HomeAboutPartnerships & InitiativesResearch & AwardsStudentsAlumni


The Mildred Fish-Harnack Human Rights and Democracy Lecture is designed to promote greater understanding of human rights and democracy, and enrich international studies on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. The Division of International Studies brings to campus a distinguished individual who has contributed to the cause of human rights through scholarship and leadership. The invited speaker gives a major public lecture, and meets with students and faculty in classrooms or more informal settings. Campus visits also provide guests with the opportunity to learn more about international studies and related activities at UW-Madison.

Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women for the United Nations Human Rights Council, delivered the 2012 Mildred Fish-Harnack Human Rights Lecture on Thursday, September 20, at the Pyle Center.

 A native of South Africa, Manjoo is an internationally recognized lawyer, teacher, and advocate who has worked to advance women’s rights and human rights around the world. She serves as an Advocate of the High Court of South Africa and associate professor in the University of Cape Town’s Department of Public Law.

Previous lectures include:

October 15, 2010: To mark the 10th anniversary of the lecture series, Shareen Blair Brysac, author of Resisting Hitler: Mildred Harnack and the Red  Orchestra, presented “Mildred and Arvid Harnack– Their Lives in Letters,” with students reading letters between Mildred and Arvid Harnack.

September 29, 2008: The lecture featured Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, gave a presentation. View photos:

About Mildred Fish-Harnack

Mildred Fish-Harnack, a native of Milwaukee, was a vibrant and active student while at the UW-Madison. Her strong beliefs in democracy and freedom were mirrored in the heroic anti-Nazi resistance work in which she and her husband engaged during World War II. Upon earning a bachelor’s degree in 1925 and a master’s degree in 1926 from UW-Madison, Fish-Harnack taught in the English Department and wrote for the Wisconsin State Journal and the Wisconsin Literary Magazine.
She married Arvid Harnack, a young German graduate student, and returned with him to Germany. Mildred taught American literature at the University of Berlin while Arvid worked on the American desk at the Ministry of Economics. During the 1930s, they watched the rise of Hitler, which represented the antithesis of their democratic ideals honed while students at UW-Madison. At great risk, the Harnacks organized a resistance group of more than 130 men and women. They arranged the escape of dissidents and Jews, published an underground newsletter, and gave economic information to the U.S. and Soviet embassies in Berlin. After Germany’s invasion of Russia, the group transmitted military intelligence to Moscow via radio “concerts,” prompting the Gestapo to dub them the “Red Orchestra.”

Arrested in 1942, Arvid Harnack was executed, and Mildred was sentenced to six years hard labor. Hitler reviewed the verdict, however, and ordered a retrial which produced a death sentence. She was guillotined on February 16, 1943, the only American civilian to be executed by Hitler as an underground conspirator. In 1986, the Wisconsin legislature passed a bill naming September 16, Harnack’s birthdate, “Mildred Harnack Day” in Wisconsin. The Division of International Studies and the Global Legal Studies Center are proud to honor her courage, idealism, and self-sacrifice with this lecture series.

See Also: