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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Out of the Night: The Memoir of Richard Julius Herman Krebs alias Jan Valtin (Autobiography, Crime)

Author: Jan Valtin (nom de plume)

Publisher: AK Press; 1st Nabat Ed edition (May 1, 2004) (original printing 1941)

Paperback 720 pages.

Finished Reading: 1/12/2017

Amazon Listing, or Original Hardcover Edition

          A very detailed and interesting autobiography of Richard Kreb a well-traveled man who had in his life worked for the communist, fascist, and capitalist causes (the International Comitern & the GPU, the Gestapo, and the American Army). His life begins in in post-World War I Germany during the 1920’s where there is political chaos, runaway inflation (a loaf of bread costs 1,000,000 marks) and massive unemployment.
             The young Kreb follows in his father’s footsteps becoming both a sailor and a communist agitator. Enthused by the idealism of the communist cause he participates in much picketing, strike organizing, outright sabotage, mutiny, and open rebellion (ie the doomed Hamburg uprising of 1923). As time goes on he feels the crunch of the soviet boot on his neck. He views with disgust the upper levels of the communist leadership in the free counties with their fine living and hypocrisy.
He describes how the leftist influence, under the direction of the Soviet Union, spent as much time undermining organizations with similar goals, but were not under their control, as fighting the systems they were supposedly against. He demonstrates again and again where the communist agitators would be ordered to cause a strike only to have their superiors subvert said strike by ordering Soviet ships in the striking port to be the only ones loaded and unloaded, improving the finical stability of Russia, but cutting the throats of those striking.

Hitler rises to power and he is captured, tortured, and imprisoned by the Gestapo. Eventually he is ordered by the GPU (the pre-KGB) to attempt to infiltrate the organization. He convinces Hitler’s henchmen that he has renounced his former faith and is welcomed aboard as a new Gestapo agent. 

The author Richard Krebs, alias Jan Valtin
As time goes on his beliefs are eroded away, especially during the Stalinist purges of the early 30s, where many of his friends were recalled to Moscow and shot for petty reasons.  He describes the atmosphere as one of constant suspicion where all of his former close knit comrades not denounced and gathered information on each other.  He is especially savage in his descriptions of Ernst Wollweber who he saw turn from a passionate revolutionary into a corrupt bureaucrat. But the author had by then spent so much of his life, even sacrificing his wife and child, in the Comitern’s employ he does not know where else to go.

He presents here the revolutionary’s dilemma where ideals and rhetoric give way to practicality and inevitable corruption. For every populist movement eventually gives birth to a demagogue and the requisite cult of personality. Which always leads to the destruction of its most faithful followers, prison camps, and firing squads. We have seen this again and again: Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Castro, Pol Pot, Franco, etc. And all of them have succeeded on the backs of men like the author, who gave up everything only to then be betrayed.

His story doesn’t end here though. Krebs followed up with a further book after he defected to the US and was drafted into the army, fighting with the 24th infantry in the Phillipines for World War Two. The second memoir is called Children Of Yesterday: The 24th Infantry Division in the Philippines, which I plan to read and review at a later date. The author died in 1951 of an undefined illness, which may have been in part psychosomatic.

       For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

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