Mildred Fish-Harnack Part I

I look up from my book of rondels
At the gray silhouette of a painter
Against the many-paned windows.
How like are we, I thought, 
To painters standing on a ledge,
Painting the mullions of life's windows;
Never pressing close enough to the dark glass
To peer within. Mildred Fish

She lived in Madison. She loved poetry. She wrote short stories. She dreamed of being a teacher. How did Mildred Fish-Harnack end up becoming a spy during World War II? Simple: It was the right thing to do.

Mildred Fish-Harnack's story begins in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was born in 1902 among Milwaukee's large population of German immigrants. As a young girl, Mildred learned how to read, write, and speak both German and English.

Mildred Fish-Harnack
(Wikimedia Commons)
In 1919, Mildred's family moved to Washington, DC. But in 1921, Mildred returned to Wisconsin to attend the university in Madison. She studied English literature. Mildred loved to write her own stories and poems. Soon, her work was being published in the Wisconsin Literary Magazine. Mildred became an assistant editor for the magazine. She still published her own stories and poetry.

Mildred graduated from college in 1925. She went back the next year to get her master's degree. In 1926, she met her future husband, Arvid Harnack. Arvid was a German. He was teaching economics in the United States. Arvid and Mildred fell in love and were married in 1928. Arvid moved back to Germany. In 1929, Mildred followed him there. By 1930, they had settled in Berlin.
Arvid Harnack
(Wikimedia Commons)

Why did Mildred and Arvid move to Germany? Part of the reason may have been the Great Depression. The American Stock Market crashed in 1929. Countries all over the world began to have real problems. People who had invested their life savings in the stock market lost everything! They couldn't pay back loans from banks. Banks couldn't get any money to pay people who had their savings inside. Soon, companies were cutting workers because no one had money to buy anything. Banks shut their doors as "runs" happened again and again. It was a terrible crisis, and there were no jobs and little hope.

Things were hard in Germany, too. Germans were also suffering from a depression. It had started soon after World War I ended in 1918. The German government had to pay huge sums of money to the countries they had invaded in the war. This bankrupted the country. The German people were desperate to solve their problems.

Nazi Swastika
(Wikimedia Commons)
It was around this time that Adolf Hitler and the National Socialists began their rise to power. They were known as the Nazi party. By 1933, the Nazis had taken complete control of Germany. They used their political power to attack their enemies. The attacks, known as purges, became worse and worse. Eventually, they led to the Holocaust. The Holocaust was the Nazi's attempt to murder all of the Jewish people in Germany and beyond. The Nazis blamed Jews for everything bad that had happened to their country since the Great War. They convinced the German people to go along with their plans for another war. World War II claimed millions of lives, including over 6 million Jewish men, women, and children. They were murdered at death camps. Death camps were places the Nazis created to enslave and kill people as fast as possible.

Continued here in Mildred Fish-Harnack Part II

Content for this article has been sourced from "Mildred Harnack: An Unknown Hero" by Michelle Munro, December 13, 2001.
The following websites were accessed on September 12, 2013: