Esperanza Lopez Mateos

Jan 8, 1907 - Sept 19, 1951


in progress

Esperanza Lopez Mateos at airport holding books
Esperanza in 1946
image from H. Schnautz notebook describing Esperanza
Henry's notebook page for Esperanza's
contact information

Esperanza Lopez Mateos is best known as the translator, business agent and close personal friend of B. Traven, the Mexican novelist. Esperanza's brother, Adolfo Lopez Mateos, was president of Mexico from 1958-1964. Esperanza was married to her second cousin, Roberto Figueroa, brother of the cameraman and fillmmaker, Gabriel Figueroa. The three of them lived in the same house at 1106 Coyoacan in Mexico City. Gabriel won many awards and is remembered as a great Mexican cameraman. He worked with many of the leading directors of Mexico and Hollywood, despite being blacklisted. B. Traven is estimated to have sold 30 million books. He is best known in the U.S. for "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre", made into a film by John Huston, starring Humphrey Bogart. It is on many lists of top films.

On May 8, 1941 Henry Schnautz went to the Mexican Dept of Education. In a letter home he wrote -

...enter Henry in office asking for course of study for summer school for Elda - Esperanza speaks English. Henry sees a luscious but very business like blonde of 26, 6 ft 6, 121 lbs who fears not God and is more than her match for the average man - who for a 3 day vacation hikes (not hitch hikes) 90 miles thru the mountains, rides horses for relaxation, swims in lakes of Volcano craters - temperature 40 degrees, owns a 7 room house, beautiful furniture with garage & servants quarters - all modern - .220 swift Winchester 22 rifle with scope sight - .38 special detective model Colt. Rifle, saddle & sombrero decorating her boudoir.
- letter to Marie Aug 11, 1941

Her real height he copied in his notebook. When he wrote the letter in August he had seen Esperanza a dozen times. He made notes of her climbing/hiking schedule for the year -

Henry wrote that Esperanza went to convent school, then she went to work at age 14 for 3 years at Hospital de Jesus operated by nuns. Later she worked at English Hospital for 5 years. She went to Columbia U. in New York to study hospital technique for 6 months in 1934.
- letter to Mom Aug 27, 1941

In 1941 he wrote -"During the last 5 yrs she has worked in the Education Dept." That would place her at the Dept of Education from 1936 to at least the beginning of 1944 (when she is still typing letters on department letterhead to Henry).

Henry's other stories in letters home concerning Esperanza's birth were all variations told to him but not the truth. Some of them were wild and creative and probably even had Traven's practiced fictional hand in them.

Figueroa also talks about Esperanza's hospital experience. He said she was a trained nurse (La Mirada que Limpia). She worked at the English Hospital as anesthesist and administrator. She eventually had to leave because of her bad reaction to chloroform (Memorias).

Esperanza did not have an easy childhood. Her mother Elena was a widow with 4 children, Mariano, Elena, Esperanza and Adolfo. The Figueroa boys were also orphans and it was Elena who was like a mother to them, Gabriel says in Memorias. Esperanza and Adolfo had been born long after the death of Elena's husband. This was not known when Adolfo was President of Mexico. But the family members knew it. Gabriel says that Esperanza went to work in the hospital at a young age because of the economic hardship of the family.

Elena was a teacher of French in the secondary school, says Henry (letter 8-27-41). Gabriel - Esperanza "had a magnificent education. She learned perfectly English, French and Spanish. (When she left the hospital) to her education she added parliamentary stenographer's career"(Memorias 83) Henry - "She has read worlds of literature."(letter 10-30-41)

The election of Lazaro Cardenas to a six year term in 1934 was a move to the left for Mexico. Esperanza entered the Dept of Education early in his term, perhaps 1936. In 1941 Henry says she is one of the chief secretaries in the Dept of Education (letter 8-20-1941). From the letterhead she uses, she is working for the head of publications. Fritz Pohle ("Das Mexikanische Exil") says - "the educational system and the Ministry of Education itself became the stronghold of the Left under the Cárdenas administration. ...The new state textbooks were filled with revolutionary pathos, the schools sang the 'Internationale' and raised the red flag next to the national flag."

In 1940 a more moderate President Manuel Avila Camacho was elected. The new minister of education Octavio Vejar Vazquez soon became involved in a fight to eliminate marxist ideology from Mexican schoolbooks. He eventually resigned December 1943 over differences with Vicente Lombardo Toledano.

