Written on: May 1, 2020
Review by Sister Rita Margraff, GNSH
The Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini
“I am in cell 25. Don’t forget me when you get out. My name is Mildred Harnack.”
These are some of the last words of Mildred Fish Harnack, wife of Arvid Harnack, a brilliant German economist, whom she met and married following graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin. Mildred is the only United States citizen to be executed on direct orders of Adolph Hitler. Living in Berlin in the 1930s and 1940s, Mildred, her husband, women friends, and others resolved to resist the violence of the Nazi Party and created a resistance network which the Gestapo named the “Rote Kappelle” or the Red Orchestra.
The Resistance Women centers on four courageous women, Mildred, Greta Kuckhoff, her friend from university days, Martha Dodd, daughter of the US ambassador to Germany and Sara Weitz, a young Jewish woman and one of Mildred’s students. Though three characters are based on historical fact, Sara is a fictional character placed in this work of historical fiction by the author, who notes that she “was needed for my four narrators to interact with one another and I was unable to find the perfect person who would also have known Mildred, Greta, and Martha.”
The story gives a vivid picture of life in Berlin during the days when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party wielded violence and lies in order to seize power. These men and women were “ordinary people who were determined to resist the rise of evil, sacrificing their own lives and liberty to fight injustice and defend the oppressed” (from the synopsis of the book given on the back cover) – in this case, those the Nazis found undesirable, including those of the Jewish faith and others.
September 16th is Mildred Harnack Day in Wisconsin public schools. I had never heard of Mildred until I happened upon this book quite by accident. I see her as a true example of courage and persistence and am glad that she is thus honored.
I have always been attracted to stories of World War II. This is one of several books I have read lately that shows the role that women assumed during those dark times.