Axis Sally: The American Voice of Nazi Germany by Richard Lucas
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|Axis Sally: The American Voice of Nazi Germany by Richard Lucas|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A strong look at a strong case for the most under-sung story of World War Two, as an American actress becomes a potential traitor on Nazi Germany radio.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 288||Date: September 2010|
Take one personable failed actress, embittered by lack of success at home in the USA, and conspire to land her living in Germany as WW2 breaks out. What chance her becoming an American, female Lord Haw-Haw, being paid by Germany to broadcast entertaining, dissuasive propaganda worldwide on shortwave radio? Anybody could guess it would take innumerable factors, circumstances and events, and they're all here in this entertaining, eye-opening and educational biography.
In truth Mildred Gillars wasn't alone in providing an Axis Sally character for Allied troops to hear - Italy had one pretty much similar; but her work for German radio's US Zone service, and a trial for treason to her name post-war, certainly make her a strong candidate for our attention. And Richard Lucas has certainly paid everything close attention. From records here, testimonies there, given throughout the intervening decades, and even FBI files somewhere, he has given us the definitive picture.
Her first noted public performance is a brilliant place to start, duping many into thinking her a jilted newly-wed, both acting and living with a desperation we can now only marvel at. And all for a film producer's stunt. Was it an embattled desperation, borne of an insular, cold childhood of alcoholic father figures, that helped put her on German radio, or merely the intentions and attentions of a Svengali character she fell in love with? Lucas doesn't allow himself the room or time to judge.
The detail in the picture is fascinating, with her boss/Svengali using his oldest daughter in the role of Gillars's child, while his wife was pregnant with baby number four behind his lover's back. But it's the work that got her into our attention in the first place, and her very anti-Semitic output. Either fate or our author conspired to let us learn, at a most galling point in the narrative, that it was unscripted, uncensored and unauthorised monologues she was using to be the voice to hit at GIs and their sweethearts' consciences.
If there is a character missing from this puzzle it is that - the personality of her audience. Given such a forensic look at how she was adjudged in the post-war period, to fully make up outrminds at this remove we need to see what effect she had on those she (or her bosses) hoped to speak to.
But while this fails our scholarly author, little else does. This is definitely a book worthy of any fan of biography's attention, as this startling character reaches the limelight at last. The included appendix of transcripts of her shows prove this to be a valuable document for WW2 historians too, while anybody will find this comprehensive, and more than readable.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
For a look at more traitors of that time, this time on the other side, we recommend Killing Hitler by Roger Moorhouse.
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