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tv   Rebecca Donner All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days  CSPAN  December 31, 2021 4:30pm-5:36pm EST

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the storyteller and wrapping up our look at the los angeles times best-selling nonfiction books, two more memoirs, carnies, and stanley - my life with who and look at this week's publishing news and nonfiction books, thank you for joining us on about books, is available as a podcast wherever you get your podcast, and on c-span, cspan now. >> book tv continues now, television for serious readers. >> welcome to the free library in philadelphia online and i am pleased to be here to introduce tonight's t guest rebecca donne, the author of the novel sunset referred to by the baltimore sons as the remarkable story of a community of single mothers
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and kids in 1980s los angeles and the graphic novel as well as essays reviews articles that appeared in a variety of publicationses including the new york times the believer and the recipient of a fellowship center for biography columbia university and barnard talks and she appeared "all the frequent troubles of our days", the true story of the merkin woman at the heart of the german resistance. and she's for the remarkable life and brutal death of her great great aunt, mildred hartigan the leader of one of nessie germany's most successful underground resistance groups newly identified persons in the- united states to be a leader in a german revolt in one of the book reads, combining meticulous scholarship and sparkling narratives, rebecca donner "all the frequent troubles of our
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days" brings to life for the first time central role played by mildred, and germany, homegrown and the portrait of the oppressive system against which her circle, serves to remind us of what can happen when and in this economic insecurity and anguish of social cultural change in a highly civilized nation and embraces synagogue over democracy and that very phrase, was written by nice interviewer. he's a professor at the university of san francisco or senior fellow at then institute of european studies in berkeley, and author of ten books, and the rights and let's get right to it, rebecca and david thank you so much for being here. >> thank you very much. >> let's start out as a little bit about rebecca, somethings
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were were already said and wrote them down and knows a little bit about the book, after which i will then post some questions to rebecca aboutqu the book she wil respond and we will go back and forth on those questions for a bit and then after that, then we can have q&a. and as you just said, rebecca has done a lot of things, she's really triple threat which of my very impressive, she's a journalist and novelist and a darn good one and she says historian is a triple threat, she is three really interesting books to her credit and wanted already mentioned, terrific model the sense that a terroriss senate seat section of la in the early 1980s and recommend
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filing another graphic novel and talk about a wide range, she's nodded and then finally, the study that we willar be talking about and all the frequent troubles of my days which takes us deep into the new year of domestic resistance to the murderous regime of adolf hitler in the early 1930s and into the 40s. in the last recently published a book, that is the subject of our discussion for this evening and i probably don't need to remind many of you know, that this book is been almost been so preys upon his release and definitely author envious. [laughter] eat your heart out. in the new york times alone, to really fantastic reviews at times, one i think it and if you
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have not read 200 those reviews, do self because it will inspire you to read the book. and from my own perspective, modern germany, and also historian of the resistance to hitler and i have written a couple of books about that for my perspective, there are several aspects of this book that rebecca really stand out and makee a special and worthy f note. one, you've already prevention already, and it's a personal dimension to it because it's essential figure in it, was the great great aunt of rebecca donner, american mildredti harnack, so you have this connection which sometimes you don't get with books of the sort
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and american mildred harnack, she was american woman who was from wisconsin, he moved to berlin to be the man who she had just married, when was a very intellectual from a lustrous german family. i met in wisconsin and they got married this was 1929, they moved to berlin. is very difficult time to move to the city but that is what they did it so they get caught upet immediately when they moved to berlin, the rise of adolf hitler and the, and he came into power which is accomplished three years later in january of 1933, and they get caught up in essence of the book, initially embryonic opposition to hitler's rapidly going into dictatorship and this connection
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that she has with mildred harnack, i think this is a special flavor to what we would otherwise get in the nature of the opposition grew in which mildred harnack, became active and leader and it gives this yet another note of similarity in my view anyway, that is because the group was largely civilian. and they domesticate by far give most attention from the historians, the group that m is gained the most attention from historians has been the military and the military intelligence branch is safe to say that is where 80 percent of the attention of the story is gone,e not so much to a civilian assistance. i was a very important to have this emphasis on that aspect of this because ultimately is much more than the military
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opposition. everybody knows about the circle the military intelligence people around hitler on july 20th, 19th 34 much less so is the severe component which was the focus of this book, and the coming to a briefly and another issue is the woman that this isy here, she by no means, the only female to become active and anti- nancy resistance, or to sacrifice her life in a cause, there were others for sure the female component of germany's domestic opposition like a civilian mentioned, has needed more fleshing out, if you will,
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personalization and that's where this book comes in to play and really puts a personal place on the extremely important to female component of the domestic resistance and we have lots and lots of biographies with some french female resisters but they were so much my rose but that's important in this book and again i'm a historian and resistance and the fact of the question here having to be a man, will certainly be a special interest into american leaders of his book ands he gets torn keep in mind, the same state that gave us senator joe mccarthy also god is with mildred harnack, so the connection is really veryec interesting read and really inmp
