"Axis Sally"
Mildred Gillars and Rita Luisa Zucca

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Mildred Gillars, aka "Axis Sally"

Several American Nazi sympathizers worked as broadcasters for German state radio, but perhaps none was as famous as Mildred Gillars. Born in Portland, Maine on November 29, 1900, her parents, Vincent and Mae Hewitson Sisk, named her Mildred Elizabeth Sisk. Her parents divorced in 1907, and in 1911, Mildred’s mother married a dentist, Dr. Robert Bruce Gillars. After her parents’ divorce, she assumed her stepfather’s surname, becoming Mildred Gillars.

The family moved around a great deal during her early years, but Mildred Gillars eventually graduated from high school in Conneaut, Ohio, in 1917. In 1918, she enrolled at Ohio Wesleyan University in the small town of Delaware, to study dramatic arts as she hoped to pursue a stage career. Gillars did well in speech, languages and dramatics but did not graduate because of her failure to meet all university requirements and standards.but left without graduating. She then moved to Greenwich Village, New York City, where she worked in various low-skilled jobs to finance drama lessons. Although she hoped to become a Broadway star performer the closest she came was touring with stock companies and appearing in vaudeville.

Later, Gillars attended Hunter College in New York.  She worked at a variety of jobs after leaving college–clerk, salesgirl, cashier and waitress–all to further her ambition to become an actress. In 1929 she went to Europe with her mother and spent six months studying in France and working as an artist's model in Paris. After a short time working in France she decided to return to New York, where she worked in stock companies, musical comedies and vaudeville, but never made enough impact to gain any real recognition.

In 1933, she she returned to Europe residing first in Algiers, where she found work as a dressmaker's assistant. She later worked in France as a governess and salesgirl. 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. English teachers were paid less than Russian instructors–a possible reason for her decision in 1940 to accept employment Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft (RRG), German State Radio as an announcer and actress. This was a job much more to her liking, and she stayed with it until the defeat of Nazi Germany in May 1945.

By 1941, the US State Department was advising American nationals to return home. However, Gillars chose to remain because her fiancé, Paul Karlson, a naturalized German citizen, said he would never marry her if she returned to the United States. Shortly afterwards, Karlson was sent to the Eastern Front, where he was killed in action. Alone after his death and fearing that she would be put in a concentration camp or even killed, she was coerced to sign an oath of allegiance to Germany to protect herself, keep her job at the radio station and becoming homeless. Within a short time, Max Oscar Otto Koischwitz, the radio program director, convinced her to make broadcasts for Hitler; she knew him from Hunter College where he had been a professor, and soon they became a couple living together in Berlin.

On December 7, 1941, Gillars was working in the studio when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was announced. 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. "The shock was terrific. I lost all discretion."

She later said that she knew that such an outburst could send her to a concentration camp. 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.

The Radio Broadcast

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Mildred Gillars

From the deserts of North Africa to the Normandy beaches, GIs listened to the sensual voice of an American woman broadcasting over the radio for Nazi Germany. The voice, alternately seductive and condemning, wondered aloud if their wives and girlfriends were “running around” with the 4-Fs back home, and gently pointed out the benefits of surrender. As the men tried to imagine the mysterious beauty behind the microphone, the swing music she played kept them tuning in. She cultivated a persona of worldly allure, ready to welcome the boys and understand their troubles:

Well, kids, you know I’d like to say to you, “Pack up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag,” but I know that that little old kit bag is much too small to hold all the trouble you kids have got.’ —Axis Sally

The reality behind the voice was less glamorous. Two American women competed for the soldiers’ fantasies: Mildred Gillars, a middle-aged former showgirl from Ohio, broadcast from Berlin; the other, a cross-eyed 30-year-old New Yorker with a honeyed voice named Rita Zucca, broadcast from Rome. One was the willing mouthpiece of her mentor and lover, while the other collaborated with the Nazis for financial gain. But both women became enmeshed in the collective memory of American soldiers and sailors as one indelible figure: Axis Sally.  And indeed, both Sallys became women who were wanted and pursued by the end of the war, but in a way that ultimately had nothing to do with desire—and everything to do with treason.

The Propaganda Ministry and the German Foreign Office hoped to extend Reich Radio’s European success to North America, but needed broadcasters who could communicate with American listeners in terms they could understand. At the outset of the war, American expatriates in Berlin were few and far between. Most had returned home in the face of hostilities, but there were some willing candidates. Max Otto Koischwitz—a naturalized American citizen and former professor who would play a defining role in the creation of Axis Sally—dominated Berlin’s broadcasts to America in those early years of the war.

