Marian Slingova-Fagan: Political activist who endured solitary confinement in communist Czechoslovakia

Marian Rose Šlingová-Fagan was a political activist who married a Czechoslovakian Communist and found herself caught up in that country's repressive system.

Marian Wilbraham was born to a well-to-do middle-class British family in New Zealand in 1913. Her father died when she was one and her mother returned with her to Britain to live in Oxford. She was educated at the independent Oxford High School and then Somerville College, Oxford University. She became attracted there to the then fashionable Communist movement. After two years of teaching, in 1937 she became secretary of the British Youth Peace Assembly and helped to organise anti-war demonstrations.

Through her wartime work with refugees she met a Jewish exile and fellow communist from Czechoslovakia, Ota Šling. Their marriage in 1941 cost her her British citizenship. She became "a friendly alien" and a citizen of the non-existent Czechoslovakia. Their son Jan was born in 1943, Karel in 1945. After the war they returned to the newly restored Czechoslovakia, where Ota became the most powerful person in the Brno region, the Party's regional secretary. Šlingová was enthusiastic about the Czechoslovakian people creating "a more just society" and worked on her Czech.

In October 1950 Ota was arrested, tortured until he confessed to the most absurd crimes of treason and espionage, and executed at the end of 1952.

His case formed part of the Stalin-inspired Slánský show trial aimed partly at purging the Czechoslovak Communist leadership of Jews. She was imprisoned a few hours after Ota. Seven-year-old Jan and five-year-old Karel went to an orphanage, where Jan was forced to listen to the live radio relay of his father's trial.

Šlingová was kept mostly in solitary confinement for over two years. She knew nothing about her children and learnt about Ota's execution from her only contact with the world, the interrogator. The prison authorities didn't send on her regular letters to her mother in Britain, who consequently knew about their plight only from the British press and pestering journalists.

She was reunited with her children on her release in 1953. The authorities had prepared a flat for them with no bathroom and a shared outside toilet in the north-eastern Bohemian mountains, and had designated a job for Šlingová as a factory hand. They were forced to change their surname to Vilbr, but the locals knew who they were and were very kind. Her pay would not cover the rent and food for three, so the grocer gave her credit. Local women taught her to cook cheap Czech food, and she would carry wood and pine cones for heating the stove from the forest in a piece of cloth fixed to her back. The local schoolteacher brought them rabbits to breed. The former factory owner's widow, who now worked as a factory hand alongside her former servants, gave them hand-me-down clothes. Even local communists tried to help when nobody was watching.

Šlingová resumed correspondence with her 74-year-old mother, who promptly turned up to stay with them for the next five years. She slept in the kitchen on the settee which she had specially sent on from Britain.

After the first revelation of the Stalinist crimes in the Soviet Union in 1956, the family was allowed to move to Prague and Šlingová to work as a foreign editor in publishing. But the boys were still barred from higher education. Jan, interested in history, no good with his hands and frightened of heights, was made to learn a trade and work on a ladder, testing balconies. Karel was trained to work in the mines, where the noise, against which he was not given sufficient protection, permanently damaged his hearing.

Ota Šling was legally vindicated in 1963. The financial compensation was minuscule and Šlingová received none for her own imprisonment. But the boys were allowed to study. Jan started to study law and Karel graduated in economics. The family re-assumed their original surname and spent every summer with their grandmother, who was back in Britain. Šlingová became a full-time translator. She is renowned for her translations of The Axe by Ludvik Vaculík, Pábitelé by Bohumil Hrabal, and economic publications by Ota Šik. She also published the story of her imprisonment, Truth Will Prevail.

After the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia she returned to Britain for good in 1970. The boys stay in Prague. Fairly soon, Jan was arrested for dissident activities, kept in the same prison in Ruzyne where his parents were in the Fifties and expelled to Britain in 1972. Both Šlingová and Jan were stripped of Czechoslovak citizenship for helping to make dissident publications available in the West in English.

Karel signed Charter 1977, a document fiercely critical of the Czech government, lost his job as an economist and for seven years became a manual worker. He was allowed to emigrate to Britain in January 1984 and the family has been here ever since. Šlingová married Hymie Fagan in the 1970s, joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and went to Greenham Common. Her last demonstration was against the war in Iraq in Hyde Park.

Marian Šlingová-Fagan, activist and translator: born New Zealand 5 March 1913; married twice (two sons); died London 22 June 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?