Born in Portland, Maine, Mildred Sisk studied Dramatic Arts at Ohio Wesleyan University but never got her degree. In 1911, she changed her last name to Gillars after her mother remarried. As an aspiring actress, she moved to Greenwich Village, New York, to pursue acting lessons and played parts in stock theater productions.
She Moved A Lot
Gillars just couldn’t stay firm in one place. After her move to Greenwich, she moved to Paris for six months, then to Algiers, where she worked as a dressmaker’s assistant. In 1934, she moved once more to Germany, where she studied music in Dresden and taught English at a Berlitz school in Berlin.
Recruited In 1940
When war broke out, Gillars was recruited by the Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft, a broadcasting company with special propaganda stations that sent out German propaganda to the Allies. As a native English speaker, Gillars was highly sought out by the station.
Worked On Two More Programs
After finally finding her “place in the world,” Gillars worked tirelessly to showcase her “love for the arts.” Aside from her main program, “Home Sweet Home,” Axis Sally also worked on two other programs – “Midge at the Mike” playing American songs and “GI’s Letter-Box and Medical Reports” – both aimed at US home audiences.
Toured Prisoner of War Camps
To give her more ammunition for her propaganda programs, Gillars personally went to POW camps to interview American GIs. She would then tape the whole interview and play it during her next program to further demoralize their home country. In order to get information, she would tell the prisoners that she worked for the International Red Cross.
Acted In Front Of A Massive Audience
She finally had her “big break” as an actress. In 1944, she played the role of an American mother who dreamt her son died aboard a ship in the English channel. Unbeknownst to them, D-Day would happen three weeks after the show.
FBI Kept A Close Eye
While her “rise to stardom” was happening, the FBI was also taking in more and more information regarding her personal life and crimes. Gillars’ acts were classified as Psychological Warfare against the United States. Charging her for her crimes was easy but arresting her was another set of problems.
Left And Came Back
Her last broadcast came two days before Germany succumbed to the Allies. After leaving for a bit, she returned to Berlin and was spotted in restaurants and beauty shops in West Berlin.
Apprehended By The CIC
The Counter Intelligence Corps interviewed Gillars’s colleagues and found out that she was storing a valuable piece of furniture at an antique shop. The shop owner ratted out Gillars and gave her address to the CIC. She was then arrested and taken into custody until December of 1946.
Convicted Of Treason
After a six-week trial, she was found guilty of treason and sentenced to 10 to 30 years of imprisonment. She only served ten years before being paroled. Gillars then taught German, French, and music at St. Joseph Academy after being converted to Roman Catholicism in prison.