The Courageous Story of Mildred Harnack and the German Resistance to Nazi Oppression
Discover a remarkable tale of resistance that took place in the heart of Nazi Germany – a story of courage, loyalty and determination.
At the center of this amazing story is Young Don, an eleven-year-old American boy living in Berlin during the rise of Adolf Hitler.
His father was a US intelligence agent in Berlin, and whenever Young Don visited Mrs.
Harnack for English lessons, he was reminded to never take the same route twice!
Harnack worked with her husband Arvid to fight back against the oppressive Nazi regime by helping run an underground anti-Nazi resistance group – and their “secret weapon” was Young Don!
He would act as their courier, using his visits to Mrs.
Harnack’s apartment to smuggle important pieces of paper between books in his bag without detection.
This gripping story highlights how some people refused to accept defeat when faced with oppression and how they chose to battle back against it – no matter what risks were involved.
You’ll also learn how even Stalin got entangled with Russian intelligence as part of this extraordinary tale.
Mildred and Arvid Harnack–The Couple Who Risked Everything for Justice
Mildred Fish and Arvid Harnack’s romance was like a whirlwind – one minute they had just met in Wisconsin, the next they were married and heading to Germany!
Mildred was a hardworking student with a bachelor’s degree in humanities, where she met Arvid while giving lectures at Wisconsin University.
Although her family had long struggled financially, Mildred drove on to earn her masters in English by 1926.
Little did she know that her hard work would be rewarded when Arvid walked into one of her lectures completely by accident and charmed his way into her heart with a bouquet of wildflowers.
Arvid had an entirely different background – coming from a wealthy German family and obtaining his law degree.
The two quickly got married, making plans to move to Berlin for Arvid’s PhD studies – with Mildred joining him as a lecturer at the university teaching American literature (as well as pursuing her own PhD!).
When Mildred arrived in 1929, she witnessed first-hand the severe inequality crisis engulfing Germany due to poverty and homelessness.
She found herself connecting with people living on the streets due to their similarities with her mother back home.
This only served to deepen the couple’s love for social causes and justice, leading them both down paths toward greater commitment – such as Arvid serving as secretary for ARPLAN (the Working Group for the Study of the Soviet Planned Economy).
This event is what ultimately brought them so far away from Wisconsin back home all those years ago.
The 1930s in Germany: Hope for a Bright Future is Quickly Turned to Fear With the Rise of Fascism
In 1932, the Nazi Party was quickly gaining momentum in Germany.
This was partly due to their slogan “Work, Freedom, Bread” which resonated strongly with a lot of people who were facing economic hardship and were looking for an answer.
The Nazi party promised that they could help bring back the prosperity that had been lost during the post-WWI recession.
This message hit home with a lot of people and as a result, the Nazi party’s share of votes jumped from 3 percent in 1928 to 37 percent in 1932 – making them the largest political party in Germany at that time.
As one writer put it: “The German people…
believed a return to ‘a more absolute government’ was the best way.”
Despite this, many saw Hitler as an untrustworthy buffoon and weren’t yet panicking about the alarming rise of fascism.
But ultimately, the very promises he made – Work!
– ended up slowly leading Germany towards some of its darkest days – days that Mildred and Arvid never could have imagined when they first moved to Berlin full of hope for a better life.
How the Nazis Silenced their Opposition and Reversed Women’s Rights in Two Steps
On February 27th, 1933, just two weeks after Hitler had been sworn in as chancellor, a fire broke out in the Reichstag parliament building which completely gutted the building.
This event served as a catalyst for the Nazi Party to enact their agenda without any opposition.
Although initially stated by the Nazis that it was an attack by a communist sympathiser, many believed the fire had been arranged deliberately as an excuse to move forward with their plans.
This event put immense pressure on Germany’s president and other parliament members and, despite vocal opposition from some of them, they voted to approve a law called “Law to Remove the Distress of People and Reich”, essentially tearing apart Weimar Constitution.
It paved way for Hitler and his party to legally silence all forms of news or speech against them and arrest anyone who spoke ill of him or his policies.
More laws followed afterwards including an ideological guideline by Joseph Goebbels – head of Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda – that women should no longer work but instead focus on giving children to her nation.
Consequently, 19,000 women were fired from public jobs soon after.
This moved society back towards more traditional roles for women that hadn’t been seen before Hitler’s rule.
Mildred Harnack Encouraged Resistance and Discussions at Berlin Night School for Adults
Mildred and Arvid Harnack were committed to helping the working class, so they started a club at the BAG (Berlin Night School for Adults) called the English Club.
This club was meant to allow students to expand their knowledge of literature, history, philosophy, and science.
But what some of them may not have known was that it also served a more covert purpose – it provided a platform for Mildred and her cohorts to participate in espionage activities as part of an underground resistance against the Nazi regime.
It consisted of Mildred’s contacts within the American Consulate and other like-minded individuals who would meet secretly to hatch plans against the oppressors.
She even sang folk songs about abolitionist John Brown during meetings which often included provocative political discussions about things like slavery and democracy.
The group eventually earned a new name – The Circle – due to their tendency to distribute leaflets and flyers in factories and warehouses around Berlin which counteracted Nazi propaganda.
They went against great risk in order to make sure people had access to truthful information about current events from alternative sources.
Mildred’s Spy Club was truly a remarkable example of pushing back against oppression in pre-WWII Germany.
The Harnacks’ Decision to Stay and Fight: Taking a Stand Against Nazi Oppression
Mildred and Arvid Harnack were two of the brave individuals who decided to stay during a time of danger and fight against the Nazi government in 1933.