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american quality. and it needs to be kept in mind and final notice specialist, and this is really significant, the final note that i want to mention is the way in which the stories told by her daughter and remember that she is accomplished novelist and in n this book, without sacrificing one iota of precision and rigor is risen it with the boring novelist feel for the atmospherics and contingency in the drama in the mysteries and it is a great read, in addition to being a great contribution it and understanding the antidemocratic enemies they become entrenched how difficult it is to stand up to them once they have become entrenched and enhance another was not this is
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a timely book and i don't mean to remind you of that read should not be necessarily read justin connection is what's happening with the sentry but that's part of the street, you cano avoid that. so that, the background about rebecca donner in the book she has written, very brief i know give our chance to talk about her own book. and i would like to ask questions to her by starting with this one. can you rebecca, describe for the audience, the scene in which mildred harnack, and her husband found themselves when they arrived in the country. i've written a book about that as well but.
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[inaudible]. >> thank you david, that's an important introduction and is a great honor to be speaking with you about my book, 1929, she joined her husband at the university of houston and almost 50 percent of the students there were affiliated with a nazi fraternity and she was really astonished, this was not the germany that she had expected to arrive in the night really was her husband, and i think that the nazi party 1928, less than . in the 1930s, 18 percent but still the margins were much
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smaller it had been course in the 1932, 37 percent, so there was a rapid increase rise in the popularity of the nazi party. and mildred harnack fell into this and in her letters to her mother, she spoke about this. she spoke about how she was delighted to be in a phd program to be taken seriously as a scholar and to be working on her dissertation it and remember that mildred harnack came from a impoverished circumstance in milwaukee, and her mother had attempted education and taught herself typing and shorthand in order to make ends meet and her father was frequently unemployed horse trader/butcher/league
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picture and so mildred did not have any mentors so here she is now getting a phd in berlin. the early letters of 1939 and she is delivering it and going to the concert stand she is taking in the culture of bar van. berlin, so there's the sense that is foreign to her and i san my book, the only place that she had seen was on varnished floor of her high school gymnasium. i am calling myself. [laughter] i can even remember exactly what he said. [laughter] is this idea and you know now she is taking in all of the culture berlin has to offer and
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during this era, there is a whole lot of that and there is that stuff at that point in which there was still freedom of the press. a good have religion and you can demonstrate in the streets. this is astonishing to me, considering that i just try to visualize seeing all of this display of newspapers and people were reading and she goes back to her mother's and also just as fantastic awareness of representing everything from the far left the far right and everything in between. >> so you have the sense of plenty in her letters and really back to the letters, which my grandmother gave me when i was 15.
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there's a tremendous drive and she wrote about these encounters, they were happening the strikes of her happening, incredible poverty and she's deeply moved it by the struggles that germans who were unemployed, they were clearly having in the minds of people, making for food. and she felt many passages in her letter to her mother, she spoke about the necessity to do something about this in one of the chapter titles is we must do something about this now, and that iss a quote from her letter she wrote to her mother. and she also felt obligated to his foreign country to take it
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upon herself to try to do something about it. so this was now her transition into the underground assistance resistance. >> is important to know that this hit harder there even more so than the u.s. because germany was so dependent on the u.s. and wasn't dried up, they realized this hopelessness, unemployment, group much more rapidly so this was a desperate thing so you have mildred if there, and she begins to get involved a little bit in the underground ouactivities. tillis lubin mark about how that happened and who it was that she began to work with. >> that's interesting
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introduction to this world that was about her life and death. >> yes, so i think that she was teaching at the university of berlin and also teaching american literature. she was rather foresight about - and she was also in recruiting and she would invite the students who she felt would be effective to joining us kind of underground and at that point, it was a basic thing. it come over to my apartment let's have a chat, you know about the political situation in and she would actually start out by just saying it, would you like me toy loan you a book and let's talk about this book and
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she would buy incremental steps, the political views and would get to an anti- fascist movement. and this was in 1932, this was before hitler became chancellor and so she was fired from the university of berlin and she quickly got a position at a place for working class germans who know god in their degree deliver school this time. and started to buying a german man who had gotten the idea who had lived in the united states in the 20s and recorded this idea. and she found school and these
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were working-class germans who are very much being targeted by the nazi parties with propaganda and she also started a club, she called it in english, but it was really the way of basically bringing in people, academics and people at the u.s. embassy, and smith came in and spoke and it was a way of bringing again, some ideas to germans that they decided that they were - where the propaganda that they were hearing and get it was a book war. and then he became chancellor and everything changed, and, i mean, overnight.
