How Two Teenage Dutch Sisters Ended Up Joining the Resistance and Assassinating Nazis During World War II

Ger­many invad­ed the Nether­lands in 1940 and quick­ly over­pow­ered the country’s small forces. Nazis arrest­ed and deport­ed Jews, cre­at­ed forced labor, strict­ly rationed food, and banned all non-Nazi orga­ni­za­tions. “Almost every Dutch per­son was affect­ed by the con­se­quences of the occu­pa­tion,” the Verzets Resis­tance Muse­um writes. “The choic­es and dilem­mas fac­ing the pop­u­la­tion became more far reach­ing.” Often those choic­es were stark: Col­lab­o­rate and live? Or resist and will­ing­ly put one­self at risk of prison or death?

Two sis­ters, Fred­die and Tru­us Over­stee­gen, 14 and 16 years old dur­ing the Ger­man inva­sion, chose the lat­ter course of action. Along with 19-year-old Han­nie Schaft, a Dutch nation­al hero the Nazis called “the girl with the red hair,” they did things they cer­tain­ly nev­er imag­ined they would, killing sol­diers and col­lab­o­ra­tors in order to save lives. The sis­ters learned their first resis­tance lessons at home. They were raised in the city of Haar­lem by their work­ing-class, com­mu­nist moth­er, Tri­jn, who “taught the girls com­pas­sion for those less for­tu­nate,” writes Jake Rossen at Men­tal Floss.

The fam­i­ly shel­tered Jews, dis­si­dents, and gays flee­ing Ger­many in the 1930s. “When the Nazis invad­ed the Nether­lands,” Rossen notes, “Fred­die and Tru­us hand­ed out pam­phlets oppos­ing the occu­pa­tion and plas­tered warn­ings over pro­pa­gan­da posters.” The Dutch resis­tance asked the girls to join them, and their moth­er agreed, know­ing lit­tle of what lay in store.

Fred­die and Tru­us were, for a time, the only two women in the sev­en-per­son rebel­lion dubbed the Haar­lem Coun­cil of Resis­tance. After being recruit­ed by com­man­der Frans van der Wiel in 1941, the two learned the basics of sab­o­tage, pick­ing up tricks like how to rig rail­ways and bridges with dyna­mite so trav­el paths would be cut off; how to fire a weapon; and how to roam unde­tect­ed through an area pep­pered with Nazi sol­diers. The lat­ter abil­i­ty was a result of their appear­ance. With her hair in braids, Fred­die was said to have looked as young as 12 years old. Few sol­diers took notice of the two girls as they rode bicy­cles through occu­pied ter­ri­to­ry, though they were secret­ly act­ing as couri­ers, trans­port­ing paper­work and weapons for the resis­tance. The duo burned down a Nazi ware­house unde­tect­ed. They escort­ed small chil­dren and refugees to hid­ing spots and secured false iden­ti­fi­ca­tion for them, which they con­sid­ered of para­mount impor­tance even as Allied bombs went off over­head.

The sis­ters lured SS offi­cers into death­traps, act­ing as look­outs while fight­ers killed the Ger­mans. They soon “grad­u­at­ed to elim­i­nat­ing their own tar­gets, which Fred­die would lat­er describe as ‘liq­ui­da­tions,’” gun­ning down Nazis from their bicy­cles. “Some­times, Fred­die said, she would shoot a man and then feel a strange com­pul­sion to try to help him up.” It’s a chill­ing image of a resis­tance fight­er who is also a child sol­dier in a war she can­not avoid.

“There were a lot of women involved in the resis­tance in the Nether­lands,” says Bas von Ben­da-Beck­mann, a for­mer researcher at the Nether­lands’ Insti­tute for War, Holo­caust and Geno­cide Stud­ies, “but not so much in the way these girls were. There are not that many exam­ples of women who actu­al­ly shot col­lab­o­ra­tors.” The women nev­er revealed how many peo­ple they “liq­ui­dat­ed.” When asked in inter­views, notes, “Fred­die would tell people…she and her sis­ter were sol­diers, and sol­diers don’t say.”

Han­nie was even­tu­al­ly cap­tured and exe­cut­ed. The Over­stee­gen sis­ters sur­vived the war and lived into their 90s, pass­ing away with­in two years of each oth­er: Tru­us in 2016 and Fred­die in 2018. The trau­mat­ic toll these events took on Fred­die was evi­dent to the end of her life. “If you ask me,” her son Remi Dekker said after her death, “In her mind [the war] was still going on, and on. It didn’t stop, even until the last day.”

The Over­stee­gen sis­ters were part of a hand­ful of Dutch resis­tance fight­ers who lived into the 21st cen­tu­ry. Anoth­er resis­tance hero, Sel­ma van de Perre, is still alive at 97 and has pub­lished a book about her expe­ri­ence and the many oth­er Jew­ish resis­tance fight­ers in the Nether­lands dur­ing the war. The coun­try “spawned one of Europe’s most for­mi­da­ble anti-Nazi net­works,” the Pitts­burgh Jew­ish Chron­i­cle points out, thanks to the brav­ery of young fight­ers like Schaft, the Over­stee­gan sis­ters, and van de Perre. Learn more at the Verzets Resis­tance Muse­um.

via Men­tal Floss

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Secret Stu­dent Group Who Took on the Nazis: An Intro­duc­tion to “The White Rose”

How Jazz-Lov­ing Teenagers–the Swingjugend–Fought the Hitler Youth and Resist­ed Con­for­mi­ty in Nazi Ger­many

Albert Camus, Edi­tor of the French Resis­tance News­pa­per Com­bat, Writes Mov­ing­ly About Life, Pol­i­tics & War (1944–47)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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