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Sculpture dedicated in Germany to honor UW alum and hero of Nazi resistance

September 16, 2021 By Käri Knutson
Photo: A man and a woman sit in grass

Arvid and Mildred Fish Harnack sit on the grass in Saalfeld, Germany, in 1930. UW-Madison Archives

In 1943, Mildred Fish-Harnack died by guillotine, the only American civilian executed at the direct order of Adolf Hitler.

On the eve of what would have been her 119th birthday, she was celebrated in the same country where she died.

Justus Liebig University in Germany held a ceremony Sept. 15 to celebrate the installation of “Mildred,” a reproduction of John Burbow’s sculpture located at Middleton’s Marshall Park. Watch the ceremony here.

Fish-Harnack graduated in 1925 from the University of Wisconsin–Madison with her bachelor’s degree and stayed at the university to teach English and attend graduate school. She received her master’s in 1926 and later her doctorate from Justus Liebig University.

Photo: Sculpture standing on lakeshore

The sculpture “Mildred”, dedicated to UW Alumna and Resistance Fighter Mildred Fish-Harnack in Marshall Park, with Picnic Point in the background. Picnic Point is where she was engaged to her husband, Arvid. An identical statue was installed in Germany.

UW–Madison has had a partnership with JLU for nearly 40 years.

“Our long-time partnership has demonstrated a shared commitment to giving our students new ways of looking at global issues, a shared understanding of the value our exchanges bring to both campuses and a shared dedication to continuing to nourish our relationship,” Chancellor Rebecca Blank said via video.

The ceremony also included remarks from Governor Tony Evers and can be seen here.

Fish-Harnack met Arvid Harnack, a Rockefeller Scholar from Germany, while he was on fellowship while attending UW–Madison.

The couple later moved to Germany. Alarmed by the rise of Hitler and the Nazi regime, Mildred and her husband joined a small resistance group. Their group published an underground newsletter, and fed economic information to the U.S. and Soviet embassies in Berlin. After Germany invaded Russia, the group transmitted military intelligence to Moscow via radio “concerts,” prompting the Gestapo to call them the “Red Orchestra.”

The group was discovered and arrested in September of 1942.

Mildred was taken to Charlottenburg Women’s Prison.

Arvid was sentenced to death for high treason and espionage. He was executed in December of 1942, hung using a foot-long rope. It was a method Nazis refined to prolong the victim’s agony.

Her last words:

“Ich habe Deutschland auch so geliebt” 

“And I have loved Germany so much.”

In 1986, Mildred Fish-Harnack Day was established in Wisconsin. It takes place every year on her birthday, Sept. 16th.

To read more about Mildred, click here.

Tags: alumni