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and we saw this drastically can germany from democracy to a national dictatorship. and she got her effort to recruit, mildred harnack did, but she had to do a lot of work. because if she reported the wrong i people, she could be tan and the primary weapon that this group had, was the paper. and bill bliss in this to her contemporary ears sounds rather mild. but in a fascist dictatorship, they are denouncing hitler of the nazi party and be sent to the concentration camps and that is exactly what happened and she was caught with recruits and they were there for a year and
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they were let out in the came right back into the group and get going and so you get a sense of the commitment of these people in this group, diverse group and there were, catholics, jews, atheists, and factory workers and professors and students and authors and there were office workers and in their democrats. and they were cohort and so were the women and so over the course of about eight years this crappy group when we think of a group,
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use the term, leader because the structure, and you know, this was by design. they did not a lot of times, with his testimony, they spoke about this, about how they did it know each other's other their real names, heea was more of the approach of the second world war the beginning of figuring out but they started to think about that it became apparent that hitler was not going away and initially, there was this thing that germany. [inaudible]. and nobody takess them seriously
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and a conservative party. [inaudible]. and i don't have to explicitly draw parallels. [laughter] and, they started to realize with that change of the strategies, and it didn't finish my last thought and i was going to say that for eight years, at least three other underground assistance groups formed an interlocking chain and run this time roughly may be 340 it's hard to say when but when the group begins to members of the group are getting recruited.
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and they had to be much more careful but nobody knew each other's birth names and the idea was. [inaudible]. and if you were tortured, that sometimes happen, you would only know two other people names nobody would know anybody's real name and so going back to 1935, is about the time they change their strategies of this was when they realized that the paper is against the fascist dictator. in the entrant owes them too much had this is when they got a position in order to have access to top-secret information about hitler's operational strategies
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and they discovered that despite this in germany, the hitler was preparing for war and she passed this information to the soviets and then he also the fact that quite well known, his focus was to bring news about this but also, and mildred shared the information with the american people as well. >> and that was not the original thing right. >> no. >> and it brings to the attention of what was happening to try to get them to stand up is for us to realize how risky this was inin an environment. >> yes to a foreign radio broadcast. >> that's right, the broadcast, obviously putting them up with the posters and that's what
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happened to the white rose and the mimics and doing some similar things. the nose happening in berlin and also they were deadly and this took incredible bravery. and when you have an organizational death, remember, the penetration of this. [inaudible]. and so, you do get arrested in 1942, and can you tell us a little bit about that and then we can talk about prison and stuff happening. >> absolutely, well i also want to find out that you brought the white rose, and i think that i encountered it the underground
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and that was very much connected, they were in the sort of like i mentioned like a wedding that connected them. >> so they were both good and bad that the had good connections but the expansion of the arrest. [inaudible]. tell us what happens with how she got arrested. >> will basically several members during the war were desperate to try to help diverse enemies and espionage and after their contacts at the u.s. embassy in berlin was transferred to santiago inwa 19, there were only other option was to all of this intelligence
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which they did and he was extremely hesitant did not want to be a spy and that he was antifascist he would say i'm not a spy in a not going to take money orders from a control officer and some of the memo that i have read released his control officers would be. [inaudible]. exactly, and so did the voices who was that lt. and he had knowledge missions an incredibly specific information that was
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advantageous forced onto know about the stalin did not believe any of it and not any of its entities at this point, was paranoid that people are trying to stab him in the back of one of the documents filed that included my book is a report that included the intelligence and also said that more than he presented. .. . stalin scrolled across the top of it actually won't say it, but it was something profane. [laughter] [laughter] >> that is stalin. [laughter] something about. [inaudible] and a russian historian i was
