenner, noting that "Friends of Traven" should become acquainted with it. (82)
A handful of Marut letters dating from 1920 and after show something of his fugitive existence. Written in the third person, they frequently refer to "M" as absent, out of the country, or otherwise unavailable. The third-person voice might suggest that Marut did not write these letters himself. However, it is more likely that he wanted to give this impression and altered his voice in case the letters should be intercepted by police. Less expansive than previous correspondence, these letters are urgent, focused, and direct. They cut straight to the important matters at hand: how to keep Der Ziegelbrenner running without encountering traps. A careful comparison with the earlier Ziegelbrenner letters reveals one clue that Marut himself wrote all the letters, a typing mistake that recurs throughout the correspondence: the misabbreviation of "etcetera" as "ect."
By January 1920, still sought for high treason, Marut was firm in his resolve to continue his operations as "Der Ziegelbrenner." On the 26th of January, Marut wrote to an unnamed "Kamerad" in an unnamed city, with a set of instructions and news of his own condition. The subscription lists had been carried back and forth across Germany, he says, and were not yet back in order. Concerning a potential helper in Gera, Marut says that he is glad to use him if he is absolutely reliable; any indiscretion could render all their work useless. He will send mail to Gera "under the name 'Friedrich Rudolf,' " all of which is to be put into new envelopes and sent on to Munich. Repeatedly emphasizing secrecy, caution, and silence, Marut instructs his recipient to destroy all letters, or else keep them in a safe place; he asks for a safe address in Minden (Lower Saxony) and help in finding a bank account that he can use to preserve the Ziegelbrenner's operating funds.
Another letter, dated January 28, also addresses an unnamed recipient, possibly the Vienna bookseller and Ziegelbrenner distributor Richard Lanyi. Here Marut details his problems in shipping the magazine. The new publication, he says, can only be sent piecemeal; it is too dangerous to send it via Prague, and entirely impossible by way of Bavaria. Therefore, he says, it is necessary to go through Switzerland, part of the way by boat. He goes on to instruct the recipient on handling orders, noting that the ban on magazines in "the occupied area" (probably Cologne) has been lifted and that all requests coming from the Rhineland should be honored, because "in the Rhineland we have our best, oldest, truest customers, who even now, in spite of all the difficulties, which could land one in jail for three months, have given us great service." Proudly, Marut announces that "with great effort we have resurrected the Verlag;" and he expresses hope to continue without having to go abroad, although he is prepared to do that if the "Noske-despotism" should make his work impossible.
All indications are that Marut spent his last days in Germany in Cologne. There, sheltered by Seiwert, he brought out the final issues of Ziegelbrenner. The remaining letters from the fugitive period, all to Ziegelbrenner helpers, display Marut's new confidence. On January 30, 1920, he reports on the shipment of 1,900 copies of the new issue (20/22), noting meticulously that since the magazines had been stored in a coal room some of them may have become black or dusty: "don't wash it off, just shake it off. " Another letter covered the text for an advertisement to be placed in the Borsenblatt fur den deutschen Buchhandel- "hopefully at union price." The last of the fugitive letters is the only one to refer directly to Marut's escape, and it provides what may be a telling clue: he tells his recipient that "a large number of our truest helpers are Adventists. It was an Adventist who cared for our friend M for a long time, offering food and shelter; another Adventist obtained the necessary papers so that he could get out of the country and elude those who would murder him. . . ."
Three typescripts (two essays and a list of film captions), dating from around January 1921, show that Marut had a hand in a documentary film about Cologne that was suppressed by the local police-censors. The level of vitriol with which Marut, in the essays, (83) attacks the censors, the Social Democrats and the Hohenzollern family, hints that he may have begun to risk exposing himself to the very people that he had successfully avoided for two years. Whether this scenario had any bearing on his final flight from Germany is undetermined. It is more likely that conditions in Germany, and particularly in Cologne, had deteriorated so much that Marut simply ran out of anarchistic energy.
