September 16, 2012
MILDRED HARNACK (née Mildred Fish, 1902–43) was the only American woman to be executed on Hitler’s orders during the Third Reich; at the heart of her thrilling narrative is a romantic tale. While studying at the University of Wisconsin, the young American fell in love with and married German economist Arvid Harnack. The couple moved to Berlin in the early 1930s, where they became interested in the possible solution to poverty offered by Soviet communism. After traveling to the USSR in 1932, the Harnacks — and writer and journalist Adam Kuckhoff and his wife Greta — formed a political discussion group, out of which grew an important node in the Berlin-based anti-Nazi resistance network known to the Gestapo as the Rote Kapelle (Red Orchestra). The group not only passed intelligence about Nazi atrocities and war plans to the US and the USSR, it distributed leaflets and anti-Nazi stickers inciting civil disobedience; and they helped people in danger from the Nazis escape the country. The Harnacks were arrested in September 1942; before being executed, Arvid wrote to Mildred: “Our intense work meant that life was not easy for us, and the danger of being overwhelmed not slight. Nonetheless, we remained living human beings. You are in my heart. You must always stay there. My greatest wish is for you to be happy when you think of me. I am when I think of you.” Mildred was sentenced to imprisonment, but Hitler ordered a new trial and she was beheaded by guillotine. Her final words: “And I have loved Germany so.”
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