I knew the teacher Lombardo Toledano by means of Esperanza, who was his collaborator and she went to all the conferences, meetings and acts that he participated in, to transcribe his speeches. He had a lot of respect for her, because Esperanza was a militant with much confidence, who had worked all her life in the social field. The relationship with her connected me to Lombardo, and he began this way to ask me to participate in the production of several documentaries and movies. - Figueroa Memorias p.89

During the 1930s communists played on their value to the West as principled anti-nazis. The rise of the nazis in Germany led to a great exodus of German intellectuals and the politically active. Many German communists came to Mexico. The U.S. did not allow communists entry. Just as Mexico under Cardenas was the last country on Earth who would give Leon Trotsky exile, Mexico also welcomed German and Spanish refugees. One of the great benefactors of the Germans communists was the politically powerful labor leader and Stalinist Vicente Lombardo Toledano. He welcomed them with open arms, helped them get visas and continue their careers. Anna Seghers, Ludwig Rehn, all came to Mexico and the notorious Andre Simone, one of the most successful agents of Stalin.

The earliest known reference to a professional relationship between Esperanza and Lombardo Toledano is from 1938. The Liga Pro Cultura Alemana convened a series of lectures from April 23, 1938 to June 3, 1938 of six Mexican intellectuals on the subject of the True German Culture. Vicente Lombardo Toledano led off with Goethe. A compiled book resulted. The stenographer was Esperanza Lopez Mateos (per Kießling, Wolfgang, "Brücken nach Mexiko").

The SEP, Secretaria de Educacion Publica, loaned many resources to the LPC, the Liga Pro de Cultura Alemana. Liga Pro was a League of German culture, actual translation, in Mexico, specifically anti-nazi. It held a series of lectures at government expense with many government speakers on real German culture as opposed to the nazi sickness. It was strongly supported by the SEP and Lombardo Toledano. It was founded by Heinrich Guttman, a German immigrant, inspired by the communist Popular Front, an attempt to ally all political groups against naziism. In Mexico Gutmann was a journalist and photographer who had photos published in Life and other American magazines. In Germany he had been an editor of a tabloid. He claimed to be an editor of Vorwarts, Traven's early publisher.(Pohle)

Ernst Toller was best known as a left wing German playwright. For six days in 1919 he was President of the Bavarian Soviet Republic, the failed government which Ret Marut a.k.a. B. Traven supported and caused him to flee to Mexico to avoid execution for treason. Toller was imprisoned for 5 years, released, and later his citizenship revoked, expelled by the Nazis in 1933. In November 1937 he came to Mexico from his exile in the United States. He gave a lecture at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the recently completed jewel of Mexican art and performance, on the 20th anniversary of the Russian October Revolution organized by the CTM, Lombardo's labor union. Dignitaries included Lombardo and the Mexican Communist party leader. Toller had been one of the signers of the 1936 Paris call for a German Popular Front, which was an idea that all the German left, in fact all German non-Nazis of any kind, should ignore their differences, semantic and real, and together under one banner oppose the German Nazi threat. Toller was in Mexico as a guest of LEAR,("League de Escritores y Artistas Revolucionarios") which had started as a communist-allied organization. Gutmann was a principal leader of LEAR. Toller spent a month in Mexico much of the time touring the country with Gutmann.

Toller: "At the beginning of this year, I'm sitting in Paris at a table with men who once fought passionately, Catholics and Communists, socialists and liberals, trade unionists and freelance writers, men from abroad and, at mortal danger, had come from Germany. They were all united in one and the longed-for goal of creating a Germany of freedom, peace and justice. … They had united, as we do today, in the German Popular Front."

Out of the Toller visit Gutmann founded Liga Pro de Cultura Alemana. Toller may have also revived Gutmann's interest in B. Traven. Another member of the short lived Bavarian Republic was Erich Muhsam, murdered by the Nazis, and personally known to Marut a.k.a. Traven. In the later 1920s he had openly speculated that Ret Marut was now writing under the name B. Traven.

Before he started Liga Pro, in 1937 Gutmann founded Editorial Masas, a communist allied publisher. He used the same post office box for both organizations, Apartado 8092, 30 Donceles.