Much of the German propaganda effort in 1940 and 1941 was aimed at keeping America out of the war— attacking the idea of American military aid to the British war effort and blaming “Jewish finance” for the conflict. The message was finely tuned, but the thick Teutonic accents of the German newscasters spoiled the effect. “It is advised of the importance of our American newscasts to use as far as possible American-born speakers,” the head of the German Radio and Culture section, Dr. Markus Timmler, wrote in March 1940. Radio officials paid heed, and within a month of Timmler’s memorandum, a 39-year-old former Broadway showgirl named Mildred Gillars—out of work and recruited by a social acquaintance who worked for Reich Radio—walked into the massive Berlin radio complex known as the Big House.

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American soldiers eagerly listen to the radio for news during WWII

Gillars' broadcasts initially were largely apolitical. This changed in 1942, when Max Otto Koischwitz, cast Gillars in a new show called Home Sweet Home, a propaganda show directed at American troops.  Mildred eventually became one of the Third Reich’s most prominent radio personalities with Home Sweet Home.    Although Gillars' broadcasted under the radio handle “Midge,” She soon acquired several names amongst her GI audience, including the Berlin Bitch, Berlin Babe, Olga, and Sally, but the one most common was "Axis Sally". This name probably came when asked on air to describe herself, Gillars had said she was "the Irish type… a real Sally." Her radio shows usually aired sometime between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. daily. Her broadcasts were heard all over Europe, the Mediterranean, North Africa and the United States from December 11, 1941, through May 6, 1945. Although most of her programs were broadcast from Berlin, some were aired from Chartres and Paris in France and from Hilversum in the Netherlands.

Gillars broadcasted programs in English to the Allied forces in Europe and North Africa. Her messages were designed to heighten loneliness, fatigue and the futility of fighting Germany.

The typical content of a show would include a good variety of popular American music interspersed with the misinformation that made Gillars notorious. The propaganda could be of several kinds: attacks on the Jews, forecasts of doom, reports of injury and death, and taunts.

Mildred and Koischwitz had become lovers and together, posing as International Red Cross workers, they made tours of the U.S. prisoner of war camps. There, passing out cigarettes and good cheer, they interviewed and recorded American prisoners. The soldiers were told the recorded interviews would be broadcast home to friends and family by short wave Trying to make the folks at home feel better, the prisoners often gave statements of good care and well being. Later these interviews would be altered and rebroadcast to the U.S. by Koischwitz and Mildred to give the impression that the soldiers agreed with inserted Nazi propaganda.

Gillars’ propaganda often took the form of attacks on the Jews in accordance with Nazi beliefs, along with tirades against the United States and in particular Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whom Gillars hated. These attacks were frequently vicious, direct, and cruel in their content, rather than subtle or comic. As an example, in one of her rants against Roosevelt, Gillars said:

Damn Roosevelt! Damn Churchill. Damn all Jews who made this war possible. I love America, but I do not love Roosevelt and all his kike boyfriends.

Gillars’ Axis Sally spoke in a friendly, conversational tone, but her goal was to unsettle her listeners. One of her favorite tactics was to mention the soldiers’ wives and girlfriends and then muse about whether the women would remain faithful:

Especially if you boys get all mutilated and do not return in one piece.

Gillars' main programs from Berlin were:

  • Home Sweet Home Hour, from December 24, 1942, until 1945, a regular propaganda program the purpose of which was to make US forces in Europe feel homesick. A running theme of these broadcasts was the infidelity of soldiers' wives and sweethearts while the listeners were stationed in Europe and North Africa.
  • Midge-at-the-Mike, broadcast from March to late fall 1943, in which she played American songs interspersed with defeatist propaganda, anti-Semitic rhetoric and attacks on Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • GI's Letter-box and Medical Reports directed at the US home audience in which Gillars used information on wounded and captured US airmen to cause fear and worry in their families. After D-Day, June 6, 1944, US soldiers wounded and captured in France were also reported on. Gillars and Koischwitz worked for a time from   Chartres and Paris for this purpose, visiting hospitals and interviewing   POWs . In 1943 they had toured POW camps in Germany, interviewing captured Americans and recording their messages for their families in the US. The interviews were then edited for broadcast as though the speakers were well-treated or sympathetic to the Nazi cause.

