Mildred Elizabeth Gillars, nicknamed “Axis Sally” along with Rita Zucca, was an American broadcaster employed by the Third Reich in Nazi Germany to disseminate propaganda during World War II. She was convicted of treason by the United States in 1949 following her capture in post-war Berlin. Take a look below for 26 more bizarre and interesting facts about Mildred Gillars.
1. Born Mildred Elizabeth Sisk in Portland, Maine, she took the surname Gillars in 1911 after her mother remarried.
2. At 16, she moved to Conneaut, Ohio, with her family.
3. In 1918, she enrolled at Ohio Wesleyan University to study dramatic arts, but left without graduating.
4. She then moved to Greenwich Village, New York City, where she worked in various low-skilled jobs to finance drama lessons.
5. She toured with stock companies and appeared in vaudeville, but she was unable to establish a theatrical career. She also worked as an artist’s model for sculptor Mario Korbel, but was unable to find regular employment, so in 1929, she moved to France and lived in Paris for six months.
6. In 1933, she left the United States again, residing first in Algiers, where she found work as a dressmaker’s assistant.
7. In 1934, she moved to Dresden, Germany, to study music, and was later employed as a teacher of English at the Berlitz School of Languages in Berlin.
8. In 1940, she found work as an announcer with the Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft, German State Radio.
9. By 1941, the US State Department was advising American nationals to return home. However, Gillars chose to remain because her fiance, Paul Karlson, a naturalized German citizen, said he would never marry her if she returned to the United States.
10. Shortly afterwards, Karlson was sent to the Eastern Front, where he was killed in action.
11. On December 7, 1941, Gillars was working in the studio when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was announced.
12. She broke down in front of her colleagues and denounced their allies in the east. “I told them what I thought about Japan and that the Germans would soon find out about them,” she recalled.
13. She later said that she knew that such an outburst could send her to a concentration camp.
14. Faced with the prospect of joblessness or prison, the frightened Gillars produced a written oath of allegiance to Germany and returned to work, her duties initially limited to announcing records and participating in chat shows.
15. Gillars’ broadcasts initially were largely apolitical.
16. This changed in 1942, when Max Otto Koischwitz, the program director in the USA Zone at the RRG, cast Gillars in a new show called “Home Sweet Home.”
17. She soon acquired several names among her GI audience, including the Berlin Bitch, Berlin Babe, Olga, and Sally, but one of the most common was “Axis Sally.”
18. Axis Sally probably came when asked on air to describe herself, Gillars had said that she was, “the Irish type… a real Sally.”
19. In 1943, an Italian-American woman, Rita Zucca, also began broadcasting to American troops from Rome, using the name “Sally.” The two often were confused and even thought by many to be one and the same.
20. Gillars made her most notorious broadcast on June 5, 1944, just prior to the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France, in a radio play written by Koischwitz, “Vision of Invasion.”
21. She played Evelyn, an Ohio mother, who dreams that her son had died a horrific death on a ship in the English Channel during an attempted invasion of Occupied Europe.
22. Koischwitz died in August, 1944, and Gillars’ broadcasts became lackluster and repetitive without his creative energy.
23. She remained in Berlin until the end of the war. Her last broadcast was on May 6, 1945, just two days before the German surrender.
24. Gillars was indicted on September 10, 1948, and charged with ten counts of treason, but only eight were proceeded with at her trial, which began on January 25, 1949. The prosecution relied on the large number of her programs recorded by the Federal Communications Commission, stationed in Silver Hill, Maryland, to show her active participation in propaganda activities against the United States.
25. Gillars served her sentence at the Federal Reformatory for Women in Alderson, West Virginia. She became eligible for parole in 1959, but didn’t apply until 1961. She was released on June 10, 1961.
26. Having converted to Roman Catholicism while in prison, Gillars went to live at the Our Lady of Bethlehem Convent in Columbus, Ohio, and taught German, French, and music at St. Joseph Academy, Columbus.