The price paid for working against evil, unafraid.
July 24, 2006 2:56 PM   Subscribe

Mildred Fish Harnack was the only American woman executed for treason during World War II. Born, raised, and educated in Wisconsin, she moved to Berlin with her German husband Arvid in 1929. Arrested by the Nazis in September 1942 for their pivotal role in the Communist Red Orchestra resistance movement, they were tried in December 1942: Arvid was hung and Mildred received six years hard labor. Reviewing her case (during the humiliating German defeat at Stalingrad), Adolph Hitler ordered her retried in January 1943. This time, she was convicted, sentenced to death, and beheaded by guillotine in Plötzensee Prison on February 16, 1943.
[Mildred's life is detailed in the 2000 biography Resisting Hitler: Mildred Harnack and the Red Orchestra.]
posted by cenoxo (10 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
thanks for that. great post!
posted by kolophon at 3:54 PM on July 24, 2006


very proud of her : >
posted by amberglow at 4:09 PM on July 24, 2006

I thought it was Adolf with an "f"?

Good fpp!
posted by ktoad at 4:10 PM on July 24, 2006

We may not count her Armies.
We may not see her King.
Her Fortress is a faithful Heart;
her Pride is Suffering.
And Soul by Soul and silently,
her shining Bounds increase
And her ways are ways of Gentleness
and all her paths are Peace!

great post.
posted by basicchannel at 4:30 PM on July 24, 2006

cenoxo, Sitting here crying after reading Arvid's goodbye letter to his family and his wife. Such love remained in his heart in the face of such evil. What an extraordinary story of such bravery.

It helped me to understand that: The reason they aided the Soviets was due to a lack of opposition by the U.S. and Britain at the onset of Hitler's reign. They believed the only way to stop Hitler was to help Russia.

I'm moved to know she spent the last hours of her life reading and translating poetry and lastly Goethe's Legacy.

I knew nothing about Mildred Fish Harnack. What an admirable person. I feel better knowing about her and what she and her husband accomplished.
posted by nickyskye at 4:41 PM on July 24, 2006

I thought it was Adolf with an "f"?

A slip of the bit on my part: it really should be "Adolf".

Ich spreche kein Deutsch, but it has been spelled both ways. Note the use of "Adolph" throughout this 1943 OSS document, A Psychological Profile of Adolph Hitler.
posted by cenoxo at 4:48 PM on July 24, 2006

Thank you for this reminder of what sacrifice in the name of freedom really looks like.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:56 PM on July 24, 2006

Wow, never heard of it. Thanks for the book recommendation in the FPP.
posted by fluffycreature at 9:48 AM on July 25, 2006

...never heard of it.

Neither had I until recently. The fact that Mildred Harnack, although an American citizen, worked for the Communists may have much to with it. From the book review:
This book contributes to the debate about the true extent of resistance to Hitler within Germany. By the mid-1930s the Nazis had rounded up and killed tens of thousands of Communists and Socialists - the only organisations capable of organised resistance.

Brysac is also scathing towards both East and West for suppressing the Harnacks’ memory. The Americans condemned them as Communist dupes while the Soviets were unwilling to reveal the extent of their wartime spy network wishing to forget the warnings which could have avoided the deaths of millions of soldiers.

It is high time this book appeared. Mildred Harnack deserves her place among the ranks of those who stayed in Hitler’s Germany and indeed could have thrived under the regime. Instead she went courageously to her death - convinced that she was doing the best for her adopted land.
We too often forget that Russia suffered over 20 million casualties in World War II (perhaps 1/3 of the world total, and about 50 times the number of Americans killed.) One wonders what Europe might be like today if Hitler had not embarked upon Operation Barbarossa.
posted by cenoxo at 11:13 AM on July 25, 2006

Those photographs of prewar Berlin are amazing.
posted by dhartung at 4:32 PM on July 25, 2006

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