Wisconsin Woman's World War II Heroics Inspired New Novel

Best-selling author Jennifer Chiaverini has earned devoted fans for her historical novels, including "Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker" and "The Spymistress," as well as her Elm Creek Quilts mysteries. Her new, fast-paced historical saga, "Resistance Women," was inspired by Wisconsin-born Mildred Fish-Harnack, who died a hero of the German resistance, as did her husband, Arvid.

Chiaverini concentrates her story on four women -- Mildred; Martha Dodd, daughter of the U.S. ambassador; and Mildred's German friends, aspiring author Greta Kuckoff and literature student Sara Weitz. They were ordinary women who risked everything to help bring down Hitler's regime.

The author, who lives in Madison, Wis., will introduce "Resistance Women" at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 11, at Next Chapter Booksellers, 38 S. Snelling Ave., St. Paul.

Fish-Harnack, a scholar who wrote stories and poetry, was doing graduate work at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee when she met German economist Arvid Harnack. They were married in 1929 and settled in Berlin in 1930, as Hitler was tightening his control over Germany.

The Harnacks and their artist/academic friends began to gather to talk politics, eventually becoming known as the Red Orchestra because they coded their secret transmissions to the Soviets and the United States with the names of musical instruments.

After several years of conveying important information about the Third Reich, their code was broken and they were arrested. Arvid was hanged and Mildred was sentenced to four years in prison. But Hitler intervened and ordered her death, making her the only American woman whose execution was personally ordered by the Fuhrer. She died Feb. 16, 1943, proclaiming her love for Germany.

Mildred Fish-Harnack's name is well known in Germany, where streets and schools are named after her, but she's less well known in the United States. She is celebrated in Wisconsin schools each Sept. 16, and Chiaverni's novel should spark interest in this brave woman who died for her adopted country.

This article is written by Mary Ann Grossmann from St. Paul Pioneer Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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