In the mornings she was a secretary ... in the afternoons she made translations. She didn't leave the house. She went to neither dances or dinners. She never went anywhere. She stayed working the whole time. She had a fabulous vitality. She managed a small publisher, Editorial Masas, S.C.L. with her mother, my aunt Elena, in a small house at 30 Donceles. - Figueroa ("La Mirada que Limpia" p.35)

One of the authors that Editorial Masas had published was a Salvadoran named Geoffrey Rivas who had translated a text of Marx and Engels from German to Spanish in 1938. Also that year he translated from German to Spanish and published, possibly on his own imprint, an unauthorized version of Traven's "Rebellion of the Hanged". Bruno Traven is listed as author. It was on Editorial Masas letterhead in 1939 that Esperanza first inquired of Alfred Knopf about film rights to the B. Traven novels Bridge and Rebellion, which by all published accounts was the beginning of her relationship with Traven.

Esperanza's first translation of Traven into Spanish was "Puente en la Selva" (Bridge in the Jungle) in spring 1941. The only book with an introduction by Traven, he complains bitterly about the unauthorized Spanish translations, calling out Rivas by name but also Toledano's paper El Popular. "Su primer nombre no es Bruno", he says. He blames the German communists emigres, he calls them communazis, for the translations. He claims to have no connections to them, but of course he does, not only are they his old comrades, but Esperanza is their office manager.

The year after Esperanza died, B. Traven has this to say in 1952 in his self-publicizing newsletter BT News - Gutmann was "the first to circulate the mischievous Traum-Traven-Marut story and directly upon his arrival in Mexico he published extensive articles about it, and also told this story to every newly arrived emigre." Traven also noted Gutmann's death, his body found on the street and labeled the story, "The Mills of God Grind Slowly But..." (Guthke 320, 355)

There are so many connections, agents and politics involved that its hard to tell the story in a straightforward manner.

Trotsky had been killed by a lone assassin directly authorized by Stalin in his study near Mexico City on August 20, 1940. There had been a previous elaborate attempt on May 24, 1940 that nearly succeeded by dozens of attackers led by the artist David Alfaro Siqueiros. Several of the attackers were members of LEAR, the artist's collective, and they used the LEAR workshop as a staging area. Trotsky and Toledano had been in a bitter hostile press feud since the moment he arrived in 1937. Trotsky without any reservation considered his main enemy in Mexico to be Lombardo Toledano creating the political environment of assassination.

The American liberal magazine The Nation had printed an article by Harry Block with the GPU (Stalin's secret intelligence) cover story that the botched assassination was actually a fake attack instigated by Trotsky himself -

...Harry Block is a close collaborator of Lombardo Toledano, the notorious political agent of the GPU in Mexico. Harry Block is the managing editor of Futuro, the foul, slanderous monthly of Lombardo Toledano....Harry Block is the confidential go-between for two agents of the GPU, Oumansky and Lombardo Toledano.
- Leon Trotsky - June 18, 1940
Fourth International June 1940

Lombardo Toledano, whose job it is to function in the trade unions as a mask for GPU activity and an exponent of Stalinist policy without holding a membership card in the Party.

The continued clamor in the Stalinist press (ie Toledano who is otherwise named 18 times in this article) is nothing more nor less than the preparation for a second, still better prepared assault by the GPU. Such a second attempt on Trotsky is absolutely certain. Stalin having suffered all the moral and political damage of guilt in the first attempt must now show at least that he is powerful enough to carry out his will. Where he spent at least $10,000 for the technical preparation of the first attempt, he will now spend incomparably more. Trotsky’s life is in mortal danger.
- Joseph Hansen, aide to Trotsky - August 1940
Fourth International August 1940

The same 1941 spring that her name and likeness as logo appeared on the title page of Traven's "Puente en la Selva," with the promise of more books to come, Esperanza met Henry Schnautz. After the unsuccessful attempt to kill Trotsky in May, Henry hitchhiked to Laredo, Texas from Indiana, then took a bus to Mexico City on June 30, 1940. His first noted guard duty was on July 14. He was there the day of the murder, August 20. Most of the guards left afterwards, but he stayed on with Natalia Trotsky and grandson Seva. Stalin had killed nearly everyone in Trotsky's family, and there was no guarantee that Natalia was not in danger. The following year Henry went to the Dept of Education and talked to Esperanza. They dated and had a relationship until he left Mexico in early February 1943 then corresponded regularly and saw each other 3 times after that until her death in 1951.

