The true story of the extraordinary life and brutal death of Mildred Harnack, the American leader of the largest underground resistance group in Berlin who was executed on Hitler’s direct orders-uncovered by her great-great-niece in this riveting, deeply researched account.

The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler
by Rebecca Donner
Little, Brown, May 2021
(chez Sterling Lord Literistic)

What do you do when you suddenly find yourself confronted with a mortal threat to your society’s fundamental, stabilizing principles? Mildred Harnack chose to stand. Milwaukee-born, she was the leader of the largest anti-Nazi resistance group in Germany, and the only American woman to be put to death on Hitler’s orders. Despite its unmatched vastness, the record of World War II atrocity and nobility will forever remain incomplete. This ever-expanding volume of belligerence and courage is perhaps the most gravely gendered historical document we have; a war perpetrated, suffered and recounted by men. There are periodically polite acknowledgments of the roles played by woman in ‘aiding’ the war effort, but these usually have the hollow ring of tokenism. Mildred Harnack’s short but monumental life shows us just how incomplete that record remains. From 1933-42, with her German husband, Arvid, Mildred led a cell that couriered top secret military intelligence to the Allies, helped dissidents and persecuted minorities escape Germany, and distributed literature that encouraged civil disobedience and exposed Nazi plans. Fusing elements of biography, political thriller, and scholarly detective story, Harnack’s great-great-niece Rebecca Donner brilliantly interweaves family archives, original research, exclusive interviews with survivors, and a trove of declassified intelligence documents into a powerful, enthralling story, reconstructing the moral courage of an enigmatic woman nearly erased by history.

Rebecca Donner is the author of the novel, Sunset Terrace, and a graphic novel, Burnout. Her essays, reportage and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, Bookforum, Guernica, and other publications. She graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and received her MFA in fiction from Columbia University.

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