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18 Survived Years in Communist Prison, 1 Did Not

Marie Zivna in communist prison

A brave martyr in the former Czechoslovakia – 50th anniversary of the death of Marie Živná in a communist prison cell

Part 2 of a series commemorating Marie Živná. See part 1, part 3

Juraj Lajda
Dr. Juraj Lajda, Photo (2024): Personal

by Dr. Juraj Lajda, publisher. 

On 13th April 2024, we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the passing of Marie Živná, a Unification Church martyr in the former Czechoslovakia.

To mark the occasion, the Czech chapter of the Family Federation, together with the municipal authorities of the Czech village of Svojanov, where Marie was born, organised a memorial meeting in the Town Hall. Distinguished guests and village residents participated.

The large Czech online newspaper Novinky.cz reports,

Novinky.cz“From an early age, Marie Živná was shaped by the environment in which she grew up. Her father was a castellan in a medieval castle, where she watched him paint pictures on winter evenings. It was her love of history and art that led her to study art history at the Faculty of Philosophy in Brno. She was just about to graduate, and she had also written her diploma thesis, in which she researched a set of Gothic churches in the Svojanov region. In the end, however, everything turned out differently.” (Novinky 15th April 2024, translated from Czech. Original article)

In 1972 Marie met members of the Unification Church at the university in Brno and soon joined this new and fast growing movement. It didn’t take long before it attracted the attention of the secret services. They realised the movement from South Korea was opposed to communism.

The first member was arrested on 11th September 1973, and one week after that, many believers in Bratislava and other cities were taken into custody. A trial took place months later where 18 young men and women were found guilty of “subverting the republic”. They received unconditional prison sentences of up to five years. 19 would have been sentenced, but one of them, Marie Živná, died in her prison cell before the trial took place.

The mayor of Svojanov emphasized in his opening speech that during the time of communism, people could not freely practice their religion.

Theatre critic Jiří P. Kříž
Theatre critic Jiří P. Kříž. Photo: FFWPU

Theatre critic Jiří P. Kříž, who met Marie during joint activities at the Society of Philosophy Listeners, said:

“Marie Živná’s heroism is not a showy standing on the barricades. She was a pure girl from Svojanov who managed to resist and until the end not give in. To this day, nobody knows anything about this.”

Milena Blatna
Milena Blatná, BEng, the president of the Confederation of Political Prisoners in the Czech Republic. Photo: FFWPU

The next speaker was Milena Blatná, BEng, the president of the Confederation of Political Prisoners in the Czech Republic. She described the atmosphere of the 1950s and 1970s under the communist regime. Marie lost her life for her ideals, and no one causing this tragedy was punished, Mrs. Blatná said.

Dr. Juraj Lajda, the moderator of the event, who himself spent 3 years and 2 months in communist prison, recalled:

“In 1990, I visited Marie’s parents in Svojanov, together with Dr. Andrew Wilson, an American professor. The father of Marie showed us a telegram that had come from Bratislava. It said, ‘Your daughter has died; come and get her things immediately.’”

Lajda declared with emotion that Marie must not be forgotten. “She is a role model; she represents noble values and a noble character,” he added. Then he gave a short presentation describing the history of the Unification Movement.

Betka Danišková
Alžbeta Danišková. Photo: Erna Mae Leskovjansky

Afterwards, a short video was shown in which Alžbeta Danišková, leader of the Unification Church at that time and the main person in the trial, spoke about Marie Živná. Alžbeta was given a four years and four months prison sentence by the totalitarian regime.

Maria Uhnakova
Mária Uhnáková. Photo: FFWPU
Anton Uhnak
Anton Uhnák. Photo: FFWPU

Another speaker was Anton Uhnák, BEng, who served three years and eight months behind bars. He recalled that in 1968 there was the Prague Spring movement, but Soviet tanks soon interrupted the reform process. At that time, Reverend Moon founded International Federation for Victory over Communism.

“We need young people who are willing to sacrifice their lives for God. We need to find the logic of love,” Uhnak concluded.

Dorota Simekova
Dorota Šimeková. Photo: FFWPU

Dorota Šimeková, the next speaker, was jailed by the communist rulers for three years and eight months. She pointed out that true freedom means freedom of the soul, and added that Marie ought to have been crowned for her humility.

Mária Uhnáková was held prisoner for three years and two months. For her, Marie Živná had a deep heart. When Maria prayed for hours and thought of Marie Živná, images of flowers always came to her.

“Marie left this world with a radiance emanating from her, like the ‘princess of Svojanov’”, Maria Uhnakova said.

With a touching deep inner feeling, she recited a poem she herself wrote, dedicated to Marie Živná.

Marcela Gregůrkova, MD, a medical doctor who joined the Family Federation after the fall of communism in 1990, said that many young people at that time searched for the meaning of life and for God. After the fall of communism, it was possible to speak about God freely. But this was not possible for those who lived before that time. Marie Živná lost her life because of her faith.

Finally, Suzana Strkulová, the current president of the Family Federation in the Czech Republic, said that she had not experienced hardline communism. Everybody has the ideal to have a good family, to have children and to be happy. Marie Živná was never allowed to have that, and that made her sacrifice all the greater.

In the next part of the program, others in the audience had the chance to speak. Many expressed that they had known Marie since childhood and described her as the best person they had met. One woman recalled going to school with her. She remembered Marie as a great girl.

Novinky.cz included the words of František Beneš, a friend of Marie from her university days, who helped Marie photographing churches for her thesis,

Novinky.cz“When that terrible telegram arrived, I was at the factory. It was a shock throughout the village. It spread like wildfire: ‘Maruška died in prison.’

One person commented on it saying: ‘Well, what did she want? Society gave her an education, and she joined anti-state groups.’

My blood started boiling. I shouted at him: ‘Do you approve of this?’

Shortly after, my supervisor called me, ‘Hey Franto, watch your mouth. I’ve got a report against you for insulting the party.’ That’s how it was back then.”

Grave of Zivna family
From the grave of the Zivna family. Photo: FFWPU

Afterwards, the participants went to the local cemetery where Marie is buried. Here they laid wreaths, sang, and prayed.

The memorial meeting was attended by over 90 people, mostly local residents who for many years had not been able to talk about this case.

Those who attended the meeting expressed their appreciation, because it allowed them to learn more about the circumstances of Marie Živná’s life and death. Guests also came from Slovakia and Austria.

Marie Živná’s brother attended the meeting with his wife and daughter.

On 15th April, the largest Internet newspaper Novinky.cz covered the event. Their article was penned by a regional journalist who attended the commemorative meeting.

“18 Survived Years in Communist Prison, 1 Did Not” – text: Dr. Juraj Lajda, 16th April 2024

Part 2 of a series commemorating Marie Živná. See part 1, part 3

Featured image above: Marie Živná in the communist prison Autumn 1973. Photos taken by prison authorities. From the archive of FFWPU Slovakia.

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