Lise London: Political activist and veteran of the Spanish Civil War and French Resistance - Obituaries - News - The Independent

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
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
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

Primary Teacher

£110 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Newcastle: Our clients are looking for...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

Supply teachers needed- Worthing!

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Supply teachers needed for va...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week