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working with said no this is profane even for stalin, what he wrote. that is in the so i have a scan of that a page. anyway and then we are trying to get to it now so that they could basically send information to the center and they t were poory trained and i don't go into much detail in the book. there were two or three transmitters and again this is during the war and they are transporting these things with machines and again if you get caught in one of these things that's o it. and then they have to be trained
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the chairman manned in his early 20s, he was very hastily trained to send messages via radio transmitter and he had been looking at it and that was his stage and after 10 hours he would go home and look at the machine and if the gestapo called the signal he could be arrested. >> the book author the chairman intelligence folks who were scanning the airways picking up messages they caught the message and then they spent a year trying to decode it and they
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succeeded so it was a huge team of the finest decoders and mathematicians who were hired for the job and after year they cracked the code and i will make this as brief as possible. essentially they cracked the code and the gestapo pounced. his wife found out about this and spread the word and hoppedun on the train and tried to escape and she was arrested and the same person also went to her suit and at this point they had fled germany and at that point they were trying to escape the
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evidence and trying to escape sweden and they got off with a couple and they gave the appearance of having a holiday in occupied it. this is also reported in other books. they do say that they were having a holiday and mildred ann arbor decided to go to occupied lithuania to soak up the sun and that was wrong. they were escaping or at least attempting to. the cause of death for an we have an i witness account of
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what exactly happened the morning they were arrested and he is a historian and he wrote an article about seven pages long after the war in minute podetail including dialogue that reads like a novel between gestapo agents and mildred. actually mildred doesn't speak so he reports what happened with the gestapo were at the door and he's outside and they surround him and edmund, everybody in the house can see what's going on and they aren't sure who are these men better plane closed and they i were official. no badges and they walk in and ghhe says all these men are with
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immigration. they want to see my papers and write then everybody knew it was the gestapo. so they tried to detain them. have some breakfast, havebo some coffee and edmund tried to get close to whisper something in his ear to receive the message to say something to him about what to do next and every time he got close the gestapo would come in between. and so that was that morning and i should also point out the ss officer drove 500 miles to personally arrest them and they were taken to gestapo headquarters and thrown in the race met in a prison there and then over the course of three
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and a half months in my book i feature their gestapo mugshots and you can see the members of this group. this is the only group in the english language that shows the gestapo mugshots. there is one out of. look published in germany decades ago that has all of them and that's the only one. it's not o the full array. the gestapo arrested 119 members of this group and they were interrogated over the course of 3.5 months and this is 19422 and it continued to 1943. regarding mildred she was
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fingerprinted and put into solitary confinement. that is the arrest and all of them were then interrogated and tortured including mildred and they were preparing for a mass treason trial that was a bogus trial. there was no justice served. the appearance of justice and a great number of them were executed as a result of that. >> mildred originally as you point out in the book after her trial she was given a sentence of six years imprisonment were as her husband was detained that she was given this sentence and
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at least she could perhaps get out. athen what happens? >> one of the people reported later they found out he was about to be executed and he heard mildred sentence and you also have to remember that he had relatives who were there. and all of them were executed. and it wasld part of the plot so we wonder how much our bid knew about it and we have no idea. in any case there was at least a hope that she would survive and have different plot failed
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mildred would be sent toe. a ca, prison camp and six years net and its six-year -- in today's later found out about the verdict and her sentence and he ordered. >> didn't goering hear about it first? >> yes he did and he was irate. >> he's. they were his friends. >> yes. he was livid and it's interesting he had no idea that they were academics. aristocrats yes and this is apparently to this ss officer who was interviewed after the war made him all the more irate
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that people like arvid and mildred and those. >> it made them feel like he might be suspected. they were discredited in this constant war. >> yes, exactly basically mildred's was were -- mildred was rushed through a second trial and was w found guilty in 1943 she was beheaded. >> io team. that was the way it was done for the most part. the mag head chopping is more humane. after she was beheaded she was not alone.
