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The Brave Hearts of Dutch Resistance: Truus Oversteegen, Freddie Oversteegen, and Hannie Schaft

(left to right) Hannie Schaft, Freddie Oversteegen, and Truus Oversteegen

During World War II, the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands spurred the rise of many resistance groups, but few stories are as remarkable as those of Truus Oversteegen, Freddie Oversteegen, and Hannie Schaft. These young women displayed extraordinary courage and resilience, engaging in direct action against the Nazis. Their stories are not only a testament to their bravery but also an inspiration for future generations.

Family Background and Early Life

Truus Oversteegen was born on August 29, 1923, and her sister Freddie Oversteegen followed on September 6, 1925. Raised in a leftist, working-class family in the industrial town of Haarlem, their mother was a staunch communist and feminist who instilled in them a strong sense of social justice. The family also harboured refugees and political dissidents, laying the groundwork for the sisters’ future resistance activities.

Hannie Schaft, born Jannetje Johanna Schaft on September 16, 1920, grew up in Haarlem as well. Unlike the Oversteegens, her family was more affluent and conservative. Hannie was studying law at the University of Amsterdam when the war interrupted her education.

The Call to Resistance

The Oversteegen sisters were just 14 and 16 years old when they began their resistance work. Initially, they distributed anti-Nazi leaflets and helped Jewish children find safe houses. As the war progressed, their involvement deepened. Truus and Freddie joined the Council of Resistance (Raad van Verzet) in 1941, engaging in more dangerous missions such as sabotage and armed attacks.

Hannie Schaft, known later as “The Girl with the Red Hair,” joined the resistance after witnessing the injustices of the Nazi regime firsthand. By 1943, she had become an integral part of the group, working alongside the Oversteegen sisters. Schaft did not, however, accept every assignment. When asked to kidnap the children of a Nazi official she refused. If the plan had failed, the children would have to be killed, and Schaft felt that was too similar to the Nazis' acts of terror. When seen at the location of a particular assassination, Schaft was identified as "the girl with the red hair". Her involvement led "the girl with the red hair" to be placed on the Nazis' most-wanted list.

Luring Nazis into the Forest

One of the most harrowing tactics used by the trio was seducing German soldiers and Dutch collaborators to isolated areas where they could be ambushed and killed. This tactic was not only dangerous but required immense psychological strength.

Freddie Oversteegen recounted one such mission:

“We had to go to a meeting place, and we had to dance with those men, but we could not show any emotions, because those men were our enemies. I was just 16 when I did this. One time, I met a man who wanted to go for a walk in the woods. So, we did, and when we were deep enough into the woods, he asked me if I would ‘go with him’. That was when I had to lure him to the spot where my comrades were waiting. We went there, and he was shot. I had to see him die.”

These missions required them to walk a fine line between feigned interest and the constant risk of being discovered.

Resistance Activities and Sabotage

Truus, Freddie, and Hannie were not only skilled at luring enemies but also actively engaged in a range of daring sabotage missions that significantly impacted the German occupation in the Netherlands. Their operations extended beyond mere deception, involving the strategic destruction of crucial infrastructure such as railway lines and bridges, which disrupted German supply lines and communication networks. The trio's audacious acts included derailing trains carrying supplies for the enemy and launching direct assaults on Nazi officials, sending a powerful message of resistance and defiance.

Among the three, Hannie Schaft stood out for her exceptional bravery and unwavering commitment to the Dutch resistance cause. Her reputation as a fearless operative grew as she undertook increasingly dangerous missions, culminating in the dramatic assassination of Willem Ragut, a prominent member of the Dutch Nazi Party. This bold act not only struck a blow to the occupiers but also inspired others to join the fight against oppression.

A Notable Operation

In one notable operation, Truus and Hannie were tasked with eliminating a high-ranking Gestapo officer. As Truus later described:

“Hannie and I had to wait in the woods, but when the car approached, it was clear there were more soldiers than we had expected. We had to adjust our plan quickly, and in the end, we managed to carry out the attack, but it was a very close call.”

Capture and Aftermath

Truus and Freddie survived the war, continuing to contribute to Dutch society through various roles. However, the war’s end was not kind to Hannie Schaft. She was captured by the Nazis in March 1945 and executed on April 17, 1945, just weeks before the liberation of the Netherlands.

Hannie’s Final Moments

Hannie’s courage was evident even in her final moments. As she faced her executioners, she reportedly said:

“I shoot better than you,”

after the first bullet only wounded her. She was then fatally shot again.

Legacy and Recognition

After the war, Truus and Freddie Oversteegen were honoured for their bravery. Truus received the Mobilisation War Cross and became a public speaker, advocating for the recognition of female resistance fighters. Freddie also shared her experiences in interviews, ensuring that the stories of their resistance were not forgotten.

Hannie Schaft became a symbol of resistance, her story immortalised in books, films, and memorials. Her legacy is particularly remembered every year on National Remembrance Day in the Netherlands.

A Lasting Impact

The bravery of these three women has left an indelible mark on history. Their willingness to face unimaginable risks for the sake of freedom and justice continues to inspire.



1. “Seducing and Killing Nazis: Hannie, Truus, and Freddie: Dutch Resistance Heroines of World War II” by Sophie Poldermans

2. “The Girl with the Red Hair” by Theun de Vries

3. “Hannie Schaft: Het Meisje Met Het Rode Haar” by Hanneke Verbeek

4. “Inside the Dutch Resistance: Memoirs of an American Agent” by Henry G. Schogt


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