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Biographical Timelines: Mildred Fish and Arvid Harnack

compiled by Jere Brands

(historical events are italicized)


Mildred Fish Harnack

(in Germany, Mildred Harnack Fish)

16 Sept. 1902

born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, youngest child of William Fish and Goergina Hesketh Fish, sister of Harriette, Marion and Marbeau (Bob).

1919 graduated from Western High School in Georgetown, Virginia.  
1921-1928 studied and taught at the University of Wisconsin (Madison); senior thesis: “A Comparison of Chapman’s and Pope’s translations of the Iliad with the Original”; worked on the Wisconsin Literary Magazine.  
7 August 1926 married Arvid Harnack at her brother’s farm near Brooklyn/Wisconsin.  
1928-1929 taught English at Goucher College in Baltimore/Maryland.  
1929 joined her husband in Germany, living in the Harnack family home in Jena; began to work on her doctorate in American literature at the university in Jena and in Giessen.  
1930 moved to Berlin; studied at the University of Berlin with the help of a fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation; lectured on English and American literature and language; participated in activities with the American Student Association, the American Women’s Club (president), the Berlin chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (secretary) and the American Church; maintained contact with the family of her husband’s uncle, Adolf von Harnack, and his relatives and associates (Delbrück, Bonhoeffer, von Dohnanyi); developed an interest in Russia and in Communism as a solution to poverty.  
May 1932 lost teaching position at Berlin University, along with other women and foreigners.
summer 1932 visited the Soviet Union with a group of workers on Intourist tour.  
30 Jan  1933 Hindenburg appointed Hitler Chancellor.  
27 Feb 1933 Reichstag fire; emergency decree suspending civil rights granted by the Weimar Constitution.  
21 March 1933 establishment of first concentration camp (Dachau) for political prisoners (Communists, Social   Democrats and trade unionists).  
10 May 1933 official burning of forbidden books (by Jews and Nazi opponents).  
fall 1933 visited the Soviet Union  
as if 1933 teacher of English literature at the Berliner Abendgymnasium, which offered adults a secondary curriculum required for university admission.   With some of her students, participated in a discussion group with economic and political ideas from America and the Soviet Union, led by her husband Arvid;  with her husband, frequent guests at the American Embassy; edited a book column in Berlin Topics (a local English language newspaper) with Martha Dodd, daughter of the American ambassador; published articles in German for Berliner Tageblatt and Die Literatur until 1935, when publication required prior consent of the Nazi party; made contacts with men and women who were critical of the Nazi regime, recruited collaborators for the resistance;  served as courier for her husband and others in their contacts with Soviet agents.  
June, 1933 joined the National Socialist teachers’ organization.  
1935 met Thomas Wolfe at the American Embassy; published an interview with him for the Continental Post.  
1936 published translation into German of Irving Stone’s biography of van Gogh, Lust for Life; worked for several German publishing companies as a reader of new English and American literature.  
1937 visited family in the United States; went on a campus lecture tour (“The German Relation to Current American Literature”), which included the University of Wisconsin. 
9 Nov 1938 Kristallnacht
as of 1938 reportedly arranged visas and exit opportunities for Jews and political opponents of the Nazis.  
1939 publication of her translation of Sailor on Horseback, Stone’s biography of Jack London, was blocked by Nazi censors. 
1939 completed doctorate at Berlin University; dissertation: “The Development of Contemporary American Literature with Some Main Representatives of the Short Story.”
26 Aug 1939 U.S. government advised Americans to leave Germany  
1 Sept 1939 Nazi invasion of Poland  
October 1939 through Donald Heath at the American Embassy, applied for Rockefeller and Guggenheim fellowships to continue research in America on a book based on her dissertation; both denied.  
1939 Arvid booked for her an open reservation by ship to America.  
1941-1942 taught English at the Foreign Studies Department of Berlin University.  
7 Sept 1942 arrested with her husband in Preil, while on weekend holiday.  
19 Dec 1942 sentenced to six years in prison by the Reich Court Martial.  
21 Dec 1942 prison sentence canceled by Hitler  
13 Jan 1943 new trial with more damaging but questionable evidence.  
16 Jan 1943 sentenced to death.  
16 Feb 1943 beheaded at Plötzensee.   Last words: “Und ich hatte Deutschland so geliebt”  (And I had loved Germany so much) 

Arvid Harnack  

24 May 1901 born in Darmstadt (Hesse), son of Otto Harnack and Clara  Harnack, nephew of Adolf von Harnack, brother of   Falk, Inge, Angela.  
1914 father committed suicide  
1918 ran away from home to join the army at the end of the war.  
1919 joined the Freikorps, a right-wing, anti-communist militant group.  
1924 Doctor of Law  
1926-1929 Rockefeller Scholar at the University of Wisconsin (Madison)  
7 Aug 1926 married Mildred Fish.  
1928 returned alone to Germany.  

  joined the Social Democratic student group; received second doctorate  summa cum laude; dissertation on pre-marxist American workers’ movement; moved to Berlin.  

1931 post-doctoral research and study at the university in Marburg.  
1931 co-founder and secretary of ARPLAN, a group of scholars which met once a month to study and discuss developments in the Soviet planned economy.  
summer 1932 visited the Soviet Union  with ARPLAN; established contacts with Soviet agents.  
March 1933 ARPLAN disbanded; membership records destroyed.  

as of 1933

began to work with a circle of young workers and academics to prepare for the economy of Germany after the fall of the Nazi regime; had contacts in the ministries of the Nazi government and with other resistance groups; spoke  with representatives of the American and Soviet governments, sharing information about the resistance and insights into the economic situation in Nazi Germany; had contacts with publishers (Fischer, Rowohlt), writers, editors, translators; began to work in the Amerikareferat of the Economics Ministry.

summer 1934 Nazis consolidated power with the suppression of Ernst Roehm and the SA and the death of Hindenburg  
as of 1937 contacts with Donald Heath in the American Embassy. 
May 1937 joined the Nazi party.  
1938 several Soviet contacts executed in Stalin purge.  
1939 renewed contacts with Soviet agents.  
summer 1939 working trip to Washington, D.C.; made contacts in the Treasury Department; shared information.  
1940 investigated by the Nazis because of his earlier Communist work.  
1940 began resistance and espionage work with Harro Schulze-Boysen, since 1934 on the intelligence staff at the Luftwaffe; widened contacts with other resistance groups; collected evidence of Nazi crimes; spread word of resistance through illegal posters and pamphlets.  
1940-1941 with Schulze-Boysen, informed Soviet and American contacts of plans for invasion of the Soviet Union; ignored by Stalin.  
1941 established radio contact in code with Soviet agents.  
June 21, 1941 Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union; Soviet citizens in Germany arrested. 
August 1942 Nazi intelligence deciphered Russian code, found names and addresses and uncovered the Berlin resistance group headed by Arvid Harnack and Harro Schulze-Boysen; group named “die Rote Kapelle” by the Nazis.  
7 Sept 1942 arrested with his wife in Preil, while on weekend holiday.  
19 Dec 1942 sentenced to death.  
22 Dec 1942 on Hitler’s orders, put to death by hanging at Plötzensee.  


Lexikon des Widerstandes 1933-1945, herausgegeben von Peter Steinbach und Johannes Tuchel, Verlag C.H. Beck, München, 1994;

Resisting Hitler: Mildred Harnack and the Red Orchestra, Shareen Blair Brysac,

Oxford University Press, New York, 2000.  

Timeline | Resisting Hitler | Plötzensee
Tribute to Mildred | Book Reviews | About the Biographer | Women in the Third Reich

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