They formed the “Circle” where they organized leaflet campaigns aimed at inspiring people to stand up for their rights and resist Nazi rule.
But as the oppressive laws kept passing, like the “Reich Citizenship Law” that stripped Jews of their citizenship, it became increasingly dangerous for them to stay.
Despite this, they still decided to continue their fight against Nazi suppression.
With Adolf von Harnack being Arvid’s uncle providing access to important resources and contacts, they used their influence as best they could in order to try and save Jewish lives by helping them get visas so they could flee to safer places such as Norway.
The couple showed amazing strength and solidarity by fighting a dangerous fight while risking their own lives in the process.
Living a Double Life: How the Nazi Resistance Groups of Berlin Bravely Fought Against Fascism Under Constant Surveillance
The cost of resistance in Nazi Germany was incredibly high.
Despite their efforts, the Gestapo still confiscated more than a million leaflets from Mildred and Arvid’s Circle alone in 1934.
As more resistance groups emerged, they were constantly at risk of being discovered by the authorities or informants.
In 1936, over 12,000 people were even arrested for distributing opposition leaflets!
Despite the imminent danger, many brave individuals still stood up against the Nazis.
Mildred and Arvid Harnack recruited replacements for fallen activists through her BAG meetings and Arvid used his position within the Ministry of Aviation to gain information about Hitler’s resources.
Meanwhile, others such as Harro Schulze-Boysen and Adam Kuckhoff led their own Gegner Kreis and Tat Kreis activist cells respectively.
Still, it took an immense emotional toll on those involved with the resistance.
In order to stay safe and carry out their work they had to pretend to be supporters of Hitler’s regime while living in constant fear that their homes were bugged with surveillance equipment or that they were being trailed by informants wherever they went.
When Mildred returned home for a visit, her friends even questioned whether she had been changed by Nazi influence just from a simple goodbye kiss!
It was clear that there would be no easy way out of this situation: it would come at a high cost for those who chose to oppose Hitler’s regime.
A Fateful Intelligence Mistake in WWII: How Encrypted Messages Led to the Unraveling of Germany’s Resistance Movement
The German resistance had been sending crucial information to Moscow Center from back in 1938, but due to the Great Purge, much of this intelligence was not received – or worse, was deliberately ignored.
For instance, even when it became quite clear through various sources that Hitler was gearing up for a massive invasion of Russia, Stalin refused to believe it – largely due to his paranoia exacerbated by the purge and a secret nonaggression pact he had signed with Hitler earlier.
This lack of communication would have fatal consequences: one message sent on August 26th 1941 included three address locations in Berlin as well as full names related to the operation – Harro Schulze-Boysen, Adam Kuckhoff, and Arvid Harnack.
Unfortunately, this message was intercepted by Nazi code breakers and using the data allowed them to locate and eventually arrest those involved with the German resistance.
Had Moscow Center been operating with its usual level of expertise before the purge occurred, perhaps this mistake could have been avoided.
As it were, this devastating incident signified how serious an impact a lack of communication can have on any given situation.
The Brutal Cost of Resisting Nazi Germany: The Story of Mildred and Arvid Harnack
Mildred and Arvid Harnack knew that they could not stay in Nazi Germany any longer.
So, they made plans to escape – but the Gestapo was closing in on them.
With their names uncovered, it was only a matter of time before they were tracked down by the Gestapo.
They got as far as Lithuania before they were captured at a house near the Baltic Sea.
After being brought back to Berlin, Mildred and Arvid were separated and imprisoned in the Gestapo headquarters.
There, other members of resistance circles such as the Tat Kreis and Rittmeister Kreis were also held captive, including Harro Schulze-Boysen and his wife Libertas.
All of them were deprived of sleep while being interrogated relentlessly by the Gestapo – but none of them revealed information or names of other conspirators except Libertas Schulz-Boysen who testified against several fellow prisoners which prompted Hermann Göring’s outrage.
The attempt at an escape proved futile for all involved, highlighting that there was no way out for those living in Nazi Germany during this period of history.
A Farewell Letter from a Resister: Arvid Harnack’s Last Words of Love to His Wife
When it came to the Gestapo’s brutal trial of “The Red Orchestra”, Arvid and Mildred Harnack were some of those persecuted.
Unfortunately, during their trial held in December 1942, they were forbidden to speak with one another.
Arvid managed to get a letter passed on to Mildred where he shared his last words of love for her.
He was sentenced to death by hanging, while Mildred was given a six-month prison sentence at first.
Hitler then demanded another trial and had Mildred sentenced to death by beheading instead.
Mildred gave Arvid’s letter to her cellmate Gertrud Klapputh for safekeeping before execution.
The heartfelt document was written with five paragraphs full of the cherished memories they shared during the course of their marriage.
He closed his bittersweet message with these words: “You are in my heart.
You shall be forever.
My greatest wish is that you are happy when you think of me.
I am when I think of you” reminding Mildredthat she will always be remembered as his true love no matter what happened on this earthy plane
The final summary of All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days is about the overlooked individuals living in Germany who risked their lives to fight against their own government under the Nazi regime.
Mildred Harnack, and many like her, joined underground anti-Nazi resistance groups, hoping to save their home from a fascist dictatorship yet got little acknowledgment from their Soviet, British, or American allies and almost no support.
Ultimately most of them paid for their brave act with harsh consequences up to and including execution.
This book is a moving tribute and documents their bravery in taking the ultimate risk for freedom.