‘American Traitor’ Explores the Trial of WWII’s Axis Sally

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Meadow Williams American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally
Meadow Williams stars as Mildred Gillars in "American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally." (Redbox Entertainment)

Tokyo Rose, the Japanese radio announcer who attempted to demoralize the U.S. military via her radio broadcasts, has become a World War II icon, but how many of us know the story of her European counterpart, Axis Sally?

“American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally” is a new movie starring Al Pacino that tells the story of Mildred Gillars, an American woman who was either recruited or forced by the Nazis to broadcast propaganda to Allied troops in Europe.

The movie is set to open in theaters and simultaneously be released on digital on Friday, May 28. Check out the trailer below.

Pacino plays lawyer James Laughlin, the man tasked with defending Gillars in her 1949 trial for treason. The movie also features Meadow Williams as Gillars, Mitch Pileggi as prosecutor John Kelly and Thomas Kretschmann as Joseph Goebbels. Director Michael Polish (“The Astronaut Farmer”) co-wrote the screenplay adapted from William and Vance Owen’s book “Axis Sally Confidential.”

Gillars was born in Ohio and tried to pursue careers in acting, modeling and music before she ended up in Germany as an English teacher in 1934. She was hired by German State Radio as a broadcaster in 1940. Gillars declined to leave the country in 1941 when the State Department urged Americans to get out, because her German fiancé, Paul Karlson, said he’d never marry her if she left. He promptly was sent to the Eastern Front and killed.

Gillars initially made only non-political broadcasts, but the network program director, Max Otto Koischwitz, enlisted her to do propaganda broadcasts designed to remind Allied troops of home and convince them to question the value of their service.

When Koischwitz died shortly before the end of the war, Gillars no longer delivered her broadcasts with the same verve as before. When she was charged with 10 counts of treason, her lawyer, Laughlin, argued that she was forced to participate and that her heart was never in it.

This is another of those WWII-era stories that made a huge splash after the war but is mostly forgotten today, so let’s not spoil the ending for anyone who’s planning on seeing the movie. But like most things in the real world, the outcome is far from simple.

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