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Commemorating Mildred Harnack on 8 May

by Angela Andersen

© German Resistance Memorial Center

Today, May 8, 2020, commemorates 75 years since the liberation of Germany from the Nazi dictatorship. Let us remember our most admirable, courageous former club president Mildred Fish-Harnack, who was executed as a resistance fighter against Hitler in Plötzensee on February 16, 1942. In times of uncertainty such as our current times, fear is more prevalent. To some extent, however, comparisons and deep gratitude can reduce this fear and even create a feeling of happiness.

I quote Shareen Blair Brysac from her book Resisting Hitler: Mildred Harnack and the Red Orchestra about Mildred on her last hours before execution:

The room was small, cold, dimly lit. The radiators were set into the inner wall in order to prevent suicidal inmates from bashing their heads on them.  Now, in winter they gave out little heat. One lightbulb burned throughout the night so the lone prisoner could be observed. It casts its faint light on the official, who appeared to tell her that the possibility of a last-minute appeal had been denied.

The next day, as she waited for the death sentence to be carried out, Mildred Harnack-Fish spent her time drinking corn coffee, reading and translating some lines of Goethe into English. In a fine, clear hand, she wrote in the margins of her copy of his poems her rendering of “Vermächtnis” (Bequest):

© German Resistance Memorial Center

No Being can to nothing fall,

The everlasting lives in all,

Sustain yourself in joy with life,

Life is eternal; there are laws,

To keep the living treasures cause,

With which the worlds are rife.”


For more on Mildred Harnack,

see Film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roamt0q7vQA

read article: https://news.wisc.edu/mildred-fish-harnack-honored-as-hero-of-resistance-to-nazi-regime/