Gillars, Mildred E. (1900–1988)
Gillars, Mildred E. (1900–1988)
American-born radio personality who was convicted of wartime treason for broadcasting Nazi propaganda from Germany during World War II. Name variations: Axis Sally; Mildred Gillars Sisk. Born Mildred E. Gillars in Portland Maine, in 1900; died in Columbus, Ohio, on June 25, 1988; attended Ohio Wesleyan College.
Born in 1900 and raised in Portland, Maine, Mildred Gillars tried her hand at acting after college in both New York and Europe, with little success. In Germany at the onset of World War II, she worked as an English teacher before taking the radio position that made her an overnight success and would lead to her imprisonment for treason. "Axis Sally," as she was known, was highly paid for her programs of Nazi propaganda which often began, "Hello, gang. Throw down those little old guns and toddle off home. There's no getting the Germans down." Heard by American and Allied troops in Europe and North Africa, she was also known to sometimes describe, in graphic terms, how the men on the homefront were seducing the wives the soldiers had left behind. Her notoriety found its way back to the U.S. through the American press and by letters home written by soldiers who served within the sound of her broadcasts.
At the end of the war, Gillars was tracked down and returned to the United States, where, in 1948, she was tried in federal court. By some reports, she said she did it all for love, implicating a staff member of the foreign ministry. In other accounts, she maintained her innocence, pleading that she had been mistaken for another woman broadcasting from Rome and using the same name. Whatever the case, she was convicted on a single count of treason and sentenced to 10 to 30 years in the women's federal prison at Alderson, West Virginia. Another famous inmate then serving time in that penitentiary was said to be Iva Toguri , better known to American GIs as "Tokyo Rose."
Paroled in 1961, Gillars spent some time with her half sister in Ashtabula, Ohio, and then went off to live and work with the Sisters of the Poor Child Jesus, who ran a girls' boarding school in Columbus. Having been converted to Catholicism in prison, Gillars lived in the convent and received a small salary as a music teacher. Apparently, the parents of the school-children were nonchalant about having the notorious "Axis Sally" in their midst. The Mother Superior praised her as "a good influence on the students," and said she was now living a productive life. In 1973, it is believed that Gillars returned to college to complete a bachelor's degree.
Until her death in 1988, Gillars remained reluctant to discuss the past, avoiding interviews and shunning photographers. To the end, she maintained that she had received an unfair trial.
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Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts