Only one American woman stoked Adolf Hitler’s ire to the point that he personally ordered her execution. For Mildred Fish Harnack ’25, MA’26, the journey from a Milwaukee boarding house to a Nazi-run prison was one filled with love, sacrifice, and unwavering resistance. As a student at UW–Madison, Mildred studied English and edited the Wisconsin Literary Magazine. While a graduate student teaching in the English department, she met Arvid Harnack MAx’26, a German economist and legal scholar on fellowship at the UW. They married six months later, on August 7, 1926, and Mildred joined Arvid back in Germany in June 1929. In Germany, Mildred continued her education in a doctoral program while Arvid worked for the government. Their mutual interest in Soviet policies led to them establishing a study circle with friends and fellow academics. But what started as an informal discussion group quickly evolved into an organized opposition force as Hitler rose to power in Germany. The Red Orchestra, as it was later known, recruited other Germans into the movement who would later sabotage the Nazi regime by distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets, helping Jews flee Germany, actively spying, and passing coded information. Despite years of success, a single intercepted radio transmission led to Mildred and Arvid’s arrest by the gestapo on September 7, 1942. The couple stood firm against the Third Reich even as both faced death. Arvid was executed on December 22, 1942, and Mildred followed on February 16, 1943. Learn more about Mildred Fish-Harnack’s love story and legacy of bravery 80 years later.
Mildred Fish Harnack
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