Opening with the sound of a train whistle, Home Sweet Home attempted to exploit the fears of American soldiers about the home front. The broadcasts were designed to make soldiers feel doubt about their mission, their leaders, and their prospects after the war.

Perhaps Gellars' most famous broadcast, and the one that would eventually get her convicted of treason, was a play written by Koischwitz titled Vision of Invasion that went out over the airwaves just prior to the D-Day invasion of Normandy as well as to the home folks in America. Gillars played the role of an American mother from Ohio who dreamed that her soldier son, a member of the invasion forces, died aboard a burning ship in the attempt to cross the English Channel. The play had a realistic quality to it, sound effects simulating the moans and cries of the wounded as they were raked with gunfire from the beaches. Over the battle action sound effects, an announcer’s voice intoned, ‘The D of D-Day stands for doom…disaster…death…defeat…Dunkerque or Dieppe.’ Adelbert Houben, a high official of the German Broadcasting Service, would testify at Axis Sally’s trial that her broadcast was intended to prevent the invasion by frightening the Americans with grisly forecasts of staggering casualties

In 1944, Koischwitz, died of tuberculosis and heart failure leaving Gellars alone in a country at war, yet at the same time, his death lifted the pressure off of her about the announcements. Gillars' broadcasts became lackluster and repetitive without his creative energy. 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.

Most GIs agreed that Gillars had a sultry, sexy voice that came over the radio loud and clear. Like her counterpart in the Pacific, Tokyo Rose, she liked to tease and taunt the soldiers about their wives and sweethearts back in the States:

Hi fellows, I’m afraid you’re yearning plenty for someone else. But I just wonder if she isn’t running around with the 4-Fs way back home.

She would get the names, serial numbers and hometowns of captured and wounded GIs and voice concern about what would happen to them, in broadcasts that could be heard in the United States.

Well I suppose he’ll get along all right. The doctors don’t seem…I don’t know… only time will tell, you see.

At sign-off time she would tease her listeners some more, telling them:

I’ve got a heavy date waiting for me.

Although the GIs found the propaganda laughable, the lively music drew thousands of listeners. Captured prisoners of war admitted to their German interrogators that they regularly listened to the broadcasts. And so the Foreign Office sought to replicate what they considered a successful formula.

Rita Luisa Zucca, the Italian "Axis Sally"

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Rita Zucca

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Propaganda leaflets dropped on allies announcing program schedule and frequency for Jerry's Front

As Allied troops pushed up the Italian peninsula in the summer of 1943, the Italian national radio network in Rome hired a 30-year-old Italian American named Rita Luisa Zucca. The daughter of a successful Manhattan restaurateur, Zucca had spent her teenage years in a convent school in Florence and, as a young woman, had worked in the family business. She had returned to Italy in 1938, working as a typist and renouncing her American citizenship three years later to save her family’s property from expropriation by Mussolini’s government. Fired from her typing job in 1942 for copying an anti-Fascist pamphlet, Zucca was hired as a radio announcer in February 1943.

As the Allied invasion of Italy progressed, the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini decided to try and emulate the German radio’s Axis Sally broadcasts of Mildred Gillars. In the summer of 1943, the Italian national radio network in Rome hired the 30-year-old Zucca with this aim in mind. She was teamed with German broadcaster Charles Goedel and given the name Sally; their program, Jerry’s Front Calling, extended Axis Sally’s fame to the Italian front. Every night, Zucca signed off by sending her listeners “a sweet kiss from Sally.”

According to one account, Zucca signed onto each show by uttering "Hello Suckers!" and her signature tune was "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea".

While the show’s format was almost identical to Gillars’s, Zucca’s broadcasts used intelligence provided by the German embassy in Rome in an attempt to deceive and confuse the advancing troops. For instance, it was Rita Zucca who addressed the Allied troops on July 8, 1943, the night before the invasion of Sicily. Speaking to “the wonderful boys of the 504th Parachute Regiment,” she told them:

Col. Willis Mitchell’s playboys [the 61st Troop Carrier Group] are going to carry you to certain death. We know where and when you are jumping and you will be wiped out.

The value of this particular revelation backfired when Sally announced to the men that their regiment had been decimated—a full hour before the first plane took off.

