All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler - book cover
  • Publisher : Little, Brown and Company; First Edition
  • Published : 03 Aug 2021
  • Pages : 576
  • ISBN-10 : 031656169X
  • ISBN-13 : 9780316561693
  • Language : English

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler

The INSTANT New York Times Bestseller
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
A Publishers Weekly Top Ten Book of the Year
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 WWII-"a page-turner story of espionage, love and betrayal" (Kai Bird, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography)

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 by history.

Editorial Reviews

"Extraordinarily intimate… Wilder and more expansive than a standard-issue biography… a real-life thriller with a cruel ending-not to mention an account of Hitler's ascent from attention-seeking buffoon to genocidal Führer."―Jennifer Szalai, New York Times

"A powerful book… Ms. Donner's use of the present tense increases the feeling of inevitability as she unfolds her story to its horrific conclusion... A nonfiction narrative with the pace of a political thriller, it's imbued with suspense and dread… a deeply affecting biography, meticulously researched and illustrated… Ms. Donner evocatively brings to life the giddy feeling of freedom under the Weimar regime in Berlin and how swiftly it eroded. Her account of the decline of liberties is harrowing."―Moira Hodgson, Wall Street Journal

"A deeply moving act of recovery… In a photo of those pages reproduced in the book, Mildred Harnack's cramped yet careful handwriting crystallizes Donner's goal: to write her heroic forebear back into history, to bring her back to life."―Bethanne Patrick, Los Angeles Times

"A tour de force of investigation… The story unfolds in fragments… but as the pieces cohere, the couple's story becomes gripping… The abiding impression is of virtuous, extraordinarily brave people caught up in tragic horror."―The Economist

"Donner quotes passages from her sources at length, letting the reader dwell on facts rather than galloping through them. She does this stylishly… The archival quality of the book, its enumeration and cataloging of sources, is both surprising for a biography - too rarely the site of literary innovation - and affecting. It gives a sense of the warped timeline of crisis, how life can shift overnight without moving at all, the way in which change can ricochet from the political sphere to the smallest and most mundane details of a person's life."―Madeleine Schwartz, New York Times Book Review

"[A] compelling book, which reads like a tragic novel where we wish we didn't know the ending… Yet knowing her terrible fate from the onset shouldn't dissuade you from reading this page-turner about Harnack's perilous journey… Donner's descriptive style takes us inside Nazi Germany and makes the book hard to put down."―Laura McCallum, Minneapolis Star Tribune

"A gorgeous collage of history and family lore, a revelatory window onto a Götterdämmerung that transformed the world forever."―Oprah Daily

"Gripping… Donner brings her ancestor to life through artful use of documents and interviews… and she tells Harnack's story with dramatic pace and vision. As the story unfolds in time, Harnack and her resistance comrades become like a small cluster of white blood cells targeting the seemi...

Readers Top Reviews

G. JamesJill K. Andr
This work suffers a little form a lack of identity; it reads like a novel but not quite. It certainly has a lot of in formation packed into it and it feels also like a nonfiction book. It is in fact a true story. Rebecca Donner has done her research well. However, there is so much materiel in there that we don't quite get to know the main characters well enough. A dreamy present tense narrative gives it some immediacy. ASnd we do after all, feel some empathy for Mildred and Don to whom the book is dedicated.
Aanel Victoria
Although we hear (or view) now and then about the mythical "Good German" during WWII, except for one or two assassination plots against Hitler we never ever seem to hear about the German resistance. Why is that? It's because in the U.S. the head of the nascent CIA refused to believe there was such a thing and refused to communicate with them, and Stalin in his murderous paranoid purges executed all the Russian spies who were collaborating with them prior to the German invasion of Russia. So a lot of their extraordinary work went unheralded and obscured, until now. This wonderful book is as exciting as it is informative. It's also an amazing "you-are-there" view on the ground of what happened to ordinary Germans from 1921 to 1945. The author has done a truly heroic amount of very detailed research, and woven it into a wonderfully told story. Do check it out!
Mary Robin Craig
I purchased this book immediately after finishing The Last Green Valley by Paul Sullivan, the personalized and fictionalized account of the trials of ethnic Germans escaping Ukraine in the waning days of WW2. All the Frequent Troubles promised a compelling history of the underground German resistance leading up to and during the war, and it delivers! Mildred Fish Harnack was an American woman who moved to pre-war Germany with her new husband, both planning to complete advanced degrees and embark upon academic careers. In a brilliant compilation of letters, official and unofficial documents, conversations, and memoirs, her great-great niece, an accomplished biographer, lets her story unfold as it happens, as violence and terror and resistance mushroom through Germany and the nations it overpowers. While Mildred’s ultimate fate is as cruel as it is crushing, her unflagging courage is nothing short of inspirational. This book is also compelling for another reason, as it makes clear how with what speed a vibrant culture and democracy can be destroyed by an authoritarian regime which captures the allegiance of vast numbers of followers - a crucial warning in today’s world. I highly recommend it - though had I known, I would have purchased it in hardcover or paper, as the many images of photographs and fragments of documents are difficult to read on my phone.
Believe all of the positive review you've read about this book! I know intimately the era about which Ms. Donner writes and really was impressed by the way in which she turned one person's biography into a narrative history of the 1930's in Nazi Germany, Europe, and the United States. The reader won't be able to find a more finely written summary of that age. The book evokes, in my mind, comparison to George Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia." And like the fine novelist that she is, Donner lets the actors in this drama, be they Nazi officials, NKVD agents, American diplomats, or rank and file members of the Anti-Nazi resistance speak--through original sources--for themselves. It's a devastating and unforgettable portrait of state-sponsored evil and of the courage of those, who like Mildred Harnack and her husband, Arvid Harnack, fought back against it. Ms. Donner's text is firmly fixed on Nazi Germany and the rise of Adolph Hitler, but the parallels to the United States in the aftermath of Jan. 6, 2021, are there, clear and present on nearly every page of this masterpiece. How sad it is to write these words.
This book documents the life of Mildred Harnack, an American literary historian, anti-Nazi resistance fighter in Germany, and American Hero. The book contains twelve parts, based on a time line of events from 1902 – 1946. The sections are labeled “Mildred”, documenting the events in the life of Mildred Harnack; or “The Boy”, which document the events in the life of Donald Read Heath Jr., who was a young boy that served as a courier for Harnack's important secret messages. This book contains a wealth of information and records; including postcards, letters and pictures all collected by Donner to create a comprehensive image of the remarkable life of Mildred Harnack. The book details Harnack's early life, her study of German, moving to Germany, and influences like Thomas Wolfe. We learn of her efforts to support the resistance of the growing fascist Nazi movement, and her eventual contribution to intelligence efforts during WWII. Her execution in 1943 made her the the only American woman ordered to be executed by Hitler. This is a fantastic historical record of a woman that is still relatively unknown to history; and should be remembered for her efforts to fight against the Nazis and help Jewish people escape from Germany. She is certainly an important historical figure, and I hope more people become aware of her heroic efforts, and her ultimate sacrifice.