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All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days summary

Rebecca Donner

The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler

4.6 (152 ratings)
30 mins

What is All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days about?

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days (2021) offers a deeply intimate look at individuals who risked their lives by establishing an anti-Nazi resistance movement in Germany. With years of research, and access to letters and declassified documents, this is a detailed story about people who have often been overlooked in the fight against fascism.

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    All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days
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    A Whirlwind Romance from Wisconsin to Berlin

    Mildred Fish didn’t come from money. In fact, her family had often struggled to get by. But Mildred proved herself to be a dedicated student, earning a bachelor’s degree in humanities and a master’s degree in English. By 1926, she was teaching American literature at Wisconsin University.

    That’s where she met Arvid Harnack. He’d walked into one of her lectures by accident – he was actually visiting the university to hear a talk about labor unions. But upon seeing Mildred, he was immediately smitten. When he showed up a second time, he was carrying a bouquet of wildflowers he’d picked himself. By the end of the year, the two were exchanging vows, and Mildred Fish became Mildred Harnack.

    As for Arvid, his background was something else entirely. He was the nephew of the esteemed German historian and theologian Adolf von Harnack, who had helped draft Germany’s Weimar Constitution after WWI. Von Harnack was so beloved that a building in Berlin, the Harnack House, was named after him. By the time Arvid met Mildred on his trip to the US, he had a law degree and was on his way to getting his PhD. In fact, not long after their marriage, they made plans to return to Germany so he could do so. Mildred would also work on her PhD while lecturing at the University of Berlin, where she’d been hired to teach American literature.

    When Mildred finally arrived in Berlin for the first time, it was 1929. It was like she’d landed in the middle of some European crossroads, where passing voices might speak German, English, French, Russian, Italian, Polish, or Dutch. But it was also clear that something was wrong. Germany was facing a severe inequality crisis; everywhere Mildred went, there were penniless and homeless families in the streets. One poor woman that Mildred passed haunted her mind. The dress she was wearing was just like one Mildred’s mother used to wear.

    One of the things that Mildred and Arvid truly bonded over was a deep mutual commitment to social causes. In Arvid’s case, this meant periodically traveling to Moscow to serve as secretary for a group called ARPLAN, or the Working Group for the Study of the Soviet Planned Economy. At the time, the Soviet Union’s economy was booming. Some Germans, like Arvid, thought its ideas could help turn the German economy around as well.

    The Harnacks didn’t know it at the time, but Arvid’s involvement in ARPLAN would have profound consequences in both their lives in the years to come.


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    About the Author

    Rebecca Donner is a writer whose articles and essays have appeared in many publications, including Bookforum and the New York Times. She is also the author of two novels: Sunset Terrace and Burnout. Donner has taught writing at Columbia University, Barnard College, and Wesleyan University.

    Who should read All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days?

    • Fans of real-world espionage stories
    • People curious about life in WWII-era Germany
    • History buffs

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