The true story of the extraordinary life and brutal death of Mildred Harnack, the American leader of one of the largest underground resistance groups in Germany, who was executed on Hitler's direct order.
Born and raised in Milwaukee, Mildred Harnack was twenty-six when she enrolled in a PhD program in Germany and witnessed the meteoric rise of the Nazi party. In 1932, she began holding secret meetings in her apartment--a small band of political activists that by 1940 had grown into the largest underground resistance group in Berlin. She recruited working-class Germans into the resistance, helped Jews escape, plotted acts of sabotage, and collaborated in writing leaflets that denounced Hitler's regime and called for revolution. Her coconspirators circulated through Berlin under the cover of night, slipping the leaflets into mailboxes, public restrooms, phone booths. When the first shots of the Second World War were fired she became a spy, couriering top-secret intelligence to the Allies. On the eve of her escape to Sweden, she was ambushed by the Gestapo. At a Nazi military court, a panel of five judges sentenced her to six years at a prison camp, but Hitler overruled the decision and ordered her execution. On February 16, 1943, she was strapped to a guillotine and beheaded.
Historians identify Mildred Harnack as the only American in the leadership of the German resistance, yet her remarkable story has remained almost unknown until now.
Fusing elements of biography, political thriller, and scholarly detective story, Harnack's great-great-niece Rebecca Donner brilliantly interweaves letters, diary entries, notes smuggled out of a Berlin prison, testimony of survivors, and a trove of declassified intelligence documents into a powerful, enthralling story, reconstructing the moral courage of an enigmatic woman nearly erased by history.
About the Author
Rebecca Donner's essays, reportage, and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times and Bookforum. All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days is her third book; she is also the author of Burnout, a graphic novel about ecoterrorism, and Sunset Terrace, a critically acclaimed novel. She was a 2018-19 fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the City University of New York, is a two-time Yaddo fellow, and has twice been awarded fellowships by Ucross Foundation. Born in Vancouver, Donner was educated at University of California at Berkeley and Columbia University, and has taught writing at Wesleyan University, Columbia University, and Barnard College.