Cast of Characters
This material is copyright Shareen Blair Brysac, 2000
Mildred Harnack-Fish

Wisconsin born and bred, Mildred followed her husband to Germany in 1929. Active as an instructor in American literature at both the university and gymnasium level, she wrote newspaper articles, translated German and American literature. In 1941, she received a Ph.D. in American literature at Giessen University. In 1933 along with Martha Dodd she assembled a literary salon. Together with her husband she formed a resistance group, mostly from her former students, to oppose Hitler, which later was dubbed the "Red Orchestra" by the Nazis. The group passed on intelligence to the Americans (1938-41) and the Soviets (1935, 1940-42). On Hitler's orders, Mildred Harnack was executed at Plötzensee on February 16, 1943. September 16, her birthday is a day of remembrance in Wisconsin.
Mildred Harnack School

Clara Leiser's Poem to Mildred After Her Execution
Arvid Harnack
Born to a scholarly family in Darmstadt-he was the nephew of Adolf von Harnack, the German theologian--Arvid was raised in Stuttgart and Jena. Too young to fight in World War I, he fought with the Freikorps, a right-wing paramilitary group in Silesia, Kiel and Berlin. He was awarded two doctorates both with the unusual distinction, summa cum laude. Awarded a Rockefeller scholarship, he met and married Mildred Fish in 1926 in Wisconsin. Radicalized by his study of labor history with Professor John R. Commons and his participation in the Sacco-Vanzetti protests, Harnack returned to Germany and began a career as a civil servant. In 1932 he became secretary of Arplan, a group dedicated to studying the planned economy. He accompanied this group on a study trip to the Soviet Union in 1932. In 1935 he joined the Economics Ministry and was promoted, in 1942, to Oberregierungsrat. In 1938, he began meeting with Donald Heath, First Secretary of the American Embassy in Berlin and during long walks provided Heath with information regarding Germany's preparations for war and the Reich's economy. In 1940, he met and joined forces with Harro Schulze-Boysen and his wife, Libertas. In September, 1940 Arvid agreed to help the Soviets as well as the Americans. Before the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Harnack and Schulze-Boysen provided key intelligence to the NKVD's Berlin representative, Alexander Korotkov. The Harnacks were arrested on September 7 in Preil, a fishing town on the Baltic. He was tried by the Reich's Court Martial Court and executed for treason on December 22, 1942.
(Read Arvid Harnack's last letter)
Martha Dodd
Born 1908 in Ashland, Virginia. After graduating from the University of Chicago, she became assistant literary editor of the Chicago Tribune. Martha was briefly married to a banker, George Roberts, before moving to Berlin where her father became FDR's ambassador in 1933. Along with Mildred, she wrote a book column for Berlin Topics, a newspaper for English-speaking expatriates. After several affairs with diplomats, newspapermen and Nazi officials, she fell in love with a Soviet diplomat, Boris Vinogradov.She was persuaded by another Russian to help the Soviets mainly by passing on information obtained from opening her father's mail and gossip obtained at diplomatic parties. Her father was recalled in 1937 and Martha returned home although not before trying to persuade Stalin on a trip to Moscow to let her marry Boris. (Boris was executed for his efforts in 1938.) Martha married Alfred Stern in 1938 and published several books, the most successful being Through Embassy Eyes, an account of her adventures in Berlin. In 1953, tipped off that they were about to be indicted as Soviet spies the Sterns fled to Mexico City with their son. In 1957, they were indicted on six counts, one--conspiring to transmit US defense information to the USSR-carried the death penalty. Fearing that they were about to be extradited, they emigrated to Prague where Martha died in 1990.
Harro Schulze-Boysen
A first lieutenant in the Reich's Luftwaffe Ministry when the Harnack's met him, he was 33 years old when he was tried and sentenced to death for "the preparation of high treason, demoralization of the armed forces and giving aid and comfort to the enemy." Schulze-Boysen's family was firmly grounded in naval tradition-a great uncle was Admiral von Tirpitz-and he was born at Kiel, Germany's great naval base. Although he began legal studies, in 1932, he became editor of the magazine, Gegner. In 1933, he was nearly beaten to death by the SA but he emerged more determined then ever to fight the Nazis. As he told a friend, "I have put my revenge on ice." After his marriage to Libertas Haas-Heye, he continued gathering a circle of resisters. In 1940, Schulze-Boysen and Harnack's lives became intertwined with a young Soviet agent, Alexander Korotkov. Schulze-Boysen was arrested at his office in August, 1942.