Henry could speak German. All his grandparents were born in Germany. Traven has insisted he was American since he entered Mexico. "Su primer nombre no es Bruno." According to a letter Henry wrote in 1992 -

(Traven) identified himself to her as Traven's agent. At that time the Mexican Postal System, for a price, would deliver a letter immediately. About 1942 Esperanza received a note from Traven's agent asking to meet her immediately after work. The note had been written hurriedly, in English. She did not know German but instead of "you" the note used the German formal "sie", so I reassured her that her guess was correct. No native-born American would have made that error; that probably "Traven's agent" was Traven himself.
Traven had seen me waiting for Esp. at the Secretaria of Education in Mex. City - but didn't reveal himself.

In late 1942 Henry lets it be known at the Trotsky compound that he intends to have Esperanza visit him. There is a heated discussion. Eventually a senior aide is called in and he ok's it. If it had been known that Esperanza had a close working relationship with Toledano, there would have been no discussion. Toledano is not mentioned in any letter between Esperanza and Henry, though Henry knows from the very beginning about her transcribing union speeches. Its hard to summarize a scenario how she can be so close to the very well known Toledano, how bitter the enmity was with Trotsky, how she can date a Trotsky guard, and it never comes up.

The Esperanza visit to the Trotsky compound never happened. In November 1942 Esperanza was allegedly called to nurse a dying Traven. She supposedly brought him back to Mexico City and nursed him for several days. Soon after the episode ended the relationship with Henry was off. This is when the big story was told. As far as I know, Henry believed it all his life. He is in good company. Gabriel Figueroa believed Esperanza was adopted by Elena and not even half-sister to Adolfo. If Traven's real name is not Rathenau, Esperanza believed a lie. If Traven was not the illegitimate son of the Kaiser, then his wife believed a lie.

letter from Esperanza to Henry 11-25-1942
Esperanza letter to Henry Dec 11, 1942
Clip from Henry's notebook 11-26-1942
Thurs, 26 - Thanksgiving Day - worked 20 min with trap (stray cat preying on chickens) - letter Special delivery Esp to Oaxaca - Schwein sick
Clip from Henry's notebook 11-26-1942

Esp...received an urgent telegram from the Am. writer for whom she translates to hurry to a village in Oaxaca where he was dying. The village is in the tropical jungle bordering the Pacific. She went 18 hrs. by narrow gauge R.R. then 17 hrs. more on horse-back. In the village of 7 native huts there was no water, (they ate fruit instead), nor was there bread or corn. They live on fruit and fish. The only medicine the fellow had was a bottle of mescal (like brandy). He had a cot and a table for furnishings (no chairs) and had lived there for 5 yrs. She gave him injections, drained his liver and prevented him from getting up and wandering off into the jungle. They traveled 27 hours by ox-cart to get him to the city of Oaxaca then 1hr 40min. by plane to Mex. City. She has been caring for him day and night and swears she hasn’t slept more than 2 hrs. any night since Nov. 25. They had vacation from Dec. 1st to 10th so today she went back to work. The old fellow is out of the gravest danger so she has a nurse now caring for him. I’ve seen her for only a few hours in the last 2 wks. She says big blue scorpions 4 or 5 inches long scampered over the dirt floor of the old man’s hut so even had there been an extra bed or chair she would not have dared to sleep. Monkeys chattered in the trees outside and looked in thru the door or windows. Orchids more beautiful than those they sell in New York for hundreds of dollars, bloom and fade – admired only by the animals and insects inhabiting the wilderness
Henry letter to his parents 12-11-42

This is the Traven lived in the jungle myth translated and re-told by Esperanza but it's Traven's story. Traven owned a house and some land in Acapulco.

Whatever happened, by Christmas it is all off and Henry has the rest of the story all of which is untrue in the most spectacular way. The later version (1992) Henry told was undoubtedly altered by the years but the basic fact that Esperanza was Traven's daughter would be repeated to Henry by both Traven and Esperanza in letters in later years. I don't know why. Esperanza clearly loves and cares for Henry in her 1950-51 letters. She fondly remembers the month she spent in his apartment in New York in 1947. Perhaps it started disingenuously but it didn't entirely end that way.

from a letter to Franz Friedrich (Traven researcher) in 1992 - * note the genealogies and nearly every detail are not correct *

Esperanza learns she is adopted on her 16th birthday and her parents were married in the British Embassy in Mexico, leading her to believe her mother was English.