Whether running from his pursuers, or from the desperate economic conditions of Weimar Germany, Marut fled in the summer of 1923. He may have left Cologne by way of Luxembourg or Belgium and made his way through Holland to England. (84) The presence in the Riverside archive of a Paris humor magazine, La vie Parisienne, dated September 15, 1923, implies that Marut was in or near France at that time, although it could have found its way into the papers through someone else's hands.
There is evidence that Marut sailed to Canada, together with Irene Mermet in an attempt to get into the United States but was turned away at the border and sent back to England. (85) One of the most mystifying items in the Riverside archive could have some bearing on this escape, although, as with many of the documents in the Marut archive, it raises more questions than it answers. In a small notebook."(86) Marut has carefully copied sailors' morse codes and semaphore signals in pencil; together with this notebook is a gathering of six handwritten manuscript pages on which Marut has, again, copied out instructions for and illustrations of sailor's knots. Was he studying these knots and signals in order to use them in an escape by sea? Did he prepare the notebook to teach someone else, Irene Mermet perhaps? Had he indeed been a sailor in earlier times, gaining expertise in nautical crafts?
The Ret Marut archive is as complex and apocryphal as the man himself. Like a shredded map of an unfamiliar country, it can be pieced together only by comparison with the actual geography of his enigmatic life. The archive includes material pointing down several biographical paths: the theatrical scene in Berlin, Dusseldorf, and the provinces; the anti-war movements in Munich and London; the dissident sympathizers with "Der Ziegelbrenner" and the subterranean circle of pacifists, anarchists and revolutionaries who tried to change history. The great number and variety of manuscripts more than doubles the size of Marut's "Collected Works"; the Ziegelbrenner correspondence, the largest gathering of Marut/Traven letters known to exist, adds to an understanding of his aims and attitudes and the inner life of his unique magazine. Whereas there is no missing link to confirm or deny any of the myriad theories of the true identity of B. Traven, the opening of the archive is progress toward understanding his earlier incarnation as Ret Marut. But for each step closer to the true Traven, another journey's worth of questions complicates the search. From the identity of "EIsa," who drove Marut to write miserable love lyrics to the possible meeting with Lily Braun; from the unrecorded work on Bertrand Russell's pacifist lectures to the identity of the suggestively named Captain Maurhoff; from the secret military plans that found their way to Marut's hands to the network of Adventists who helped him elude his potential captors, there are many mysteries left in the Marut story.
The Germanic Review, June 1993
1. Ro1f Recknagel, B. Traven: Beitrage zur Biografie (Leipzig: Reclam, 1966).
2. Will Wyatt, The Man Who Was B. Traven, (London: Jonathan Cape, 1980), records his making of the documentary film "B. Traven: A Mystery Solved."
3. Karl S. Guthke, B. Traven: Biographie eines Ratsels (Frankfurt
am Main: Biichergilde Gutenberg, 1987).
4. Guthke 162.
5. Guthke, 239
6. MS Cat. 82. This and all Ret Marut manuscripts cited here are in the Ret Marut-Ziegelbrenner Archive, Rivera Library, Univ. of California at Riverside. The author examined the archive prior to its acquisition by Riverside. File numbers refer to James Goldwasser, B. Traven: Archive of Ret Marut & Der Ziegelbrenner 1901-1923, unpublished catalogue, 1989.
7. MS Cat.99.
8. MS Cat.81.
9. TS Cat.34; first published in Reclams Universum, 32 Jg., (1916).
10. Both Harden and Jacobsohn are represented in the archive:
Harden by a copy of his magazine, Die Zukunft; Jacobsohn by correspondence with Marut.
11. Istvan Deak, Weimar Germany's Left- Wing Intellectuals: A Political History of the Weltbuhne and Its Circle (Berkeley: U of California P, 1968), 32.