John R. Commons
Arvid Harnack came to the United States in 1926 to study with the renowned labor historian John R. Commons. A Labor Hall-of-Famer, Commons (1862-1945) was the first great economist to put his knowledge to work improving the conditions of the laborer. As one of the fathers of "the Wisconsin Idea," where the State and the University collaborated on drafting legislation, Commons (or his students the so-called Friday Niters) contributed to practically every piece of progressive social and labor legislation in the first half of the 20th century: vocational education, workers' compensation, job safety, factory inspection, social security, unemployment compensation, unionism, collective bargaining, civil service, and-not least-the administration of labor law. In 1934, he wrote an authobiography entitled simply Myself.
Ernie Meyer
Born in Denver, Colo., in 1892, Ernest L. Meyer grew up in Milwaukee, where his father Georg was editor of the Germania, the largest of the city's German-language papers. Meyer entered the University of Wisconsin in 1914, edited the Wisconsin Literary Magazine, and in his senior year was expelled for refusing military service as a conscientious objector; he was jailed in Fort Leavenworth, and a decade later reinstated by the UW Regents (an experience he recalled in Hey, Yellowbacks!). In 1922, he joined the pro-LaFollette Capital Times as managing editor, then as columnist from 1927-35, when he left Madison for New York to write "As the Crow Flies" for The New York Post from 1935-41. He continued as a weekly columnist for The Progressive, and as telegraph editor of The New York Daily News. His memoir, Bucket Boy: A Milwaukee Legend (1947), is a unique record of the pre-World War I city. Meyer died in New York in 1952.
Dorothy Meyer
Dorothy Narefsky was seven on arriving at Ellis Island with her mother and younger brother from Bialystok, Russia. Having attended night school while working in needle trades, she entered Cornell University in 1920. She continued as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where she met her future husband, the journalist Ernest L. Meyer, and Mildred and Arvid Harnack. Along with her husband, she visited in the Harnacks in Berlin in 1932, and saw Mildred during her final American visit. When Ernie moved east to write a column for The New York Post, Dorothy became a teacher in the city's public schools. She died in New York in 1992.
Clara Leiser
Like Mildred Harnack, Clara Leiser was born in Milwaukee and attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She was a favorite student of William Ellery Leonard and eventually became his literary executor. Leiser was the author of 5 books, among them a biography of the opera star Jean De Reszke and Lunacy Becomes Us, a collection of Third Reich quotes. She visited Germany several times during the 1930s and had the distinction of having her books banned by the Nazis. After hearing about Mildred's death, she wrote a muilti-stanzed sonnet sequence in tribute to her friend. In later years, she lived in New York City where she devoted her life to a penpal organisation, Youth of All Nations.
Jane Donner Sweeney
Jane Esch, the niece of Mildred Harnack, was born in Chevy Chase, Md. in 1916. After graduating from college, she sailed to Germany for a visit with Arvid and Mildred. There she met and married an economist, Otto Donner. She obtained a Ph.D. in American Literature from Berlin's Kaiser Wilhelm University in 1940. The Donners first son Andreas was born in October 1940. Two more sons were born during the war before Jane and her sons were evacuated from Berlin due to Allied bombing. They lived for a time in Varchentin, Mecklenburg, later joining a column of German refugees fleeing advancing Russian troops. Andreas was diagnosed with tubercular meningitis and died shortly after the war ended. Returning to the United States Jane became a psychotherapist. After she divorced Otto Donner in 1965, she remarried Vincent Sweeney and together they founded the Center for Study of Human Systems. Jane and her younger son died in a boating accident in Chesapeake Bay in 1994.
William Ellery Leonard
William Ellery Leonard (1876-1944) was an English professor for many years at the University of Wisconsin. He was also areknowned poet and translator of Beowulf and Lucretius. His sonnet sequence "Two Lives" was a local bestseller. After obtaininghis M.A. from Harvard, Leonard studied at Göttingen and later Bonn, where he developed an abiding love for German culture.

Leonard was married 4 times to 3 wives, all of them red-headed.