In the later years of Porfiro Diaz's Mexican dictatorship a small group of college people in Mexico City formed a close friendship. A young Doctor Lopez married Elena Mateos. Her sister married a young engineer - Figueroa. For a few thousand dollars Diaz gave a young Spaniard, of ancient lineage but little cash, a large estate deep in the jungle of Chiapas. In 1914 the cry of war rang through Europe and one of the group of friends was called to serve in the German Navy. Before leaving Mexico he and his blond fiancée were married in the British Embassy. In due time a blond baby girl was born with Dr. Lopez in attendance. The mother died in childbirth. Dr. Lopez kept the child as his own. Engineer Figueroa went to work in a silver mine in Zacatecas and asked Dr. Lopez to establish himself there. The two sisters, their wives, were reunited. Elena had 2 sons and a daughter. Her sister had 2 sons.

As quickly as possible the seaman returned to Mexico to learn that his wife was dead and his daughter was God knows where in the Mexican jungle.

The Mexican Revolution had been proceeding on its course. The Figueroa family was at home. The maid was in the patio doing the laundry. The two boys were nearby. Zacatecas was suspected of being in sympathy with Pancho Villa. A contingent of Federal troops galloped through, shooting indiscriminately. The maid, alarmed by the shooting, emptied the washtubs, flung the boys under them, ordered absolute silence, then fled. Both parents were murdered. Elena Lopez and her husband took the nephews as their own. The family, by this time, consisted of 3 Lopez children, 2 Figueroa, and Esperanza.

An explosion occurred in a silver mine and more medical help was needed. A message came to fetch Dr. Lopez. The two were riding into the mountains when Federal troops, suspecting them of being Villistas, shot them.

Mother Elena, now alone, was caring for six small children. One tenth of Mexico's population died of hunger or revolution. The Spanish friend sent Esperanza, age 5, to live at the sugar plantation. Revolutionists burned the building and sugar mill. The Indian housekeeper, taking the child with her, fled to her tribal homeland. Esperanza was about 12 years old when Elena found her and she rejoined the family in Mexico City.

Traven had for years been searching for the lost child... She was secretary to the Secretary of Education when I met her in 1941. She had been translating Traven's books from English into Spanish for some time. I don't know when he found her. He identified himself to her as Traven's agent.

Traven had been sick during that interval and had sent a messenger to Esperanza asking her to get him to a hospital. He lay delirious in a thatched cabin with little food and no medicine except Tequila, one day's journey by horse-back from the nearest landing strip. Getting him there on a bed of straw in an ox-cart required three days. Regaining consciousness as she was giving him medication he studied her intently, saying, "You're lovely, but not so beautiful as your mother." That was her first intimation that Traven was her father.

Traven by this time in his life is putting the energy that used to go into books into maintaining public fictions for himself (the American agent) and Esperanza. Esperanza knows Traven is not her father. She attended her father's funeral in 1934. It was the Spaniard, Gonzalo de Murga. For years her birth was a mystery. Gabriel Figueroa in his later years thought she was adopted but not Adolfo. Gabriel told nearly as fanciful story as Henry. What did happen has been cleared up by online birth records not fully public until 2015. Esperanza was born in 1907. Henry always thought it was somewhere between 1913-15 which fit the revolution story better. Her brother, the future president of Mexico and Senator in 1946, was born in 1908. Their father had died in 1904. The actual father was Gonzalo de Murga, a Spaniard with a sugar plantation (finca) in Oaxaca named Santo Domingo.

It was the illegitimate births and the public view of them that drove the story to hide the beginnings to protect the children. Apparently (an outsider guessing) when Adolfo got into politics a new story was created for him but not for her. Or maybe there were always multiple stories. Adolfo Lopez Mateos would have been ineligible to become President with a father not born on Mexican soil. Into this situation walks B. Traven. In Henry's story, revolutionists burn the Spaniard's sugar plantation (finca) deep in the southern jungle to the ground, casting the 5 year old Esperanza into the wild to be raised as a native. In reality, Murga's Santo Domingo never burned. But in Traven's last novel "The General from the Jungle," published 1939, the rich southern finca is burned to the ground by revolutionists and it is named Santo Domingo.

Searching documentary traces of a Mexican presidential family: Lopez Mateos

But why his daughter?