Women’s Role in World War II Is Largely Underestimated
It is still widely believed that World War II was a man’s war. Men perpetuated the war along with men who fought the war, against the men who resisted the war. If women were involved, the thinking went, they were only playing ‘supporting’ roles, nothing more to be said.
This is wrong, completely wrong. Women from all countries had played pivotal roles in the war with some critical activities even changing the outcome of the war. And some of these fearless women were only 13,15 and 18 years respectively when the war started on Sept. 1, 1939.
They were the Oversteegen sisters Freddie and Truus and their friend Hannie who took up arms against their Nazi occupiers and Dutch “traitors” on the outskirts of Amsterdam.
They called themselves the teen-girls gang and they were brutally efficient. Hannie was the intellectual, Truus was the leader and Freddie was the planner. Together they were tasked by the anti-Nazi Dutch armed resistance movement to murder Nazi officers and their Dutch collaborators as nobody would ever suspect them.
Applying lipsticks, eyeshadows, and perfumes and wearing their most seductive dresses, the girls would go into bars seeking unsuspecting targets. They would flirt with the officers and then offer a ‘romantic liaison’ to them in the woods. Once secluded, they would extract whatever information possible from them and kill them on the spot.
Freddie and Truus survived the war but Hannie was caught and executed by the Nazis just three weeks before the war came to an end.
The Story of the Teen-Girls Gang
The Oversteegen sisters were born in Haarlem and raised by their divorced mother. Right from their childhood, they had been taught by their mother to help the less fortunate people and be compassionate towards others.
This education made them sensitive towards the sufferings of the people in Nazi-occupied countries and it was not long before they started working for the Dutch resistance in distributing pamphlets opposing the occupation of the Netherlands by the Nazis.
As part of the resistance under commander Frans van der Wiel in 1941, they also learned the basics of sabotage like rigging railways and bridges, how to fire a gun, how to roam undetected through Nazi-occupied areas, and so on. They initially started as couriers transporting paperwork and weapons for the resistance by riding bicycles through occupied territory.
They were soon joined by a 22-year-old former law student named Hannie Schaft in 1943. Hannie wanted to be a lawyer but when the authorities issued a decree, requiring law students to sign a declaration of allegiance to the German occupation, Hannie refused and was kicked out of law school. She promptly joined the resistance and she and the Oversteegen sisters became an inseparable trio.
The Girls Start Working for the Dutch Resistance
It was somewhere during that time, the resistance entrusted additional responsibility to them. They were tasked with murdering Nazi officers and their Dutch collaborators because no one would expect that from them.
The ‘targets’ details would be sent to the girls by the resistance. While Freddie would act as a lookout, Truus or Hannie would flirt with the target and strike a conversation with him in a bar or restaurant.
After sufficiently ‘impressing’ him, he would be offered a ‘romantic walk’ in the woods nearby. Once secluded, he would be ambushed, and all possible information would be extracted from him. Then they would kill him on the spot.
They also changed areas frequently if they felt suspicions are getting raised by too many killings in one area. Sometimes the girls would ride a bicycle, Truus pedalling while Freddie shot from the back as they followed the officers’ home to ambush them while their guard was down.
For the next two years, they continued to target officers and elude identification, though the Nazis started recognizing Hannie Schaft by her distinctive red hair.It’s not known exactly how many Nazis the girls killed, as they were reluctant to discuss it later in life. But when asked later in life, Freddie had simply said.
“One should not ask a soldier any of that."
After the War
In April 1945, just weeks before the end of the war, Freddie and Truus grew worried when Hannie failed to report back after an assignment.
They were horrified to know that Hannie had been captured by the Nazis at a checkpoint when an officer recognized the red roots of her hair. She was brutally tortured, interrogated executed on April 17th, 1945, just 3 weeks before the Netherlands got liberated.
The Oversteegen sisters survived the war but never recovered from Hannie’s death. Both had nightmares. They suffered from insomnia and depression, and they suffered for a long time from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD).
In 2014, Prime Minister Mark Rutte awarded the Mobilization War Cross for their services during the war. Hannie Schaft, the martyred girl with the ‘red hair’ became the icon of the female Dutch resistance. Truus died at age 92 in 2016. Freddie followed in 2018.
When asked, long after the war about any regrets about the work they did, Freddie had simply said.
“We were no terrorists … we had to do it. It was a necessary evil. Our mother told us to ‘be human’ and we tried. But it was an inhuman war.”
- TRUUS AND FREDDIE OVERSTEEGEN: SISTERS & RESISTANCE FIGHTERS
- The Sisters Who Assassinated Germans As Part of the Dutch Resistance
- Heroes of WWII: Freddie and Truus Oversteegen
- Hannie Schaft: the Dutch spy who was executed by the Nazis
- Meet Hannie Schaft, The World War II Resistance Hero Who Terrified The Nazis
- ‘Her war never stopped’: the Dutch teenager who resisted the Nazis
- The 14-year-old assassin who lured Nazis and traitors to their deaths
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Ravi Rajan