This day in history, January 25, 1949, Axis Sally, who broadcasted Nazi propaganda to U.S. troops in Europe, stood trial in the United States for war crimes.
Out of the 12 Americans indicted for treason following World War II, all but five were radio broadcasters. One of the most notorious to be convicted was Mildred Gillars, or “Axis Sally” as she was known to the GI’s who heard her Radio Berlin broadcasts.
A graduate of Hunter College in New York, Gillars went to France to study music in 1929 after failing as an actress. By 1934 she was in Germany, where she fell for former Hunter professor Max Otto Koischewitz. Koischewitz became Radio Berlin’s Program Director, and GIllars became his star propaganda broadcaster.
Typically, she did a DJ program — breaking up the music with anti-Semitic raps.
“Damn Roosevelt! Damn Churchill!” went one of her tirades. “Damn all Jews who made this war possible. I love America, but I do not love Roosevelt and all his kike boyfriends.”
She also liked to air messages from American POWs. Telling the POWs she visited that she was a Red Cross representative, she enticed them to send happy messages to suggest that living under the Nazis, even in POW camps, was a good thing. Once on the air, she would intercut POWs’ messages with propaganda, despite having promised the prisoners not to do so.
Despite all her other antics, “Axis Sally” was convicted on the basis of just one broadcast, a radio drama called “Vision of Invasion” that – on the eve of D-Day – sought to scare GI’s out of invading occupied Europe. In the play, the mother of an Ohio soldier sees her son in a dream. He tells her that he’s already dead, his ship having been destroyed mid-invasion by Germans. GI’s can be heard sobbing and shrieking in the background, and the effect of the broadcast is said to have been chilling.
Gillars tried several tactics in court, but ultimately claimed, unsuccessfully, that her love for Koischewitz had motivated her. Her lawyers argued that Koischewitz had a Svengali-like grip over her; she was his puppet.
She was sentenced to 10-30 years in prison with a $10,000 fine. Gillars was released from the Federal Reformatory for Women in Alderson, West Virginia on June 10, 1961.