12. MS Cat. 100, is Marut's holograph record of the tour's itinerary and his roles.
13. Secretarial transcript of letter, 9 August 1911, Cat.306.
14. Letter, A. Lamand to Marut, 12 December 1917, Cat.266 and Letter, Marut to Justizrat Bielewicz & Dr. Nichterlein, I February 1918, Cat.140.
15. Wyatt, 293.
16. Ziegelbrenner, 18-19 (3 December 1919): 10.
17. Letter to Marut, 29 December 1911, Cat.234.
18. All quotations from the archive translated from the German by James Goldwasser.
19. Two drafts, TSS. Cat.3 and 4; the second version uses a new
pseudonym: "Georg Steinheb."
20. Letter to unnamed publisher, 14 May 1914, Cat.128.
21. Guthke 60-62.
22. Guthke 113-15.
23. It is interesting to note that in this and many others of the earliest manuscripts, Marut's characters come from the wealthier classes. As Traven, he protested consistently against the ruling classes and did not use them as protagonists until the controversial final novel Asian Norval. Some critics have interpreted that abrupt switch as evidence that the novel was not even written by Traven. Compare Wyatt 65 and Michael Baumann, B. Traven: An Introduction, (Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1976), 127.
24. Guthke 128-29.
25. TS Cat.2.
26. Cat. 307 .
27. Letter to Chefredakteur Karl Wolff (Kolner Tageblatt), 12 January 1916, Cat.129.
28. Letter to Frau August Erkens, 12 January 1916; with transcrip-
tion of Erkens's reply to Marut, 13 January 1916, Cat.131.
29. Letter to Fritz Mermet, 5 February 1916, Cat.132.
30. Guthke 162, citing Recknagel.
31. It should be noted that there has been some question about the authorship of An das Fraulein von S ... , and its attribution to Ret Marut is not universally accepted. A few curious details: the typescript of the novella, unlike the majority of typescripts in the archive, does not name the author at all. It does, however, name the publisher, "J. Mermet Verlag, Munchen," directly beneath the title, a rather unusual feature for a working manuscript and one which might hint at a collaboration with Irene Mermet. Many of the editorial corrections to the manuscript are in a hand other than Marut's, although it is conceivable that they were made by a censor rather than a collaborator. The printed book included a three-page manuscript signed "J. Mermet," but that text is not found in this manuscript, nor is it in the copy of the book present in the Riverside archive.
32. Guthke 176, citing Recknagel.
33. Geo. von Kaufmann, "Offener Brief an den Hon. Bertrand Russell," April, 1917, with related corrspondence. Cat.257. Kaufmann writes to inform Russell of his project, leaving two empty spaces for the names of his two translators. This typescript of the letter has been annotated by Marut to clean up the German of the writer, who, it appears, was part English.
34. Geo. von Kaufmann, "Offener Brief an den Hon. Bertrand Russell."
35. Bertrand Russell, Principles of Social Reconstruction (London:
George Alien & Unwin, 1916).
36. Letter, George Kaufmann to Bertrand Russell, 23 January 1917, in Bertrand Russell Archive, McMaster University Library, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. My thanks to the officials at Mills Memorial Library, McMaster University, and especially to Mr. Kenneth Blackwell, for permission to consult with correspondence in the Bertrand Russell archive.
37. TS transcription in English; letter dated 11 February 1917,
38. Letter, Kaufmann to Marut, 12 March 1917, Cat.257.
39. Wyatt 250-51.
40. See especially Armin Richter, Der Ziegelbrenner: das individualanarchistische Kampforgan des friihen B. Travens (Bonn: Bouvier Verlag Herbert Grundmann, 1977).
41. All are represented by correspondence in the archive.
42. Letters to unnamed recipients, 26 January 1920 and 28 January 1920, Cat,222 and 223.
43. Letter, Hans Reichel to Marut, 13 September 1917, Cat,281.
44. This contact may have been useful to Marut during his fugitive period. Documents preserved in the Traven archive in Cuernavaca imply that he made his way out of Germany by way of Luxembourg. See Guthke 238.
