September 16 is the birth date of University of Wisconsin graduate Mildred Fish-Harnack. In 1986, the Wisconsin legislature voted to designate every September 16 is Mildred Fish-Harnack Day across Wisconsin.

The Milwaukee native earned her bachelor’s degree in English in 1925, then her masters in 1926, from the University of Wisconsin. She married German national Arvid Harnack, who was also a UW student. A few years later, they moved to Germany.

During this same time, Adolf Hitler rose from obscurity to become the chancellor of Germany. His Nazi regime took control of the country, and his army marched across Europe. While living in Berlin, Mildred and Arvid joined a small Nazi resistance group, which included some friends they met at the University of Wisconsin. They helped to get persecuted Jews out of Germany, published underground newsletters, and fed information to the Allies, including plans for the upcoming German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.

Unfortunately, the group was exposed when the German High Command broke their secret communications code. The Gestapo arrested Mildred and Arvid in September 1942 while they were on vacation at the Baltic Sea.

Arvid was convicted by a military tribunal of high treason and espionage. That tribunal also convicted Mildred as an accessory to espionage and sentenced her to six years hard labor. However, Adolf Hitler refused to endorse that decision and ordered a new trial, which resulted in a death sentence for Mildred. On February 16, 1943, Mildred Fish-Harnack became the only female American civilian to be executed on the direct order of Hitler. Her last words were, “And I have loved Germany so much.” She was only 40 years old.

The heroic life of Mildred Fish-Harnack is the subject of the latest Thank You, 72 podcast and radio series from the Wisconsin Alumni Association.

The podcast will be available to download at Thankyou72.org and on Apple iTunes and other podcast platforms. Mildred’s story will also be shared on 86 Wisconsin Radio Network stations across the state.

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