Resistance Women: A Novel

Written by Jennifer Chiaverini
Review by Meg Wiviott

Beginning in 1929, Resistance Women follows the life of Mildred Fish Harnack, an American literary scholar married to the brilliant German economist Arvid Harnack, from the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party to the end of World War II. Harnack and her friends: Greta Kuckhoff, whom she meets while they are students at the University of Wisconsin; Martha Dodd, daughter of the US Ambassador to Germany; and Sara Weitz, a young Jewish student living in Berlin, organize a network of like-minded intellectuals, playwrights, ordinary citizens, and well-placed government workers determined to bring down the Third Reich. Their commitment is brave and inspiring. Their work is dangerous and life-threatening. Their sacrifice is the greatest there can be.

Mildred Harnack, Greta Kuckhoff, and Martha Dodd are all historical figures. The character of Sara Weitz is fictitious, a compilation of different historical women. That fact does not lessen the impact of the character. The story of the Harnack resistance cell is not well known. Due to Cold War tensions, the US government buried this heroic story, assuming members of the Harnack circle were Communist sympathizers because of their reliance on Soviet contacts. One criticism of this book is the lack of identifying and naming the rampant anti-Semitism that existed in the US State Department during these years. Ambassador Dodd is said to have “contentious” meetings with State Department officials and to be “besieged by obnoxious political enemies.” It is unfortunate that Chiaverini does not frankly state the problem, rather than using euphemisms. Although the story is sometimes plodding, Chiaverini’s research is impeccable, and more people should be aware of this piece of history and these courageous women.