As her trial for treason dragged into its fifth week, theatrical, horse-faced Mildred ("Axis Sally") Gillars finally got to the witness stand herself in Washington's Federal District Court. Before a jury of five women and seven men, she slipped into the role of a foolish gentlewoman as though it were a loose kimono, got a handkerchief within easy dabbing distance of her eyes, and set out to explain that she had been true to the red, white & blue all the time.
Her World War II broadcasts from Berlin were prompted, she told the jury, by two basic precepts, neither the tiniest bit treasonable: 1) a woman must live, and 2) a woman must love.
Apples & Crackers. She portrayed herself as one who had spent most of he,r life starving in a genteel way. During years of unsuccessfully "trying to do something worth while in the American theater" she said she sometimes lived on "apples and crackers" and once went without food for eight days. Finally, in 1940, she ended up broke in Berlin, hocked her "jewels" and went to work at a routine announcing job for the German radio.
What happened after that, she implied, was partly the fault of the U.S. itself. She described being called to the U.S. Embassy in the spring of 1941; there a "gruff and uncivil" vice consul "snatched" her passport away from her and refused to give if back. She was still so loyal to her country that she "went all to pieces" when she learned of Pearl Harbor. But when she was asked to sign an oath of allegiance to Germany she did so. "It is obvious," she said, with a shrug, "that one has to live, somehow."
Nevertheless, she said, she did not give political broadcasts. She was only a harmless outcast, clutching her pride to her thin shoulders. But in 1943 Love lighted her up like a pinball game, and in the hands of the Nazi schemers, she stayed lighted for a long time. The man who was the cause of it all was one Max Otto Koischwitz, a slightly potbellied professor who had spent years at New York's Hunter College, and who served in the German Foreign Office during the war.
When asked about her relations with Koischwitz, Miss Gillars lowered her eyes, breathed heavily, and said, "It is difficult to discuss ... It is like discussing religion." But finally, tossing her long silver-grey hair, she admitted, "Of course I loved him." She added: "I consider Professor Koischwitz to have been my destiny . . ."
Little Miss Echo. She described him as a man "who loved the mountains [of Silesia] with the intensity that a man might love a woman." In 1943 he went there to think about Miss Gillars (he had a wife and three children) and there found that "God favored his love." After that, she echoed his ideas like an empty barrel on a hog caller's porch. Since he was anti-British, anti-Jewish and anti-Roosevelt, she had said some rather hard things on the radio.
But she made it plain that it was all a matter of passion rather than propaganda, and that she was more to be pitied than censured. When her attorney asked her in courtly tones if she had ever "intended to adhere to the enemy," she replied throatily: "Anyone who knows me knows it isn't true."