Jan Valtin was the alias of Richard Julius Hermann Krebs (December 17, 1905 - January 1, 1951), a German writer and Gestapo agent during the interwar period. He settled to the United States in 1938, and in 1940 (as Valtin) wrote his highly fictionalized bestselling book Out of the Night, which was largely praised by the anti-Soviet press in America, and several novels.
Krebs became active in the Communist movement as a boy, when his father was involved in the naval mutiny that heralded the 1918 German revolution. In 1923, he saw action in the failed Communist insurgency in Hamburg. Sometime after this he joined the German Communist Party, but was later expelled.
In 1926 Krebs entered the United States illegally and settled in California. He spent 38 months in San Quentin State Prison in California for attempting to murder a small merchan during a brawl, then was deported to Germany in 1929. He worked as a seaman until 1934, when he acted as a witness for persecution in a trial that brought to the conviction of a seaman accused of treason.
In 1938 the settled in the United States once again - this time under his most famous alias, Jan Valtin - where he published the highly publicized autobiography Out of the Night. In the book he described in details the operation he supposedly had carried on as a member of the GPU. The 1926 attempted murder was described by Krebs/Valtin as a GPU operation.
The book received great critical acclaim. A 1940 review for the Saturday Review of Literature reads: "No other books more clearly reveals the aid which Stalin gave to Hitler before he won power". As a result, he Valtin/Krebs was invited to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee as regards Soviet secret activities in Europe.
In 1941 Valtin/Krebs was served with a warrant of arrest. Further investigations revealed that he had already been placed under trial in 1926 and founf guilty of attempted murder. The Los Angeles court record revaled that the crime had no political purpose. As for his connection with the German Communist Party, Krebs confessed that he had penetrated the organization as an undercover Gestapo agent.
The Board of Immigration Appeal declared: "His life has been so marked with violence, intrigue and treachery that it would be difficult, if not wholly unwarranted, to conclude that his present reliability and good character have been established. [...] Within the past five years the subject has been considered an agent of Nazi Germany. On the record before us it appears he has been completely untrustworthy and amoral".
This event marked the end of Krebs/Valtin's career as a "Soviet expert". The New York Mirror said about his book Out of the Night: "In effect, the decision means he perpetrated a huge literary hoax"
In November 1942, Krebs was also indicted as a Gestapo agent. He was arrested in December 1942 and found innocent in May 1943. In August 1943 Krebs was drafted as an infantryman and deployed in February 1944 to the Philippines in fighting the Japanese in the Pacific War. In 1946 his book Children of Yesterday, an anecdotal history of the 24th Infantry Division was published. The book described in graphic detail the horrors of the fighting and everyday life of the 24th Infantry Division’s troops.
He was granted citizenship in 1947.
Valtin/Krebs married again, before 1941, to Abigail Harris, an American. They had two sons.
- Michael Sayers, Albert E. Kahn, The Great Conspiracy Against Russia, 1926, p. 127.
- Michael Sayers, Albert E. Kahn, The Great Conspiracy Against Russia, 1926, p. 126.
- Freda Utley, Saturday Review of Books, n. 23, 1940, p. 176.
- John V. Fleming, The Anti-Communist Manifestos. The Four Books that Shaped the Cold War, W. W. Norton & Company, 2010, p. 167.
- New York Mirror, November 25, 1942.
- Valtin, Jan (1940). Out of the Night. New York: Alliance Book Corporation.
- von Waldenfels, Ernst (2002). Der Spion, der aus Deutschland Kam. Das Geheime Leben des Seemanns Richard Krebs. (The Spy Who Came From Germany. The Secret Life of the Seaman Richard Krebs.) (in German). Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-351-02538-0.
- Valtin, Jan; Walsh, Lynn (1988). Out of the Night. Fortress Books. pp. ostscript. ISBN 978-1-870958-03-5.