In Berlin, Mildred Gillars was incensed when she discovered there was another woman broadcasting as Axis Sally, and threatened to quit. She recalled:

I felt that I could be responsible for anything that I said and I didn’t want any confusion after the end of the war as to what I said, It caused a great deal of trouble.

Her threats were empty ones, however, and both Sallys continued their broadcasts until the war’s bitter end.

As the Allies advanced on Rome in May 1944, Rita Zucca traveled north with the retreating Germans and resumed broadcasting from Milan. On September 15, 1944, the cast and crew of Jerry’s Front fled to the sliver of northern Italy known as the Italian Social Republic. The program was now attached to a German military propaganda unit called the Liberty Station. In a castle in Fino Mornasco, near Como, Axis Sally was the guest of honor at a party broadcast live on that station. The GIs who tuned in heard the sounds of merriment, clinking glasses, and laughter. Other radio personalities, including English fascist John Amery (later hanged by the British for treason), took part in the festivities.

The broadcast accentuated the desperation of those final days. During that danse macabre, the familiar, sweet voice of an American girl floated over the radio to troops on the front lines. Zucca asked the GIs:

Hello boys…how are you tonight? A lousy night it sure is…Axis Sally is talking to you…you poor, silly dumb lambs, well on your way to be slaughtered!

By then the seductive-sounding Zucca was heavily pregnant; her son was born on December 15, 1944. She returned to the microphone 40 days later and continued until her final broadcast on April 25, 1945. With Italian partisans in pursuit she boarded a train to Milan, where she was met by one of her cousins. Zucca took refuge at her uncle’s home in Turin, where she was captured on June 5, 1945.

An officer of the IV Corps military police told Stars and Stripes’ European edition about being one of the first Allied men to lay eyes on the Rita Zucca, the Italian Axis Sally:

When I saw her coming through the door, I said to myself, ‘What the hell is this, another rape case? She was dressed in an American field jacket, a blue print dress, and sandals. As the arresting officers loaded Zucca and her son into a jeep for the overnight drive to Rome, they handed her eight blankets for protection against the cool night air.

Although Stars and Stripes was not allowed to interview the prisoner, the correspondent said that Zucca's well-known crossed-eye condition did nothing to detract from her feminine charms:

True, her left eye is inclined to wander—but that cooey, sexy voice really has something to back it up.

Stateside newspapers took a more bitter tone and tried to demolish the Axis Sally mystique. A typical headline described her as:

Ugly and unattractive in person as her voice was appealing.

Another journalist called her:

Cross-eyed, bow-legged and sallow-skinned.

Though the press touted her arrest, it soon became clear to the U.S. Justice Department that the Rome Axis Sally could not be prosecuted for treason. When the FBI discovered documentation of her 1941 renunciation of citizenship, J. Edgar Hoover wrote to the Justice Department:

In view of the fact that she has lost her American citizenship, no efforts are being made at the present time to develop a treason case against her.

As the U.S. government’s effort to try Rita Zucca fizzled, it stepped up efforts to track down Mildred Gillars, who had continued to broadcast in Berlin until just before the German surrender. The U.S. attorney general dispatched prosecutor Victor C. Woerheide to Berlin in the summer of 1945; by August, he and Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) special agent Hans Wintzen had only one solid lead: Raymond Kurtz, a B-17 pilot shot down by the Germans, recalled that a woman who had visited his prison camp seeking interviews was the broadcaster who called herself “Midge at the mike.” Kurtz remembered that the woman had used the alias Barbara Mome. That detail became the key to tracking her down.

Wanted posters went up throughout occupied Berlin, adorned with a dour photograph of Gillars, in which she looked more like a schoolmarm than a legendary woman of glamour and deceit.

Mildred Gillars' Arrest & Trial

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Mildred Gillars arrives in the United States for trial

After the defeat of Germany, Gillars was not immediately apprehended but blended into the throngs of displaced persons in occupied Germany seeking assistance from the Western Allies in obtaining food, shelter, medical treatment, location of relatives and friends, and possible employment.

The US attorney general dispatched prosecutor Victor C. Woerheide to Berlin to find and arrest Gillars. He and Counterintelligence Corps special agent Hans Winzen only had one solid lead: Raymond Kurtz, a pilot shot down by the Germans, recalled that a woman who had visited his prison camp seeking interviews was the broadcaster who called herself "Midge at the Mike". According to Kurtz, the woman had used the alias Barbara Mome. Woerheide organized wanted posters with Gillars' picture to put up in Berlin, but the breakthrough came when he was informed that a woman calling herself "Barbara Mome" was selling her furniture at second-hand markets around town. A shop owner who was found selling a table belonging to Gillars was detained, and under "intensive interrogation" revealed Gillars' address.

