In today’s entry from the RedState Department of History, we examine some of the first widespread use of broadcast propaganda — that of the Nazi German “Minister of Propaganda and Popular Enlightenment”, the infamous Josef Goebbels.
Both sides broadcast to their enemies’ territory. The British would broadcast to occupied Holland through its “Radio Orange” network, and do so with rewritten words to well-known Dutch songs, so that citizens could hum or whistle the songs on the street to make their activities secretly known to others.
But this entry deals with the German effort and in particular, that of Mildred Gillars, forever known as Axis Sally.
On this date in 1948, Gillars was indicted for treason for her role in broadcasting Nazi propaganda to the United States during the war, a crime for which she would serve twelve years in prison.
Gillars was born Mildred Elizabeth Sisk but adopted the name Gillars when her mother remarried. She moved to Germany and found work in the German radio industry but declined the State Department’s directive for Americans to return home in 1941 because her then-fiancé said he wouldn’t marry her if she returned to the United States.
To hear Gillars tell it, her vociferous reaction to the Japanese attack 0n Pearl Harbor placed her in danger in Germany, so she tried to save herself from denouncement by signing an oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler. Soon afterward, she was cast in several radio productions intended for American troops and their families.
Productions such as “Midge at the Mike“, “GI’s Letterbox” and “Medical Reports” earned Gillars a variety of nicknames from American soldiers, but it was a broadcast that aired June 5, 1944, which eventually led to her indictment for treason.
Called “Vision of Invasion”, it cast Gillars as an American mother named Evelyn, who dreams her son perishes on a ship attempting to cross the English Channel. The realism of the audio production was especially effective for its day. An announcer intoned at the production’s end that:
“The D of D-Day stands for doom, disaster, death, defeat, Dunkerque or Dieppe.”
Obviously, events would prove the broadcast incorrect. Gillars made her last broadcast on May 6, 1945, just two days before Germany’s surrender. She evaded capture by the Americans for a year after the war but was apprehended trying to renew her pass to live in the French-occupied sector of Berlin, under an assumed name. Originally charged with ten counts of treason, the number was reduced to eight to speed up her trial, and she was convicted in 1949.
After her release in 1961, Gillars moved to a convent, having converted to Roman Catholicism while in prison. She taught at the convent school and earned a degree from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1973. She died in Columbus, Ohio in 1988.
To hear “Axis Sally” on the air, click here. (Warning: contains anti-Semitic propaganda).
Other events on this date:
September 10, 1960 – Abebe Bikila becomes the first Sub-Saharan African to win an Olympic gold medal, winning the marathon at the Rome games. To make it even more impressive, he ran the race barefoot.
September 10, 2000 – “Cats” — closes after 7,485 performances and an 18-year run. At the time, it was the longest-running production in the history of Broadway, but has since been surpassed by “Phantom of the Opera” and “Chicago”.
Have a great Sunday and enjoy today’s open thread!
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