‘Axis Sally’ Brought Hot Jazz to the Nazi Propaganda Machine

tags: Nazi, Axis Sally

Jackie Mansky is the assistant web editor, humanities, for Smithsonian magazine.

It was 2011 and Axis Sally was, once again, on the air. Shortwave radio enthusiast Richard Lucas, doing promotional work for his new book on the infamous American broadcaster employed by the Nazis, did a double take when he saw her name surface, via Google Alert, on a neo-Nazi website.

But sure enough, a podcast produced by the Northwest Front—which self-identifies as a “political organization of Aryan men and women who recognize that an independent and sovereign White nation in the Pacific Northwest is the only possibility for the survival of the White race on this continent”— featured a woman taking on the sobriquet that Lucas knew so well. Introducing this 21st-century version of Axis Sally was podcast host and founder of Northwest Front, American neo-Nazi Harold Covington.

“It was clear [Covington] had read [my] book,” says Lucas. “He started to describe Axis Sally as a very brave woman who withstood all kinds of things from the Führer and all that kind of stuff. And, of course, that wasn’t my intention writing the book. So it started to worry me quite a bit.”

Years earlier, Lucas had come across an online trove of the real broadcasts hosted by Axis Sally, whose messages were scripted by her married German lover to sow discord in the American armed forces and the homefront during the war. A freelance writer, Lucas used the recordings as an opportunity to dive into the true story of the woman behind the name, one Mildred Gillars. He combed through declassified federal documents and newspaper archives to write the first full-length biography on Axis Sally and her Reich Radio broadcasts—programs that ultimately made Gillars one of the few people ever convicted for treason in the United States.

“I was really trying to have a nuanced story of her and make her seem like a human being rather than a caricature,” says Lucas. “Especially today. People are not black and white; there are all kinds of tradeoffs that lead them to become who they are.” ...

Read entire article at Smithsonian

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