On the evening of March 15, 1946, Gillars returned home to a boarding house in the British sector to find a pale, nervous U.S. Army soldier pointing a revolver in her direction. CIC special agent Robert Abeles announced:

Miss Gillars, you are under arrest!

When the U.S. Counterintelligence agents picked her up for questioning in March of 1946, her looks, along with her money were gone and she was reduced to smoking scrounged cigarette butts. Once the highest paid person in Dr. Goebbels’ American section of Radio Berlin, she was carrying one mark, 15 pfennig.

With a surprised “Oh…” she surrendered, and asked to take one possession with her: a photo of Max Otto Koischwitz, the man who had led her down the path to treachery. He had died of tuberculosis in September 1944.

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Mildred Gillars with unidentified FBI Agent

Mildred Gillars was held by the Counterintelligence Corps for two and a half years in the Allied prison camp at Camp King Oberursel, at Frankfurt-am-Main until she was conditionally released from custody on December 24, 1946. However, she declined to leave military detention. She was formally re-arrested on January 22, 1947 at the request of the Justice Department and was eventually flown to the United States to await trial on August 21, 1948.

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Newspaper clipping announcing Gillars' indictment

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 in the district court of the nation’s capital, with Judge Edward M. Curran presiding.

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Mildred Gillars chats with reporters as she arrives for trial

The chief prosecutor was John M. Kelley, Jr., and Gillars’ attorney was James J. Laughlin. Her trial attracted enormous public attention, as much for the soap-opera quality of Miss Gillars' life as for her crime. Finally Mildred was to get her first U.S. starring role. Her awareness of being in the spotlight obvious. to all, she arranged herself next to her attorney, leaned forward, whispered in his ear, while canting her head at a coquettish angle. During the jury selection she posed with her chin cupped in her hands and winked at courtroom spectators. Her trips up and down the aisle at recess were accompanied by considerable side to side hip movement. At her trial, Miss Gillars fascinated the public and the press with her flamboyance and cool self-possession. She cut a theatrical figure in tight-fitting black dresses, long silver hair and a deep tan. She had scarlet lips and nails. When Mildred took the stand her testimony at first was accompanied by broad theatrical gestures; shaking her long hair, fingers pressed to her forehead and smiling at the judge. As the trial wore on the seriousness of her position became more apparent to her and her testimony now included tears that finally did not appear to be play acting.

Richard H. Rovere wrote in The New Yorker of Feb. 26, 1949:

Miss Gillars has the hair of Mother machree and she wears it in the manner of Rita Hayworth.

The trial lasted for six hectic weeks. 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.

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Newspaper notice of the trial

In January, 1949 she was in the dismal Washington, DC District Court on trial for treason.

Prosecutor Kelley pressed home some important points right from the start. First was the fact that after being hired by Radio Berlin she had signed an oath of allegiance to Hitler’s Germany. He also put witnesses on the stand who testified that Gillars had posed as a worker for the International Red Cross and persuaded captured American soldiers to record messages to their families and relatives in order to garner a large listening audience in the United States. By the time she finished weaving propaganda into the broadcasts, the POWs’ messages to their loved ones were not exactly messages of comfort.

Gilbert Lee Hansford of Cincinnati, a veteran of the 29th Infantry Division who lost a leg in the Normandy invasion, said Gillars visited him in a Paris hospital in August 1944:

She walked up with two German officers and she stated that she was working with the International Red Cross. She then told a group of wounded captives, ‘Hello boys, I’m here to make recordings so your folks will know you are still alive.’

Hansford said he and others talked into a microphone, recording messages for broadcast to their families at home. A courtroom playback of the messages as picked up by the American monitoring stations showed that Nazi propaganda had been inserted between the GIs’ messages. One insertion by Gillars said:

It’s a disgrace to the American public that they don’t wake to the fact of what Franklin D. Roosevelt is doing to the Gentiles of your country and my country.

On February 10, 1949, an American paratrooper from New York, 36-year-old Michael Evanick, told the jury he was captured on D-Day, June 6, 1944, after parachuting behind German lines in Normandy. Pointing his finger, he identified Gillars as the woman who interviewed him in a German prisoner-of-war camp near Paris on July 15, 1944.

