Stories World War II XX Century

Mildred Harnack: Female Spy Executed by the Nazis


Mildred Harnack was an American who immigrated to Germany in the 1930s in order to live with her husband. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where she met her future husband Arvid Harnack, a Rockefeller Fellowship awardee from Germany. After tying the knot, they moved to Germany where she worked as an academic. He secured a job in the Reich Economic Ministry, and it was in his place of employment where he first notified of Hitler’s increasing popularity.

Although Mildred and Arvid had turned spy, they didn’t deliver information to the Allies. She and her husband along with Adam Kuckhoff, a writer, and his wife had formed a debate circle which focused on communism ideologies and how it would rise to take over Europe. Their circle soon grew to involve many new members.

She returned to the States for a lecture tour in the mid-1930s and was encouraged by her family to move away from Germany for as long as it took for the War to subside, but she refused in order to stay close to her husband. In 1941 when war was declared, she didn’t catch the first plane home as so many other American expatriates did, but instead, she became increasingly involved in her political movement by helping establish communications with a communist network known as the Red Orchestra. She delivered vital pieces of information regarding Germany’s economy and war tactics to Soviet respondents, but their communication was compromised in 1942 after being decoded by the Decryption Department of the High Command of the German Army.

Almost all of the members of the traitorous faction were captured and sentenced to prison or execution. Arvid was executed in December 1942, and Mildred was initially sentenced to prison for six years, but her sentence was overruled by Hitler himself. She was beheaded by guillotine on February 16, 1943. Since her treason gave few benefits to the Allies, her story is virtually unknown in the US.