Read a Sonnet by William Ellery Leonard
Greta Kuckhoff
Greta Lorke met the Harnacks when they were all at the University of Wisconsin in 1927 and members of Commons' group the Friday-Niters. Greta, who had studied with Werner Sombart and Max Weber, was a graduate student and later assistant of the sociologist, Edward Ross. After her return to Germany she was a free-lance English teacher and translator. She met Adam Kuckhoff in 1930 and married him in 1937. Her son Ule was born in 1938. It was Kuckhoff who introduced the Harnacks to the Schulze-Boysens in 1940. Grete was arrested by the Gestapo on September 9, 1942. She was tried in 1943 and given a death sentence but it was changed through the intervention of the president of the Court Martial Court. After another trial, she wasm sentenced to ten years in prison. She was freed by the Red Army in May, 1945. She returned to East Berlin and became president of the Notenbank. In 1972, with some difficulty, she published her memoir Vom Rosenkranz zur Roten Kapelle (From Rosary to Red Orchestra). She died in 1981 in Berlin.
Libertas Schulze-Boysen
Libertas Schulze-Boysen was born in Paris in 1913, the youngest of three children of Professor Haas-Heye and Countess Victoria zu Eulenburg and Hertefeld. She spent her childhood at Liebenberg, the family estate of her mother, the daughter of Prince Eulenburg, the close friend of Kaiser Wilhelm II. She grew up at Liebenberg, fifty miles north of Berlin. In 1932, after finishing her education in Switzerland, Libertas returned to Germany and obtained a position in the press office of MGM. In 1936, she married Harro Schulze-Boysen. Around 1940, Greta Kuckhoff introduced Libertas to Mildred Harnack and the two couples joined forces against the Nazis. She wrote film criticism for the Essen newspaper and using the cover of her work for the German cultural film center, she collected evidence on Nazi war crimes which were being perpetrated on the eastern front. Once Harro was arrested, she warned their friends but was arrested herself as she was attempting to leave Berlin by train on September 8, 1942. She was tried with the main defendants, and executed by guillotine on December 22, 1942.
Thomas Wolfe