Evanick remembered:

I’d been listening to her broadcasts through Africa, Sicily, and Italy, and I told her I recognized her voice. She said, ‘I guess you know me as Axis Sally,’ and I told her we had a name for her.

The witness said Gillars gave him a drink of cognac and a cigarette and told him to make himself comfortable in a chair. After a few drinks, he said, she sent for a microphone and began the interview, asking him if he did not feel good to be out of the fighting.

Evanick said he replied:

No ma’am, I feel 100 percent better in the front lines where I get enough to eat.

At that, he said, Gillars angrily knocked the microphone over, but regained her composure and offered him another drink.

On February 19, Eugene McCarthy, a 25-year-old ex-GI from Chicago, was called to answer a single question. Defense attorney Laughlin asked him if Gillars had posed as a Red Cross worker when she came to make recorded interviews with American POWs at Stalag 2-B in Germany. The soldier stated that she did not. Then in a dramatic outburst, shouting over the defense counsel’s angry protest, the witness told the jury:

She threatened us as she left–that American citizen, that woman right there. She told us we were the most ungrateful Americans she had ever met and that we would regret this.

Following McCarthy to the witness stand were veterans John T. Lynskey of Pittsburgh and Paul G. Kestel of Detroit. Both testified that when Gillars visited them in a Paris hospital she identified herself as a Red Cross worker.

Defense counsel Laughlin argued that treason must be something more than the spoken word:

Things have come to a pretty pass if a person cannot make an anti-Semitic speech without being charged with treason. Being against President Roosevelt could not be treason. There are two schools of thought about President Roosevelt. One holds he was a patriot and martyr. The other holds that he was the greatest rogue in all history, the greatest fraud, and the greatest impostor that ever lived.

Laughlin also tried to point out to the court the great influence that Max Otto Koischwitz had on Gillars. Koischwitz was a former professor at Hunter College in New York who became romantically involved with Gillars when she was one of his students. She had attended Hunter briefly while trying to pursue a stage career before finally abandoning the effort and going back to Europe in 1933. German-born Koischwitz eventually returned to Germany, renounced his U.S. citizenship, and became an official in the Nazi radio service in charge of propaganda broadcasts. He thus was Mildred’s superior.

In her trips to the witness stand, Gillars was usually tearful. She said Koischwitz’s Svengali-like influence over her had led her to make broadcasts for Hitler. She and the professor had lived together in Berlin, she said, and she burst into tears when informed that he had died.

In his final summation before the jury, prosecutor Kelley told them Gillars was a traitor who broadcast rotten propaganda for wartime Germany and got a sadistic joy out of it, especially those broadcasts in which she described in harrowing detail the agonies of wounded American soldiers before they died. He said:

She sold out to them. She thought she was on the winning side, and all she cared about was her own selfish fame.

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Newspaper article of Mildred Gillars guilty verdict

The trial ended on March 8, 1949, after six hectic weeks. The next day Judge Curran put the case in the hands of the jury of seven men and five women. After deliberating for hours, they were unable to reach a verdict and were sequestered in a hotel for the night. They met again the next morning, and after 17 hours of further deliberation they acquitted her of seven of the eight counts pressed by the government in its original 10-count indictment. However, they found her guilty on count No. 10, involving the Nazi broadcast of the play.

At the time anyone found guilty of treason could be sentenced to a minimum of five years in prison or given a death sentence. On Saturday, March 26, Judge Curran pronounced sentence: 10 to 30 years in prison, a $10,000 fine, eligible for parole after 10 years. Pale and unflinching, she took the sentence with no apparent emotion. Her half sister in court, said:

I don’t think Ethyl Barrymore could have received the verdict any better.

As she walked from the court house through a barrage of flash bulbs, one of her escorting marshals remarked:

It looks like you are going to have your picture taken again, Sally.

She replied. Thrusting her chin up, she waved to newsmen and photographers saying, as she entered the prison van:

I shouldn’t be surprised. Goodbye. . . . Goodbye.

Rita Zucca Also Incarcerated

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Rita Zucca with an unidentified British Sergeant guard after she was arrested

Attempts by the American government to prosecute Gillars’s counterpart in Rome for treason broke down when it became clear Rita Zucca had renounced her American citizenship before she started broadcasting.

