Lise London: Political activist and veteran of the Spanish Civil War and French Resistance

 

When the journalist Jesús Rodríguez, writing for El País, did one of Lise London's last interviews, in December, he asked whether her lifelong political struggle – her fight for the Republic during the Spanish Civil War, her participation in the French Resistance during the Second World War, her hardship and husband's Stalinist show trial in Czechoslovakia, followed by years of campaigning – had been worth it. To which, even at 91, her answer was resounding: "Yes – we were fighting for the freedom of Europe."

That answer is perhaps more surprising than one might think because the personal price exacted on London – born Elisabeth Ricol in France in 1916 to Spanish parents – was painfully high. In wartime France, she was arrested, tortured and sent to a concentration camp, and in 1930s Spain and 1950s Eastern Europe too, she and her husband found their lives almost constantly in danger. Indeed, according to the Spanish International Brigades Association, London was the last surviving female member of 35,000 or so Brigadistas who came from all over the world to fight on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War.

Her childhood had been tough: her parents, agricultural workers from Aragon in Spain, had moved to eastern France looking for employment in the mines there. London's father was a long-standing Communist Party member. By the time Lise joined at 15, she had already started her first job, selling ice creams, before working in a factory and becoming the secretary of the Lyon branch of the Communist party.

Her natural passion for political struggle did not go unnoticed and she was taken by the Party to Moscow in 1934, where she worked in the Comintern's offices. There she met her husband, Artur, a Czech Communist whose laidback character contrasted radically with London's fiery personality – and who fell for Lise at first sight. "I saw a young man, tall and good-looking, standing in the middle of the room, as if he were petrified," Lise recalled. "He started to stare at me so hard, he had no idea that the tea he was holding was dribbling all the way down his wrist."

When war broke out in Spain in July 1936, she and her husband were based in Paris, and they helped co-ordinate the first International Brigade volunteers as they headed through France. She then trekked across the Pyrenees in October 1936 in the last convoy of Brigades before the French police closed the frontier as part of their infamous "non-intervention" policy, and she took part in the defence of Madrid. She then remained active in the Brigades in Spain until July 1938, when she gave birth to their first child, Françoise, back in Paris.

Following the Republic's defeat, Artur joined Lise in Paris, where they formed part of the French Resistance during the Second World War. Lise became an officer in charge of a snipers unit, but was arrested in 1942 for leading a protest against the Nazi occupiers, mostly by women, in the Rue Daguerre markets. She was condemned to death by the Vichy state for taking part (the only person to receive this sentence), and the fact that she was heavily pregnant with her second child, Michel, was all that saved London from execution.

After giving birth in prison, and having her child taken away from her, London was handed over to the Gestapo in April 1943, and spent the rest of the war in Ravensbruck concentration camp. She quickly –unsurprisingly, given her past – became involved in resistance to the Gestapo, before taking part in the terrible forced "death marches" of prisoners as the Allies closed in.

Just as it seemed as if the worst was behind the Londons, after the liberation of Europe by the Allies in 1945, Artur received instructions from the Czech Communist Party to return to his homeland for a government post. Following a spell as deputy minister of foreign affairs, in 1951 he was accused of spying and treason at the notorious Slansky show trial.

Lise herself had to hold a family together in the most appalling circumstances. Thrown out of the party and forced to work in back-breaking factory jobs, she had no idea from one day to the next whether her husband – held in solitary confinement for 27 months, tortured, frequently deprived of food and subject to brainwashing techniques – would be summarily executed.

London was finally freed and "rehabilitated" in 1956, following Stalin's death, and the couple left for France, where Artur wrote The Trial, based on notes Lise had smuggled out of jail, about his terrible experiences. In 1970 it was made into a film by Costa-Gavras, starring Simone Signoret as Lise and Yves Montand – after losing 15 kilos –as the half-starved Artur.

Far from opting out of politics, Lise London remained loyal to the French Communist Party and continued to work hard for left-leaning, progressive causes. She wrote her memoirs during this time, La Mégère de la Rue Daguerre ("The Shrew of the Rue Daguerre", 1995) and Le Printemps des Camarades ("The Comrades' Spring", 1996) and after Artur died in 1986 she regularly appeared at congresses and wrote articles seeking to inspire the next generation of left-wing activists.

According to the French newspaper L'Humanité she would repeatedly tell her youngest listeners to "keep your eyes open, don't stick to dogma, fight injustice and don't let [your] communist ideals be twisted. Be yourself". It was a philosophy she followed for the best part of a century.

Elisabeth Ricol, resistance fighter: born Montceau-les-Mines, France 1916; married 1933 Auguste Delaune (marriage dissolved; died 1943), secondly Artur London (died 1986; two sons, one daughter); died Paris 31 March 2012.

News
i100
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
Arts and Entertainment
James Dean on the set of 'Rebel without a Cause', 1955
photographyHe brought documentary photojournalism to Tinseltown, and in doing so, changed the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C++ Quant Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Java/Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

SQL Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java, AI)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-Office D...

Day In a Page

Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing