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Bone Edith

Edith Bone

Edith Bone was born Edit Hajós in 1889 in Hungary.  A medical doctor by training, she married Béla Balázs in 1913. From 1923 to 1933 she lived in Berlin. A year after that, now living in England, she married Gerald Martin in February 1934 and became a British subject. She joined the Communist Party in Britain around this time.

In 1936, she was on a touring holiday in Spain with her friend, Felicia Brown (see separate entry) when the Spanish Civil War broke out. Bone stayed on to offer her services in the struggle and became involved with the establishment of the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia, (PSUC) in Barcelona.

In 1947, Bone went to Hungary to acting as a free-lance correspondent in Budapest, working for the London Daily Worker, on the basis of an understanding with J R Campbell, the editor. She was arrested as she was seeking to leave Hungary in 1949 and quite wrongly accused of being a spy for the British government.

It is likely that allegations about her widely-supposed Hungarian aristocratic birth (which family members today dispute was factual) was a factor in the false accusation but her itinerant years before the Second World War and coincidental ability to be at places when dramatic things occurred also made for suspicion in the fevered atmosphere that the cold war was now ushering in.

Some claimed that she had been accused of being a covert Trotskyist but it more likely, if this was so, that she would have been called a `Titoist’ at this time. Lastly, her free-lance status, which meant that her arrival had not been properly cleared with the Hungarian Party authorities in advance, must have caused difficulties on her attempt to exit the country, which – as far as the Hungarians were concerned - did not follow procedures for a recalled correspondent of a fraternal party’s newspaper.  

To add further damage to an already outrageous circumstance, Bone was detained in solitary confinement without trial for fourteen months and eventually sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment. The discernment that a serious error had been made, in all probability, contributed to the effective hiding of Bone in the Hungarian prison system from both British Communist and UK government query. During this ordeal, she developed a series of mental exercises to try to avoid the inevitable mental problems that could develop, including mind puzzles in geometry and language and making up doggerel rhymes.

She was released by protesting students during the last days of a temporary government that arose during the 1956 revolt in Hungarian Revolution of 1956. She wrote a book about her jailing called `Seven Years Solitary’, published in 1957. In this she recounts how she made herself a printing set out of bread, shaping letters out of breadcrumbs. She also made a pin sized spy-hole in the door to her cell, so as to simply look out.

As far as the British Communist Party was concerned, Bone had simply disappeared a couple of years after she went to Hungary in 1947. On her release, the Party’s leadership was heavily accused by hostile elements, most without but some within the Party for not having more urgently pressed the Hungarians for answers to her whereabouts. Seemingly, the British had frequently asked about her but received no satisfaction on their concerns from the Hungarian Party.

Edith Bone died in 1975, having devoted herself to translation work after her ordeal. She had already a number of major translations to her credit from the 1940s, such as Tolstoy’s `Road to Calvary’, `Alexander Suvorov: a biography’ by K. Osipov, and a biography of Maxim Gorky. She translated Vladimir Dudintsev’s `Not By Bread Alone’, published in 1957.