Zucca was then tried by an Italian military tribunal on charges of collaboration. On March 29, 1946 she was sentenced to 4˝ years in prison, but was released after 9 months. She was barred from returning to the United States after the Italian government declared a general amnesty for collaborators in 1946.   Zucca lived in relative obscurity in Italy until her death in 1998.


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Mildred Gillars "Mugshot"

In 1950, a Federal appeals court upheld her conviction. It noted in its ruling that she had received the highest salary of all broadcasters on German radio.

She was transported to the Federal Women's Reformatory in Alderson, West Virginia; this was a prison without cell, bars or razor wire and well-known for famous inmates.  When she became eligible for parole in 1959, she waived the right, apparently preferring prison to ridicule as a traitor on the outside.

The years of bitterness and anger slowly gave way to acceptance. By 1953, authorities noticed a pronounced change in Mildred's attitude. Gellars slowly adapted to the reformatory's lifestyle and became a productive member of the prison's population. she began to direct the Protestant choir in 1957 and was responsible for assembling the music for the Catholic Mass. In the absence of a "civilian" music teacher, she enthusically coached the singers and taught them the meaning of the lyrics. Although some found her domineering attitude grating other inmates appreciated her contagious commitment to the sacred music.

Proving to be a talented teacher with a broad background of experience and knowledge, Mildred earned the admiration of the Catholic Chaplain, father Thomas Kerrigan, and prison officers. Befriended by the priest, she became deeply attached to the Church and its liturgy. She eventually converted to Roman Catholicism in 1960.

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Mildred Gillars was paroled on June 10, 1961

Two years later, when she applied for parole, it was granted. At 6:25 a.m. on June 10, 1961, she walked out the gate of Alderson prison a free woman. On June 10, 1961, two years later, she changed her mind and applied for parole, which was granted. At the age of sixty, she departed prison to begin a new life.

On a rainy Monday morning in July 1961, a group of twenty newsmen waited at daybreak to get their first glimpse of Mildred Gillars who twelve years earlier had arrogantly walked into the women's reformatory at Alderson, West Virginia. No photographs had been released since that day and the cameramen were eager to get a shot of her.

When asked by the reporters if she would do it all again she replied:

When I did the broadcasting. I thought I was doing the right thing. Would I do it again? Certainly, given the same knowledge and the same circumstances. After all I was a professional broadcaster in Germany when the U.S. entered the war. it was my job. Besides I was very much in love with a German and hoped to marry him. At the time I felt I could love the United States and still serve the Berlin Broadcasting Corporation.

Yet she admitted that she would not have made the broadcasts if she had known at the beginning of the war what she now knew about the crimes of the Nazi state. Once more, she pointed to the long forgotten Italian Axis Sally, Rita Zucca, as the source of so many of the insulting statements attributed to her:

It is a great pity that everything said by any woman on the radio in Europe was attributed to me.

She still believed that she was incapable of treason:

I certainly think it is strange that a person who signed an oath of allegiance to Germany could be convicted of treason. It is true no matter what the circumstances under which a person must sign an oath.

When asked if she was bitter. Gillars replied:

I wouldn't say exactly bitter. I'm just not the kind of person to be bitter. If I were, my bitterness at the injustice and perjury I have suffered would have destroyed me by now.

Mildred Gillars' Later life

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Mildred Gillars interviewed later in life

After her parole,  Gillars went to live at the Our Lady of Bethlehem Convent in Columbus, Ohio, and taught German, French, and music at the convent school of the Sisters of the Poor Child Jesus, St. Joseph Academy, Columbus.

In 1973 she returned to Ohio Wesleyan University to complete her degree in speech. After prison, her life in Columbus was quiet and reclusive. She had an unlisted telephone number and her records at Ohio Wesleyan are sealed.

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Mildred Gillars lived a quiet life until her death. She died of colon cancer at Grant Medical Center in Columbus on June 25, 1988. She was 87.  She is buried in the Holy Family section, Random Selection, Lot 570, of the Saint Joseph Cemetery (in Lockbourne, Franklin County, Ohio). Her unmarked grave is surrounded by World War II veterans.

Journalist Robert Boyer summed up Mildred Gillars life when he wrote:

The great irony of her adult life was that she spent the first thirty years of it seeking publicity in the public eye -- and then spent the last forty years trying to avoid it.

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Readers interested in learning more about Axis Sally information are encouraged to read Axis Sally, the American Voice of Nazi Germany by Richard Lucas