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

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

by Rebecca Donner


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A compelling and bracing story of a life lived large and brave, All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days charts the perilous career of Mildred Harnack, newly graduated, newly married, newly moved from Wisconsin to 1930s Berlin. She was witness to the destruction of a democracy, the cruelty of a demagogue's oppression and, in its face — and despite significant dangers — she chose committed resistance. Rebecca Donner's telling is taut and immersive, riveting from start to finish. It is a story that lingers long after the final page.

The INSTANT New York Times Bestseller
A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316561693
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 08/03/2021
Pages: 576
Sales rank: 3,634
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Rebecca Donner's essays, reportage and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Bookforum, Guernica, and The Believer. All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days is her third book; she is also the author of a novel, Sunset Terrace, and Burnout, a graphic novel about ecoterrorism. She was a 2018-2019 fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography, and has been awarded residencies at Yaddo, Ucross Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Vermont Studio Center. Born in Vancouver, Donner is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and Columbia University, and has taught writing at Wesleyan University, Columbia University, and Barnard College.

Table of Contents

Author's Note xiii

Fragment 3

Introduction 5

The Boy with the Blue Knapsack (1939) 8


I (1902-1933)

We Must Change This Situation as Soon, as Possible 15

Yankee Doodle Dandy 25

Good Morning, Sunshine 29

The BAG 40

II (1933-1934)

Fragment 51

Chancellor Hitler 52

Two Nazi Ministers 58

A Whisper, a Nod 63

The People's Radio 70

The Reichstag Fire 74

An Act of Sabotage 81

Mildred's Recruits 86

Tumbling Like Dominoes 90

Torched 97

Dietrich Does Battle with the Aryan Claus 101

Arvid Burns His Own Book 105

The Boy

III (1938-1939)

American in Berlin 111

Don't Dawdle 121


IV (1933-1935)

The Proper Care of Cactus Plants 127

Fair Bright Transparent 130

Two Kinds of Parties 136

Bugged 138

Esthonia, and Other Imaginary Women 141

Arvid Gets a Job 144

Thieves, Forgers, Liars, Traitors 148

Rudolf Ditzen, aka Hans Fallada 150

The Night of the Long Knives 155

The Boy

V (1939)

A Molekül and Other Small Things 163

The Kansas Jack Gang 167


VI (1935-1937)

Fragment 171

A New Strategy 172

Bye-Bye, Treaty of Versailles 176

Tommy 180

Monkey Business 189

Rindersteak Nazi 194

An Old Pal from ARPLAN 198

Spies Among Us 203

Beheadings Are Back 206

Widerstand 210

Ernst and Ernst 217

Identity Crisis 224

VII (1937-1939)

Homecoming 231

Georgina's Tremors, Big and Small 236

Jane in Love 241

My Little Girl 247

A Circle Within the Circle 250

A Child, Almost 254

Stalin and the Dwarf 260

Boris's Last Letter 265

Seeking Allies 268

The Boy

VIII (1937-1940)

Morgenthau's Man 273

Joy Ride 282

Lunch Before Kristallnacht 287

Getting to Be Pretty Good 292

A Fateful Decision 298

Air Raid 304

Louise Heath's Diary 313

Mamzelle and Mildred and Mole 317


IX (1940-1942)

Fragment 323

Foreign Excellent Trench Coats 324

Corsican Drops a Bombshell 326

Libs and Mildred Among the Cups and Spoons 329

AGIS and Other Agitations 332

Zoya Ivanovna Rybkina's Eleven-Page Table 338

Stalin's Obscenity 346

Hans Coppi's First Message 349

Anatoly Gurevich, aka Kent, aka Vincente Sierra, aka Victor Sukolov 352

Code Red 357

A Single Error 360

Gollnow 363

One Pain Among So Many 366

Oil in the Caucasus 370

X (1942-1945)

Fragment 375

Arrest 376

The Gestapo Album 382

Knock-Knock 392

Falk Does His Best 396

Wolfgang's Seventh Interrogation 401

Kassiber 403

The Red Orchestra Is Neither All Red nor Particularly Musical 407

Anneliese and Witch Bones 412

Hitler's Bloodhound 418

The First of Many Trials 421

Mildred's Cellmate 424

The Greatest Bit of Bad Luck 429

The Armband She Wore 431

The Mannhardt Guillotine 433

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days 436

Stieve's List 439

The Final Solution 443

Gertrud 445

XI (1942-1952)

Harriette's Rage 457

Valkyrie 462

Recruited 467

By Chance 470

Arvid's Letter 472

The Boy

XII (1946)

Don Goes Back 477

Acknowledgments 483

Notes 487

Bibliography 537

Illustration Credits 545

Index 549

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