Meet Hannie, Truus and Freddie:

Dutch Resistance Heroines of WWII

Hannie Schaft in 1943. (Courtesy of North Holland Archives)

Hannie Schaft

Jannetje Johanna Schaft was born on September 16, 1920 in the city of Haarlem, the Netherlands, about 12 miles west of the capital Amsterdam. Jannetje’s nickname was Jo or Jopie. Hannie was the name she used in the resistance, and the name by which she became famous.

Hannie was a shy and withdrawn girl, with beautiful red hair. She loved school and was an excellent student at the top of her class. She grew up in a family that was very socially committed but lived a relatively secluded life with overprotective parents.

Initially she wanted to become a Dutch language teacher, however she decided against teaching because she dreaded keeping order in the classroom. Instead, because principles such as justice and equality were instilled in her, she decided to study law at the University of Amsterdam. She specialized in international law and her dream was to go to Geneva after graduating to join the League of Nations (the forerunner of the United Nations).

Truus and Freddie Oversteegen

The sisters Truus and Freddie Nanda Oversteegen (also known under their married names Truus Menger and Freddie Dekker later on in their lives) were born on August 29, 1923 and September 6, 1925 in Schoten near Haarlem. They lived with their divorced mother and little stepbrother in a tiny workers’ house. Truus was pretty tough, Freddie was very girly, despite the fact that she was named after a boy.

Their mother was very active as a communist. Justice was a lesson their mother had impressed upon Truus and Freddie.

As early as 1934, years before the beginning of the Second World War in the Netherlands, their family offered shelter to Jewish refugees who had fled the Nazi regime in Germany. The girls literally gave up their beds in order to make room for these people.

Freddie Oversteegen in 1945. (Courtesy of North Holland Archives)

Ideals

In 1940, Hannie, Truus and Freddie were teenagers at that time of 19, 16 and 14 years old. They were experimenting with makeup and giggling about boys. Then, the Second World War broke out and in May of that year, Nazi Germany occupied the Netherlands. Immediately these three young women were deprived of their childhood and faces a question far beyond what was expected of them: to adapt or to resist?

Hannie Schaft and Truus and Freddie Oversteegen were girls from completely different backgrounds and with totally distinct characters. So what is it that this clever auburn-haired Hannie, the down-to-earth tomboy and natural leader Truus, and the feminine and fierce Freddie had in common? They honored the same ideal of a livable world and felt compelled by the inhuman conditions of the German occupation to take up arms against the enemy in order to fight injustice. Hence, they decided to resist.

Truus Oversteegen with Sten gun, WWII. (Courtesy of North Holland Archives)

Armed Resistance

Explore how Hannie, Truus and Freddie decided to resist the Nazi occupier, first on their own and later as a joined force. They would transport illegal newspapers and weapons, steal identity cards for Jewish people and people in the resistance. In addition, they provided Jewish children with safe houses and gathered vital intelligence for the resistance.

As one of the only women in the armed resistance, they carried out acts of sabotage. But the most perilous work of all was that they seduced high-ranking Nazi officers, lured them into the woods and killed them. They did what they did “because it had to be done.” Above all, they tried to remain human under inhuman circumstances.

Hannie’s Death and War Trauma

Hannie Schaft was executed by the Nazis three weeks before the end of the war on April 17, 1945 and became the icon of female Dutch resistance. Truus and Freddie Oversteegen survived the war, but lived with the burden of their experiences for the rest of their lives, forever haunted by the demons of their past.

Gravestone of Hannie (Jo) Schaft, 2018 (Photo by Sophie Poldermans)

Wreath-laying by Freddie Dekker-Oversteegen, Truus Menger-Oversteegen, Sophie Poldermans and Mayor Jaap Pop at the National Hannie Schaft Commemoration, 2003. (Newspaper and photographer unknown)

Book

This book depicts the lives and resistance work of Hannie Schaft, and sisters Truus and Freddie Oversteegen. It describes how the three young women met, how they worked together, and what impact their resistance work had on their lives. Additionally, the book gives an insight into how their resistance work was perceived after the war and how it still inspires people today.

The author Sophie Poldermans personally knew Truus and Freddie Oversteegen for 20 years and worked closely with them for over a decade as a board member of the National Hannie Schaft Foundation. Therefore this book offers a unique insight in the story but at the same time a very objective examination of the resistance work of these legendary heroines.

Why?

The last survivors of World War II are dying, knowledge of the war is fading and studies show an increase in Holocaust deniers. Sharing this story and the lessons that can be derived from it, is more important than ever.

After the obituary of Freddie Oversteegen, who passed away as the last of this amazing trio, in the Washington Post in September 2018, the call for English information on these three resistance heroines rapidly increased. This book will fill the gap of not enough accurate information on the topic.

This book is a non-fiction account of historical events, can be categorized as a historical biography and can serve as a reference guide. The book is richly illustrated with archival photos and maps with detailed locations of important places of the lives and resistance work of the three young women, including liquidation spots.