Mildred Fish was an American-German literary historian, translator, and later, a German Resistance fighter in Nazi Germany. They fell in love and married, moving to Germany right after. She met her future husband, Arvid Harnack in 1926. Arvid was a grad student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and a Rockefeller Fellow from Germany. In Germany, Mildred worked in education and Arvid secured a position with the Reich Economic Ministry. Throughout the 1930s, Mildred and Arvid, became increasingly alarmed by Hitler’s rise to power. They could see that he had ulterior motives. They communicated with a close circle of associates who believed communism and the Soviet Union might be the only possible stumbling block to complete Nazi tyranny in Europe.
When Mildred came to the United States for a lecture tour in 1937, her family begged her to relocate permanently, but she refused and resumed her life in Germany. I suppose she thought she could be of better assistance there than in the United States. When war was declared in 1941, she did not leave with other Americans. They couldn’t leave, because by then, Mildred and Arvid were involved with a communist espionage network known by the Gestapo as “The Red Orchestra”. The ring, which provided important intelligence to the USSR, was compromised and the members were arrested. I’m sure they knew this was a death sentence for them.
After they were tried as traitors, Arvid was sentenced to death and executed on December 22, 1942. Mildred was given a six year sentence, but Hitler refused to endorse her punishment. As only a dictator can, he insisted on a retrial, after which she was condemned on January 16, 1943. She was beheaded by guillotine at Plotzensee Prison on February 16, 1943. She was the only American female executed on the orders of Adolf Hitler. Because of her connection to possible communist sympathies and post-war McCarthyism, her story is virtually unknown in the United States.