Mildred Fish-Harnack

class of 1919

 

Mili after her arrest by the Gestapo

 

Commemorative stamp
featuring Mili and Arvid
 issued by the German Republic.
From the collection of Myles Johnson

Tragic Intellectual Fighting
 in the Anti-Nazi Underground

Mildred Fish - Mili to her friends - was a native of Wisconsin. Following the death of her father in 1918 Mili moved to Chevy Chase, Maryland with her mother and sisters. Western High was the school of choice for her senior year of high school. It was a long trip by streetcar, but she made many new friends. She worked on the Western Breeze and was an editor for the Trailblazer. She was active in sports and played on both the girls basketball and baseball teams. Mili portrayed the role of Princess Angelica in the senior class play, Thackeray's The Rose and the Ring.

The two years following graduation with the Western class of 1919 were spent working and attending George Washington University. With money from her savings and from her family, she returned to her home state to attend the University of Wisconsin.

Mili received a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin and then began her graduate studies. Soon after she met Arvid Harnack who was the scion of an academically distinguished German family. Arvid was on a fellowship to continue studies for his second Ph.D. After they were married, they went to Germany to continue their graduate studies. Mili concentrated on American Literature and became proficient as a translator of American classics into German.

A great beauty, educated and cultured, Mili was accepted into the highest circles of the German intelligentsia. These cultured circles were bitterly opposed to the rise of Hitler and National Socialism (the Nazis) in their country. Many turned to Communism for support. Arvid Harnack was one of the founders of the RoteCapelle or Red Orchestra. This Soviet dominated espionage ring provided much high-quality military and industrial intelligence especially during the German invasion of Russia. Ironically most of this valuable information was either ignored or misused by the Soviets. Due to their own procedural blunders, the Soviets managed to disclose enough information that the German counterintelligence was able to rollup the espionage ring. Arvid and Mili were arrested by the Gestapo in 1942. Arvid was tried and hanged by a civilian tribunal. At first, Mili was given only a relatively light prison sentence. Hitler personally countermanded and ordered her execution.

Mili was guillotined in early 1943.

Want to read more? Try this new book, "Resisting Hitler"
Shareen Blair Brysac, 2000.

 

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Updated May 3, 2011 10:00 PM