Imagine being forced to take action against your own business. Most of us couldn’t even begin to comprehend what could possibly bring about such an event, but it has happened in the past…unbelievably. On April 23, 1938, before the main Holocaust took place, but leading up to it for sure, Austria’s 200,000 Jews were thrown into a state of panic. The Nazi anti-Semitic movement was gaining momentum, the Hitler Youth were becoming more and more emboldened at the urging of their evil leader. Demonstrations were held, in front of the Jewish shops, and more often that not, the Jewish shopkeeper was forced to carry a sign and actually picket their own shops.
The situation was alarming to the Jews, as they recalled that Chancellor Adolf Hitler’s so-called “Easter Peace” was to end on April 24th. Many of the German police had been gone since Friday and all but a few German troops were scheduled to leave soon. That might have seemed like a good thing to most of us, but the Jews knew better. They expected to find the situation in Austria more completely under the control of Austrian anti-Semites who were filled with hate for the Jews. So much had changed since the March 12, 1938, when the Nazis annexed Austria. The Jewish people had been transformed from successful business people and respected citizens, to being considered less than human.
While no mention of the boycott and forced picketing appeared in newspapers, who talked only about the need to infuse a “fresh spirit” into the anti-Jewish drive, the audacity of what took place was something far more sinister than the innocent sounding call to action. This could have easily been the beginning of the horrific event known to most of us as The Holocaust. Hitler encouraged the Nazis saying, “With the Easter peace over, Jewish agitators must look forward to meeting in person that typically German personage who dons evening dress when the time comes to wield the axe.” I did not know this, but German executioners wore evening dress for beheadings…like it was a big celebration.
Any Jewish business was a target…not just in Austria and Germany, but Hitler’s poisonous rhetoric spilled over to other countries as well. Even countries who didn’t really hate the Jewish people turned against the Jewish people…mostly because they were afraid of the consequences they could face by being empathetic with the Jewish people. The humiliation poured out on the Jewish people from all directions was appalling, and criminal. And the idea of forcing them to picket in front of their own business…against their own business, is despicable. The audacity of such an act is only topped by the further cruel acts that were carried out on these same people.
War is tough enough without having a traitor in the mix, and when a traitor is involved, things get even worse. One such traitor of World War II, was Mildred Gillars, aka Axis Sally. Apparently, Gillars, an American, was a opportunist. In 1940, she went to work as an announcer with the Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft (RRG), German State Radio. At the time, I suppose that she did nothing wrong…up to that point. In 1941, the US State Department was advising American nationals to return home, but 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. Then, Karlson was sent to the Eastern Front, where he was killed in action. Gillars still did not return home.
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.” This may have been the the last time she had any self respect. She later said that she knew that her outburst could send her to a concentration camp, so faced with the prospect of joblessness or prison, the frightened Gillars produced a written oath of allegiance to Germany and returned to work. She sold out. Her duties were initially limited to announcing records and participating in chat shows, but treason is a slippery slope. Gillars’ broadcasts initially were largely apolitical, but that 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. 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.”
As her broadcasts progressed, Gillars began doing a show called Home Sweet Home Hour. This show ran from December 24, 1942, until 1945. It was 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. I’m was designed to promote depression. I guess her aversion to the ways of the Japanese and Germans wasn’t so strong after all. She also did a show called Midge-at-the-Mike, which broadcast from March to late fall 1943. I this program, she played American songs interspersed with defeatist propaganda, anti-Semitic rhetoric and attacks on Franklin D. Roosevelt. And she did the GI’s Letter-box and Medical Reports 1944, which was directed at the US home audience. In this show, 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. 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. 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.
After the war, Gillars mingled with the people of Germany, until her capture. 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 FCC, stationed in Silver Hill, Maryland, to show her active participation in propaganda activities against the United States. It was also shown that she had taken an oath of allegiance to Hitler. The defense argued that her broadcasts stated unpopular opinions but did not amount to treasonable conduct. It was also argued that she was under the hypnotic influence of Koischwitz and therefore not fully responsible for her actions until after his death. On March 10, 1949, the jury convicted Gillars on just one count of treason, that of making the Vision Of Invasion broadcast. She was sentenced to 10 to 30 years in prison, and a $10,000 fine. In 1950, a federal appeals court upheld the sentence. She died June 25, 1988 at the age of 87.