Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography
Finalist for the Plutarch Award
A New York Times Notable Book for 2021
Oprah Daily Best New Books of August
A New York Public Library Book of the Week
In this stunning literary achievement, Donner chronicles the extraordinary life and brutal death of her great-great-aunt Mildred Harnack, the American leader of one of the largest underground resistance groups in Germany during the Nazi Years.
Born and raised in Milwaukee, Mildred Harnack was twenty-six when she enrolled in a PhD program in Germany and witnessed the meteoric rise of the Nazi party. In 1932, she began holding secret meetings in her apartment—a small band of political activists that by 1940 had grown into the largest underground resistance group in Berlin. She recruited working-class Germans into the resistance, helped Jews escape, plotted acts of sabotage, and collaborated in writing leaflets that denounced Hitler and called for revolution. Her coconspirators circulated through Berlin under the cover of night, slipping the leaflets into mailboxes, public restrooms, phone booths. When the first shots of the Second World War were fired, she became a spy, couriering top-secret intelligence to the Allies. On the eve of her escape to Sweden, she was ambushed by the Gestapo. At a Nazi military court, a panel of five judges sentenced her to six years at a prison camp, but Hitler overruled the decision and ordered her execution. On February 16, 1943, she was strapped to a guillotine and beheaded.
Historians identify Mildred Harnack as the only American in the leadership of the German resistance, yet her remarkable story has remained almost unknown until now.
Harnack’s great-great-niece Rebecca Donner draws on her extensive archival research in Germany, Russia, England, and the U.S. as well as newly uncovered documents in her family archive to produce this astonishing work of narrative nonfiction. Fusing elements of biography, real-life political thriller, and scholarly detective story, Donner brilliantly interweaves letters, diary entries, notes smuggled out of a Berlin prison, survivors’ testimony, and a trove of declassified intelligence documents into a powerful, epic story, reconstructing the moral courage of an enigmatic woman nearly erased history.
As I read this marvelous work, I hoped so much Mildred Harnack's romances, her marriage and her career plans would not be destroyed by the Nazis. In her work as an anti-Nazi agent it was very hard to trust anyone. A neighbor might be a gestapo agent, a collaborator might, and one in fact turned in Mildred and many others, turn you in under fear of torture.
Some in her circle did make it out of Germany.
We get a clear view of the increasing cruelty of life in Germany.
"Rebecca Donner is the author of the instant New York Times bestseller All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, published by Little, Brown. All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days won the 2022 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, the 2022 PEN /Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award, the 2022 Chautauqua Prize, and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Plutarch Award, and the Governor General’s Literary Award. All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days was also selected as a New York Times Critics’ Top Book of 2021, a New York Times Notable Book, and a New York Times Editors’ Choice, and was named one of the Best Books of 2021 by the Wall Street Journal, TIME Magazine, Publisher’s Weekly, and The Economist.
Rebecca Donner is currently a Visiting Scholar at Oxford. In 2023-2024, she will be a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard Radcliffe Institute." From rebeccadonner.com