Friday, March 30, 2007

Obscure WWII propaganda

I've written quite a bit about this catagory. But while we lampoon, and lambast the big names, we forget there were quite a few B and C-list propagandists. Out of the 12 Americans indicted for treason in the aftermath of World War II, seven were radio broadcasters.

Today I am thinking of Axis Sally. She wasn't as glamorous as Tokyo Rose, or as incidious as Goebbels. Not even exciting as those Nazis that wrote propagandist swing dance music to subvert the German youth.

She was a yankee, born Mildred Elizabeth Sisk in Portland, Maine. While still very young she changed her name to Mildred Gillars when her mother remarried a Dr. Gillars. She and her mother moved to New York City and it was here that Mildred fantasized about being an actress. But one million peopel go to hollywood each year to become movie stars. And I beleive it David Cross who estimated maybe 8 make it. So let's just say she was in the majority.

She went on nursing her dream and studied drama at Ohio Wesleyan University, but did not graduate. She worked at a variety of jobs after dropping out of school. She was a clerk, sales girl, cashier and even a waitress. But the dream still called to her. It was the depression and jobs were scares but she found work overseas as an English instructor at the Berlitz School of Languages in Germany. But the teachers were paid very poorly. She kept looking for better work. She got lucky and found employment as an announcer and radio actress with Radio Berlin. She had acheived her childhood dream. Except for the hating Jews part, that wasn't in the original dream.

Gillars did some naughty stuff, and said some very bad things. She posed as a worker for the Red Cross in order to record messages from American POWsthat could be converted into propaganda. "Axis Sally" really liked to air messages from American POWs. She woudl visit prisoners and tell them she was from the Red Cross. Her english was perfect. She enticed them to record happy messages to suggest that nazi improsonment wasn't so bad. Then she'd broadcast them intercut with propaganda messages. Some audio here.

Gillars' propaganda program was known as "Home Sweet Home" and usually aired sometime between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. daily. Although she referred to herself as "Midge at the mike," GIs dubbed her Axis Sally. Her broadcasts were heard all over Europe, the Mediterranean, North Africa and the United States. Most of her programs were aired from Berlin, but some were broadcast from both Chartres and Paris in France or from Hilversum in the Netherlands.

then came the radio play that got her convicted of treason. The one that almost got her hanged after the war. She wrote a radio play titled "Vision of Invasion." It aired on May 11, 1944. In it Axis Sally played the role of an American mother who dreamed that her son died on a burning ship attempting to cross the English Channel. Bay all reports the play had good foley work. The sound effects of the pained moans of the wounded, and of gunfire were very realistic and compelling. Then announcer's voice intoned, "The D of D-Day stands for doom...disaster...death...defeat...Dunkerque or Dieppe."

She was arrested in 1946, charged with 10 counts of treason, tried for 8 of them and then convicted of one in 1949. She did 12 years in prison getting parole in 1961. The Catholic Church took her in as they did many other nazis in that era and gave her a job at a Roman Catholic school in Columbus Ohio. Late in life she returned Ohio Wesleyan to finish up that bachelor's degree. She graduated in 1973. Gillars died June 25, 1988, at the age of 87.