Mildred Fish-Harnack Day
At sundown on September 16th, Milwaukee’s iconic Daniel Hoan Memorial Bridge will be lit red to commemorate Mildred Fish Harnack Day. Born in Milwaukee in 1902, Fish-Harnack was a hero in the resistance to the Nazi regime and is the only American known to have been executed on the direct order of Adolf Hitler.
A UW Madison-educated literary historian, translator, and writer, Fish-Harnack moved with her husband, the economist Arvid Harnack, to Germany in 1930, where the couple became deeply involved in resisting the Nazi regime. As part of the “Red Orchestra” — a network of left-wing and other resistance fighters — Fish-Harnack was pivotal in publishing an underground newsletter, feeding economic information to the U.S. and Soviet embassies, and transmitting military intelligence to Moscow concerning Germany’s invasion of the USSR. Fish-Harnack was arrested by the Gestapo and, along with her husband, was put to death.
Fish-Harnack’s heroic story was buried for years as the result of anti-communist pressures in the United States. However in 1986, the Wisconsin state legislature established a state day of recognition for Mildred in Wisconsin public schools, in part due to the efforts of one of the state’s authorities on Fish-Harnack, Milwaukee civil rights attorney and President of the Milwaukee Turners, Art Heitzer. “Adding the bridge lighting to the recognition of this American heroine on September 16 is very appropriate and much appreciated,” Heitzer said.
The idea for lighting the Hoan came from Libby Ellsworth-Kasch, a Milwaukee native who has been inspired by Fish-Harnack’s life. “Mildred has long been a hero abroad yet she is all too absent from our local histories and cultural memory,” Ellsworth-Kasch said. The lighting will be supported by Light the Hoan, a collective of local business and civic leaders who have joined forces to illuminate the Daniel Hoan Memorial Bridge as a symbol of pride and unity for the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
In connection with the lighting of the Hoan, the Milwaukee Turners will host a celebration of Fish-Harnack’s life on Sunday, September 19th from 3 to 6 pm at Turner Hall (1034 N Vel Phillips Ave) in Milwaukee. On March 23rd, Boswell Books will host an online discussion with Rebecca Donner, author of a recent critically acclaimed biography of Fish-Harnack on Thursday, September 23rd, at 5 PM.