Before her tragic death on the direct orders of Adolf Hitler for assisting in the escape of German Jews and political dissidents, UW alumna Mildred Fish-Harnack lived, learned, and worked in the Madison community. Writings from her and her husband, Arvid, recount favorite places such as State Street and the University Club. Particularly special to the pair was Picnic Point, where they got engaged.
Given her fondness for the iconic campus spot and in honor of her legacy as a champion for human rights, a monument, “Mildred,” was dedicated at Marshall Park on July 12. The monument, created by artist John Durbrow, stands on the shores of Lake Mendota, overlooking Picnic Point as a tribute to a Wisconsinite immortalized in history.
Speaking at the dedication event, which drew members of the campus, local government, and the community, UW–Madison interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs Jim Henderson spoke of Fish-Harnack’s strong legacy and enduring impact.
“Before Mildred Fish-Harnack was a heroic figure in history, she was a UW–Madison alum, a Madisonian, and a Wisconsinite,” Henderson said. “This monument stands as one more tribute to a person who will continue to inspire future generations.”
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway also addressed those present and expressed her hopes that Mildred Fish-Harnack’s actions inspires them to give voice to those who are being oppressed and treated unfairly.
“I sincerely hope that generations of Madisonians and folks from all over will sit where you are sitting and look at this beautiful piece of art out on this beautiful lake and remember how important it is for each and every one of us to stand up for justice and for our fellow human beings,” Rhodes-Conway said.
Additional remarks were given by Kia Karlen, chair of the Madison Arts Commission; Heinz Klug, Evjue-Bascom Professor of Law at UW–Madison; Nickolas Schweitzer, former member of the Madison Arts Commission; and artist John Durbrow. Madison Poet-Laureate Emerita Fabu also gave readings to commemorate the occasion and the life of Fish-Harnack.
The event was also attended by a delegation of university presidents from Hessen, Germany, as part of a visit to Wisconsin that allowed them to meet chancellors from across the UW system and discuss new collaborations with UW–Madison faculty and leaders.
Wisconsin and Hessen maintain a sister state relationship that began in 1976. The formal ties have opened the doors for numerous collaborations, including an exchange agreement between Hessen and the UW System, which has facilitated student and faculty exchange between UW–Madison and Hessen universities.
Among those present from Hessen was Joybrato Mukherjee, president of Justus Liebig University (JLU) Giessen, where Fish-Harnack studied while living in Germany. JLU also celebrates the legacy of Fish-Harnack, with an identical statue being planned for their Giessen campus. During the visit, Mukherjee also announced a scholarship named for Fish-Harnack to benefit a UW–Madison graduate student.
“There is a particularly strong link between Giessen and Wisconsin, and this is the personality of Mildred Harnack-Fish [sic],” Mukherjee said. “In light of this special link personified by Mildred Harnack-Fish we at the University of Giessen would like to make it possible for one student from the University of Wisconsin–Madison to spend some time in Giessen. This is what the Mildred Harnack-Fish Scholarship grant is about.”
The award will be given to a humanities student, who will stay at Justus Liebig University for a semester, giving them the opportunity to enhance their studies abroad and also trace part of Mildred Fish-Harnack’s journey. UW–Madison’s International Division will be providing a travel grant to the recipient to facilitate the study abroad experience.
“This is one more step in growing the ties between our universities,” said Guido Podestá, vice provost and dean of UW–Madison’s International Division. “There have been many exciting conversations about activities between our universities, and this is one substantial move. I look forward to hearing about the scholarship recipient’s experiences and also seeing how Wisconsin and Hessen build off of the important connections we share.”