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the other women were to and the men were shot. the women'sem bodies were delivered to the head of the anatomy department at the university and he had worked out a special arrangement with the director of the prison to ship the women's bodies so that he could dissect them and ainvestigate the effects of ace stress. >> unbelievable ability sobering. >> we need to see the physical evidence. >> let me go to another question. the book is filled with pictures shots here and photographs there
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and this book was written in a way that's quite different than the usual academic book in the present tense for one thing and all of usable pieces of documentation. it is fantastic by the way and i think it'shi just great. was it your background that got you intoou this? what made you say i'm going to do it this way as opposed to the more traditional way with an appendix. >> i knew i was doing something unconventional. i wanted to validate my authority.
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obfuscation is the key. >> and then the pictures. i started with the observation with this conventional cradle-to-grave as you might characterize it. it was published several decades ago and so i thought that has already been done and so i needed to have a fresh approach so that was observation number one observation number two was as i started researching in the archives i was just fascinated
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by the documents themselves. i'd love to get my hands on the documents and to feel the history and i started thinking the history feel so distant and then when i began thinking about how topical it is during the election of 2016-old, had been researching it for that. i began in earnest to write the manuscript. it was important for people to see the history of this event and it is important to see how fragile democracy can be and how important it is to visit and the story of the resisters i was well aware of the mythology and
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so i thought how do i make it more relevant and more immediate? i could say a lot more about this. we wouldn't want to take questions. we want to take questions. tally came to decide and interweave these documents so people could see the power the truth. i thought why he does write a historical novel. >> you did the right thing. >> thank you. i wanted to bring it into this light and show the sense of immediacy. >> that you did. [inaudible]
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>> we will get through as many as we can and it's entirely personal. there's a question here which is an interesting one. was there any sexism involved? >> definitely. one of the survivors who wrote a memoir and we have a lot of information about her she had a separate women's group and then they had their little group. she was outraged. mildred led the women's books and eventually they emerged and mildred started running the meetings. they just assumed that arvid left them. again there was evidence of what she did.
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yes that's one example. they were ciphering the messages that were sent to moscow center and they were hiding the transmitters. they were making the leaflets and there was one woman who was buried gifted as a graphic designer and she made them so miniature they were the size of a postage stamp and i can't even imagine this. little photographs so that they could contain a small amount of text so they could easily distribute y them. anyway women were doing all of
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these things. >> talking about these other people there's another question i guess taking it macro. is your book talk about other female resistance fighters such as virginia hall and people like that? >> no what i talk about, so i talk about the chairman resistance. virginia hall within germany. >> i'm having a'm larger questin about the american reaction to the arrest in her imprisonment and their execution. what was america's role at this time if any? >> america's role well the americans and the brits vergara did the chairman resistance in
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their document on occasions when the chairman resistance they told them about the resistance and they were treated with extreme skepticism and they didn't want to believe it or didn't believe there was a -- they just didn't believe or want to believe and there's a quotation from anthony edith saying is there any evidence of the resistance in 1946 and they just didn't believe that it existed. and after the war could say little bit more about that. >> talk a little bit about what happens after the war when the americans in the britsts are captured. >> it's just astonishing.
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the american intelligence was on the verge of an indicting the rossa cater that was responsible for this whole trial and in fact was one of the people responsible who witnessed her decapitation and one of the men who watched. they were hitler's bloodhounds. he was being indicted as a war criminal in nuremberg and he gave him a codename and decided to use him as a sword to inform him about soviet espionage. a couple of who personally rested mildred was recruited by british intelligence and taped
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his death and gave him a job as eight textile, manager of a textile factory and begin the captors thought that he had the knowledge of the verge of toppling their democracy and it was just hogwash. and the man was indicted and tried as a war criminal and they go on to discredit harnack as a communist. and then it discredits the whole legacy connected to communism. >> once the official by letter a
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memo that he wrote heard it was justified. an american woman who was fighting at the regime had the american officials who say that it was justified was beheaded and it was said that her death was justified in us just astonishing to me. >> it was a legacy for a long, long time. >> this is fascinating in her runs very counter to cinematic notions of the post-war and people getting their justice. there was a man named galen who was set up by the see a -- the ss and the western intelligence
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agency. tell us thezi whole story. >> i'm going to dovetail a couple of these questions. people are probably reacting like i did to shine a mugshot in the book and one is how much information if any is uncovered and a wonderful array, what archives did she look for in what did you find and the big question is how do you go about this research and you continue to investigate or did you sort of hit a brick wall? >> i'm just going to show you this page. you'll see all the archives in the book. there are soviet era archives and incredibly important archive
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with a radio transmitter who was executed with his wife. his wife was pregnant when she was arrested and she gave birth in prison. the baby grew up to run --. we had access to a lot of documents especially between mildred and other women in the prison that spoke about her. they were some of my most astonishing archival. people were into the cracks of .the walls.
