Remembering Mildred Fish-Harnack

November 7, 2011

A new WPT program premiering tonight has all the suspense and romance you’d find in a Hollywood thriller — but this one is a real Wisconsin story, with a genuine hero and a tragic ending. Wisconsin’s Nazi Resistance: The Mildred Fish-Harnack Story tells the tale of  Milwaukee-born Fish-Harnack, who joined the resistance movement in Berlin and paid for it with her life. In fact, she was the the only American woman executed on the personal orders of Adolf Hitler.

It was at UW-Madison where Mildred Fish met her husband Arvid Harnack–she a student and teacher there, and he a Rockefeller Fellow from Germany. With him, she moved to Germany in the late 1920s, and they soon witnessed Hitler’s rise to power. At great personal risk, the couple worked with other activists to oppose Hitler’s Nazi regime: distributing literature, helping Jews and transmitting intelligence information about the Third Reich to the American and Soviet governments.

In 1942, the Harnacks were arrested along with a number of other resistance fighters. Within months, Arvid was sentenced to death and hanged at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin. Mildred, originally sentenced to six years of hard labor by the Reich Court Martial, was sent to the guillotine in February 1943 after Hitler revoked the judgment and ordered a second trial.

Actress and Greendale native Jane Kazcmarek narrates the documentary, which airs Monday, Nov. 7, at 8 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television and Milwaukee’s MPTV. WPT has also launched a companion website that provides a wealth of video, documents, photos and a timeline.