in Berlin
Thomas Wolfe was thirty-four and the successful author of Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River when he came to Berlin for the first time. He met Mildred Harnack at a party given by Martha Dodd at the American Ambassador's residence. Squired around Berlin by Mildred, Martha, H-M Ledig-Rowohlt and Martha's brother Bill, he thoroughly enjoyed himself. Mildred interviewed him for the Continental Post achieving something of a literary scoop. Lionized by what was left of Berlin's literary society, Wolfe returned the next year (1936) for the Olympics. But, influenced in part by Mildred, when he returned to New York, he wrote an article severely critical of the Germans which appeared in the New Republic entitled "I Have a Thing to Tell You." Wolfe died in 1938 and his last works The Web and the Rock and You Can't Go Home Again were published posthumously.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (b. 1906) was the son of one of Berlin's leading psychiatrists and neurologists, Karl Bonhoeffer. From childhood, the Bonhoeffer, Delbrück and Harnack families were friends, neighbors and several of the children inter-married. (It should also be noted that Amalie von Harnack and Lina Delbrück were sisters; Clara Harnack was their cousin.) Dietrich was a theology student of Adolf von Harnack's in Berlin and gave the eulogy at the Harnack's funeral. After completing his doctorate in 1930, Bonhoeffer arrived at the Union Theological Seminary in New York on a fellowship. He became an outspoken opponent of the Nazis and one of the leaders of the Confessing Church after 1933. In 1938 he was drawn into the group of his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi which was planning a coup d'etat. In 1940, he began to work closely with the group of Abwehr resisters. On their behalf, he made several trips abroad to establish contacts with the allies. He became engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer in 1943 shortly before he was arrested. Bonhoeffer spent two years in Tegel prison. After a summary court martial, he was executed on April 9, 1945.
Herbert Gollnow
Born in Berlin in 1911, he worked for the German railroads as an inspector. He joined the Nazi party in 1936 and as part of his preparation for a higher position, he studied English with Mildred Harnack. In 1939 he became a lieutenant in the Luftwaffe. He pursued further studies at the Foreign Policy Faculty and through the intervention of Schulze-Boysen switched from the Luftwaffe to the Abwehr where he was involved with the execution of sabotage operations on the southern section of the Eastern Front. Gollnow passed on information about these operations to the Harnacks who in turn passed it on to "Kent" when he came to Berlin in October, 1941. He was arrested in October 1942 and tried in December, 1942, receiving the death sentence. He was executed on February 12, 1943.
Falk Harnack
Arvid's younger brother Falk was born in 1913 shortly before the death of his father. Between 1933 and 1937 he studied at Berlin and Munich universities. After his graduation, he worked at the German National Theater in Weimar and the Landestheater in Altenburg until he was drafted into the Wehrmacht in 1941. He often met opponents of the regime in the Harnack's Berlin apartment and during the winter of 1942-43 he was introduced by his fiancée, Lilo Ramdohr, to the circle of the White Rose in Munich. When the group was discovered, Harnack was arrested in March 1943 and stood trial along with Willi Graf, Professor Kurt Huber and Alexander Schmorell before the People's Court in Munich. He was acquitted and released in the hopes that he would lead the Gestapo to other members of the resistance. In 1943, he deserted in Greece after an order for his arrest came from Himmler. He fought with the Greek partisans until the end of the war when he returned to Germany. He became a director and dramaturge in Bavaria and then from 1949-51 he was the artistic head of DEFA, the East German film production company. After a dispute with the East German Communist Party (SED) over his film adapted from the novel of Arnold Zweig - The Ax of Wandsbek--he moved to West Berlin where he made a number of television and feature films including one on the July 20th bomb plot. He was married to the actress Käthe Braun. After a long illness he died in Berlin in 1991.
Adolf Von Harnack
Arvid's uncle, Adolf von Harnack, one of Wilhelmine Germany's most proment scholars, was born in Dorpat, now Tartu, in Estonia in 1851. After theological studies at the University of Dorpat where his father was rector, and after further studies at Leipzig, he became a professor at Leipzig. In 1979 he married Amalie Thiersch with whom he had seven children. In 1888, with the support of Bismarck but over the strong objections of the Lutheran Church fathers and other conservatives he was appointed to the theological faculty of Kaiser Wilhelm University in Berlin. Named to the Prussian Academy in 1890, around this time he became the adviser to Kaiser Wilhelm on the question of the Baltic Germans. In 1900, his most well-known work, What is Christianity? appeared. In 1914, he was raised by the Kaiser to the nobility. In 1905 he became the director of the Kaiser new library, now Berlin's State Library; in 1911 he helped found the Kaiser Wilhelm Society now the Max Planck Institute and served as its president until his death in 1930.
Adolf Henning Frucht as young scientist
The grandson of Adolf von Harnack, Frucht was born in Torgau in 1913. He studied medicine and through the contacts of his grandmother, Amalie Harnack, he received a fellowship in 1938 to study in the United States. Instead of remaining in the U.S., however, he returned to Germany on the last boat because he said, "I must go where I can be of use." Frucht was a military doctor during World War II and had some contacts with the resistance groups around his uncle Ernst von Harnack and with the Harnack/Schulze-Boysen group. During the Russian campaign he was a tank commander but because of jaundice, he was evacuated to a military hospital in Metz. After the disaster at Stalingrad when the medical system broke down her volunteered to return to the medical service because he wanted to save the lives of the soldiers. After the war, he remained in East Germany because, as he said, the need for doctors was greater. He became a professor of physiology at Humboldt University and the head of the Institute for Work Physiology. But during the height of the Cold War he betrayed to the CIA the Warsaw Pact's Alaska Plan which was designed to take out the U.S. personnel manning the early warning radar in the Aleutian Islands with a special poison gas effective below freezing temperatures. He was arrested in 1967 and served ten years of a life sentence in East Germany's most notorious prison Bautzen until he was exchanged for a Chilean communist. He died in 1993 in Berlin.
Donald Heath
Donald Heath, Arvid Harnack's contact in the American Embassy from 1938-1941, was born in Topeka Kansas in 1894. During WWI he served as an infantry officer in France. Before joining the U.S. Consular service in 1921, Heath also served as the White House correspondent for the United Press. In 1938, he was sent to Berlin as the First Secretary of the Embassy but perhaps even more important was his additional position as Monetary Attaché answerable to Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau. In this capacity he served as a clandestine link to Harnack and to Hjalmar Schacht, the former German Minister of Economics. Heath left Germany in the summer of 1941 on assignment to Santiago, Chile. In 1944, he joined Eisenhower's staff as Political and Technical Adviser of the U.S. Military Government in conquered Germany. After the war, he was helpful to both the Harnacks and Donners--assisting Jane and her husband in their return to the U.S. IN 1947, Heath served as U.S. Minister to Bulgaria until he was expelled in 1950 (the Bulgarians claimed he was trying to overthrow the government) a measure which resulted in the rupture of relations with the U.S. From 1950 to 1953 he served in Indochina first as Minister to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and finally Ambassador. While in Vietnam he survived three assassination attempts. His final posting was as Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. He died in 1981.

The Red Orchestra

Photo taken at the Weisenborns' wedding