45. Richter 406.
46. Letter, Gust van Werveke to Marut, 15 September 1917,
48. Deak 35.
49. By the time of his correspondence with Marut, Jacobsohn had reversed his course, acknowledging the shift by renaming his magazine Die Weltbuhne.
50. Letter to Jacobsohn, 20 February, 1918, Cat.147. It is interesting to note that though much has been made of Marut's philosophical debt to Max Stirner, Stirner is never quoted in Der Ziegelbrenner. This is the only known direct reference Marut made to Stirner.
51. Ziegelbrenner 4, 27 July, 1918, 79.
52. Richter 23-24.
54. Mermet, interestingly, is described as "without profession, from Munich, at present residing in Cologne." it has not been previously suggested that Irene Mermet might have returned to Cologne after moving to Munich with Marut; the reason for their reporting this in the notarized document is unclear.
55. Richter 174.
56. Richter 27.
57. 30 January 1920, Cat,224.
58. 28 January 1920, Cat,223.
59. Letter, Marut to Rudolf Mosse, 26 November 1917, Cat.l36.
60. Letter, Marut to Vereinigte Druckereien, August 30, 1918, Cat,205.
61. Ziegelbrenner No. 15, 30 January, 1919.
62. It was probably through one of his soldier-allies that Marut acquired one of the most mysterious items in the archive, a file of secret military documents. The file details a mission code "Otto" that was planned in Alsace-Lorrain during the last summer of the war but called off at the last minute. Why did Marut have these documents? Did he plan to expose the operation in the pages of Ziegelbrenner? Was he working in some other, nonliterary capacity?
63. Letter to Marut, 18 March 1918, Cat.260.
64. Letter, Marut to Keisel, 24 April 1918, Cat.155.
65. Guthke 226.
66. Gotz Ohly, "Das Ratsel urn den Dichter B. Traven," Munch-
ner Stadtanzeiger, 25 February, 1949, 4.
67. Letter, 4 June 1918, Cat,275.
68. Heavily corrected TS. Cat,31O.
69. Cat. 104.
71. Herzog's earlier magazine, Das Forum, was probably Munich's leading anti-war journal. A short letter in the archive from Herzog to Marut, 9 March 1918, Cat, 298 , thanks him for sending his "courageous magazine." Die Republik was edited by Herzog in Berlin beginning in December 1918 and displayed a strong support of the revolution and of Kurt Eisner.
72. Guthke 216.
73. Oskar Maria Graf', Gelachter von Aussen, (Munchen, 1966) 104.
74. Graf, Wir sind Gefangene (Miinchen: Siiddeutscher Verlag, 1978), 425-26.
75. Two letters, 17 and 18 December, 1918, Cat,214 and 215.
76. One document in the archive hints at Marut's participation in the Raterepublik: a two-page typescript of minutes from the council meeting on April 3, 1919, in which the proclamation of the Raterepublik was hotly debated. Whether Marut himself typed these minutes is questionable.
77. Guthke 218.
79. Carbon TSS Cat.312.
80. Uli Bohnen, Franz W Seiwert 1894-1933, Leben und Werk (Koln: Kolnischer Kunstverein, 1978) 221.
81. This text was published posthumously, from a manuscript left Seiwert's archive; UIi Bohnen & Dirk Backes (eds.) Der Schritt, der einmal getan wurde, wird nicht zuruckgenommen: Franz W Seiwert Schriften (Berlin: Karin Kramer Verlag, 1978) 70.
82. A bis Z: Organ der Gruppe progressiver Kunstler, 3.24: 96.
83. "Die Geschichte eines Films," and "Dilletantismus in der
Kloake des Herrn Runge," carbon TSS Cat. 76, 77.
84. Guthke 238.
85. Guthke 239.