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what archives did i go to? >> are there any central mysteries? >> mildred's older sister who is my great grandmother urged the family after she was executed in after "the new york times" published an article saying an american woman was beheaded by and i'm paraphrasing the headline alluded to her being involved in a conspiracy and all this communism was being attached too her and obviously n a way that made her sister afraid that she too would suffer she urged the family to burn all of her photographs.
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and so when you speak of the gaps there are gaps at that level. the last letter that she sent in 1942 by the family were destroyed w and it just so happened that her mother hid the packet of letters in the attic and they were discovered into my great-grandmother died. luckily there were some letters saved and they were able to get a lot of information. there are gaps in the letters themselves. she couldn't say any -- everything that she wanted to so she just kind of guest at what she meant. w these documents that the war crimes act resulted in the
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declassification of a lot of documents and they remain declassified today. and i'm mildred i got sent back files that were redacted and i had to get a freedom of information request. they were denied and then i had to send the second request and i was defeated in getting some of these documents. some of them are still classified. these are just some examples of the evidence that is being hidden in russia. we have been given a glimpse of some of these files. in the early 90s these bios
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are -- were put under lock and key. i wrote to the russian embassy and basically begging them to share a little shred of a file of something and they actually did send me something and that's in the book to pre-payd send mea photograph of her as a child which blew my mind and a description about her. it was just a tiny sliver. i think of julian barnes definition of a -- held together by string. >> i guess as the last question and you are segueing into it for me so thank thank you. to question a lot of people have in one form or another and it's something that's fascinating about this work of history that you are connected to. owhile i imagine most of the
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people have gone to the great hereafter and whatnot there are questions of how you found out about it and what did your family say? talk about the personal nature of this within your family. >> sure. i'd be happy to. my grandmother when i was 15 years old gave me all thene letters. she said you need to tell the story one day and i felt a great obligation to do so. she made copies for me of the letters and it's in a massive winder. and then there is a kind of mystery that i felt aboutut mildred.
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my grandmother told me these stories and then she passed away in a boating accident. she had an untimely death and there were questions that i have that i have not been able to ask and she had told me enough and had given me the letter so i started tanking of the is a kind of a scholarly detective story. and then she gave me books of shakespearean plays. i would look and see what she underlined so it was just that mystery of mildred. i hadf the sense that it would e misunderstood and i thought, i felt like it was gathering information about her and then asking family members what they
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remember. then i tracked down her 11-year-old -- who was 89 years old. when i found out he was still alive i took the plane strayed out to california to an northern californian interviewed him at length. she was probably the last person alive that had first-hand knowledge of the espionage and had participated in it and that for me, that was a personal link. he looked into my eyes and said i remember mildred and you are a family and she was family to me. and so i think that experience really moved me so profoundly
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and if you are asking about my personal connection to the story, i felt my grandmother's letters and in my interview and everything in between where the real focal points for me that spurred me on and provided a tremendous sense of urgency to tell the story and also the letter which mildred gave to her cellmate gertrude and said please try to give this back to the family. the day before arvid was executed he wrote this letter that was just a gorgeous testament to love and commitment and it's so incredibly poignant and gertrude was transferred to a concentration cat and manage to survive and cat this letter
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with her and then in 1952 finally they tracked down her mother and said i would like you to have this. this is why we have this letter today. that letter and another thing that letter was really astonishing and we have it today because of gertrude and that was an act of heroism just keeping that letter with her in a concentration camp and she said she would give it back to the family and then finally one other document that was actually the book and she was translating it right before she was executed and it starts with the chaplain
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who found her in the margins with translations in the title of the book all the troubles of our day and hence the title. it really summarizes it. >> i can't think of a better way to't and actually and what a terrific talk it was. i posted a link to the book in a chat and if you want to buy it you can go wherever fine books are sold. thank you very much for joining us. >> thank you. i enjoyed the conversation so much.


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