The woman known as "Axis Sally" was actually Mildred Gillars -- born in Portland, Maine in 1900. She was an aspiring actress who ended up in Greenwich Village in the late twenties, hoping to crash the stage. When she failed to do so, she picked up again and moved to Europe to pursue a political attache with whom she'd had a casual affair. By 1934, she had settled in Berlin, where she eked out a living as a translator and dabbled at bit parts in German films.
In 1940, she landed a job at the "Bremensender," a German radio station, where she worked as a staff announcer. She became increasingly embittered during these years -- and refused to return to the United States when the government began urging civilian US citizens to leave Germany in 1941. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, she swore an oath of loyalty to the Third Reich.
It was at this time that she crossed paths with a fellow broadcaster and another American expatriate. Max Otto Koischwitz had been a fairly-well-respected professor at Hunter College until his drift toward Nazi ideology caused concern among college administrators. He resigned from Hunter in 1940 -- and immediately moved to Germany, where he began broadcasting English-language propaganda talks over the Reichsrundfunk Overseas Service under the name of "Mister O. K."
Koischwitz and Gillars became lovers and before long, Koischwitz was working her into his political broadcasts. They began a joint series, the "Home Sweet Home Hour," beamed to Allied troops in North Africa. Gillars was known in these programs as "Midge," and it was under that name that she did all of her propaganda programming. There was never an actual German broadcaster who used the "Axis Sally" name: this was a slang name given Gillars by GI listeners.
Along with the "Home Sweet Home Hour," Gillars is best known for her disc jockey series, "Midge At The Mike," in which she played antiquated American phonograph records, read the names of the latest Americans to be taken as POWs, and gave blisteringly vicious anti-Semitic talks. She also hammered on the "Hey, Joe, is your girl back home cheating on you?" themes that have come to be the very stereotype of the propaganda broadcaster. Compared to some of the other Berlin propagandists, Gillars' program was extremely crude.
During this period, Gillars also acted in dramatic roles in propaganda plays written and produced by Koischwitz -- including a poisonous pre-D-Day opus aired in May 1944 under the title "Vision Of Invasion."
Max Koischwitz died in August 1944 -- Gillars assumed he had committed suicide, but it was later revealed he had died of tuberculosis. After the war, American occupation forces located Gillars and took her into custody. She was convicted of treason, but was considered something of a small fry by the prosecution: drawing a sentence of only 12 years. She was released in 1961, and quietly lived out her remaining years as a language teacher at a Catholic girls' school in Ohio. She died in 1988.
Published in U S Legacies Magazine November 2004