1943 - Present:

Late 1940s.  a friend's poem.


The unfinished poem To and From the Guillotine was written by Clara Leiser, a friend and colleague of Mildred Fish Harnack. Both attended The University of Wisconsin - Madison in the early 1920's. Later in the 1930's, Clara travelled a few times to Europe to visit Mildred and her German-born husband, Arvid (whom Mildred had met at the University and later married in 1926). The last time Clara saw Mildred in the U.S. was when Mildred stayed with her in New York in 1937.

Clara received a postcard from Mildred dated January 12, 1939 from London. In it Mildred writes Clara that she had "Better not write but don't forget me and don't be angry." [View Clara's explanation of postcard.] The next news she heard told of the execution of Mildred and her husband by Hitler and his war machine on February 16, 1943 and December 22, 1942 respectively.

As a "memorializing salute" to Mildred and her husband, Clara began to work on this epic poem in the mid to late 1940's. The following images are thumbnail versions of original drafts that exist of the poem. The two images on the left are taken from the original introduction and the first page of the poem. The two images on the right are taken from earlier, individual 'draft' pages of the poem that were sent to the President of the University of Wisconsin - Madison, Edwin B. Fred, during the late 1940's. A closer inspection, reveals some of the changes and comments that Clara Leiser had made in the process of writing and rewriting this work, which according to her notes on the last page of the poem, was not finished, with the addition of several parts still yet to come.

The four pages described above can be viewed as 800 x 1019 pixel images by clicking on the thumbnails or on the bar below them. The unfinished poem, graciously supplied by Anita Leiser, who granted Shareen Blair Brysac permission to post it on the Internet, is reproduced here in a text version (which attempts to follow, as closely as possible, the layout of the original), and can be read by clicking on the bar with the text "TO AND FROM THE GUILLOTINE  Poem by Clara Leiser", which will link to a scrollable version of the 20 or so pages that Clara had finished.

Thumnail image of poem introduction
[Poem, introduction]
Courtesy of
Anita Leiser
Thumnail image of poem: page 1
[Poem, page 1]
Courtesy of
Anita Leiser
Thumnail image of poem: page 12
[Poem, page 12]
Courtesy of
UW-Madison Archives
Thumnail image of poem: page 21
[Poem, page 21]
Courtesy of
UW-Madison Archives



Mildred Fish Harnack: From Wisconsin Born and Educated to Resistance Fighter During World War II with the Red Orchestra Movement
UW - Madison Archives and Records Management Services
425 Steenbock Library
University of Wisconsin-Madison


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Prepared by: Jenifer Ihde
Last update: 30 January 2001