Mildred Fish-Harnack

Adolf Hitler only gave his personal instruction to execute one person: Mildred Fish-Harnack. Mildred Fish was a Milwaukee native who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UW Madison in the mid-1920s. She taught in the UW Madison English Department and wrote for the Wisconsin State Journal and the Wisconsin Literary Magazine. At UW, Mildred met Arvid Harnack and they married and moved to his native country of Germany, settling in Berlin in 1930.

The Harnacks formed and ran a Nazi resistance organization that published an underground newsletter, gave economic information to the U.S. and Soviet Embassies in Berlin, spread anti-Nazi news reports, and helped dissidents and Jewish people leave Germany. A captured Soviet spy exposed the Harnack’s activities in 1942 and the Nazis arrested Mildred, Arvid, and 116 - 120 other members of the resistance. Arvid was executed in 1942 and Mildred was initially sentenced to six years of hard labor. Hitler personally ordered her to be retried resulting in her execution on February, 16th 1943- the only American civilian to be executed by Hitler as an underground conspirator.  A sculpture by John Durbrow in honor of Mildred Fish-Harnack was dedicated in 2019 and resides in Madison in Marshall Park (2101 Allen Boulevard).

More information on Mildred Fish Harnack is available through:

The UW Archives "Honoring Mildred Fish Harnack"
PBS video on the Mildred Fish Harnack story:


The UW-Madison’s Office of International Studies and Programs established an annual Human Rights and Democracy Lecture in 1994 named in honor of Mildred Fish-Harnack for her courage, idealism, and self-sacrifice. The lecture seeks to promote greater understanding of human rights issues and explore the intersections of human rights and democracy around the world. Presenters of the Mildred Fish-Harnack Lecture advocate for human rights through academic scholarship and/or active leadership and discuss human rights and democracy around the world. UW-Madison's Office of International Studies and Programs coordinated the lecture until the Human Rights Program was created in 2015.

Upcoming Lecture

David Kaye

Thursday, April 16, 2020
Alumni Lounge, Pyle Center
Lecture with a reception to follow

This event is FREE and open to the general public but for planning purposes please register on Eventbrite


UC Irvine Director, International Justice Clinic & UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion & Expression

David Kaye completed his undergraduate and graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley. As the principal lawyer for international humanitarian law at the State Department, he advocated for application of the Geneva Conventions to detainees captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. His academic research and writing focus on accountability for human rights abuses, international humanitarian law, and the international law governing use of force. His 2019 book, Speech Police: The Global Struggle to Govern the Internet, explores the ways companies, governments and activists struggle to define the rules for online expression. His 2018 report to the UN General Assembly evaluated the ways Artificial Intelligence technologies implicate human rights issues. His most recent report to the Human Rights Council explored the global private surveillance industry and its impact on freedom of expression.

Previous Lectures

Distinguished people throughout the world have given Mildred Fish Harnack Lectures, such as President of Ireland Mary Robinson, International Court of Justice Judge and Holocaust survivor Thomas Buergenthal, and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. Learn about their lectures and more through the UW Law School's Digital Repository

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