Freddie Oversteegen was 14, and Truus Oversteegen was 16 when they were recruited in a Dutch resistance group to work behind the curtains against Nazi Germany. Although they did not have the strength of many men to duel and combat the enemies, they had one thing that the others didn’t: irresistible charms. That, plus their quick thinking, intelligence, and some pistols, were what they used to help in the effort of eliminating the Nazis, one smile at a time.

Helping on The War Effort

As young girls, sisters Freddie and Truus Oversteegen had to share one bed. It was not because they couldn’t afford to get another one or because their single mom wanted to force them into some kind of sibling bonding. In fact, there were plenty of beds in their humble flat— all makeshift from straws and shared with Jewish refugees that their mother Trijntje were regularly housing during the 1930s. The girls grew up as communists in the village of Schoten, North-Holland, a few years before World War II broke out. Freddie was just seven and her big sister Truus was nine when Adolf Hitler rose to power and began his pogrom against the Jews.

Oversteegen sisters. (Women’s Museum of California)

More than anything, Trijntje emphasized to her children the importance of compassion for those in need. And so the girls would make dolls for other children who were victims of the Spanish Civil War, and they got used to sharing their home for those fleeing Amsterdam and Germany. In May 1940, when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, Freddie and Truus were one of those who handed out pamphlets to oppose the occupation and defaced propaganda posters calling for workers in Germany to plaster warnings over them.

When the Nazis invaded, their mom had to make sure that the refugees were sent away, as she feared for the refugees and her daughters’ safety, for many were killed and deported. They must not discover their communist sympathies either or risk being sent to a concentration camp.

Being Recruited Into The Resistance

The Dutch resistance group noticed the efforts that this small family was making. So one day, their leader visited the Oversteegen’s residence to ask if Trijntje would allow her daughters to be part of their group. At that time, Freddie was 14, and Truus was 16. Determined to help, the three didn’t hesitate to say yes. Before their mother let them go to do whatever they’d be asked to do, she gave them one rule: Always stay human.

And so, their larger involvement began.

Their innocent looks enabled them to slip in and out of Nazi control without gaining attention. Freddie could easily pass as 12 years old, with her petite stature matched with her twin plaits. They started as couriers of weapons and stealers of identity papers to falsify Jewish people’s information and help them escape.

They were also tasked to burn down a Nazi warehouse, all made possible by flirting with the guards to distract them. Soon enough, they were taught how to shoot in an underground potato shed as their practice range. As Truus’s daughter narrated, “My mother drove the bicycle, and Freddie sat on the back and was shooting. Because they were girls, nobody noticed them.”

In another assignment, in an effort to “liquidate” the SS members, the sister one time found a high-ranking Nazi officer in a restaurant. Freddie would act as a lookout while Truus would strike a conversation and lure him out by seductively proposing that they go for a “walk” in the forest. Meanwhile, a hole was already dug and waiting for him there, as instead of some good time, a resistance fighter would shoot him dead.

For the sisters, killing people was a cruel necessity, and they would sometimes have the urge to help the Nazi officers after shooting them. Regardless, they needed to do that in order to rescue children by smuggling them through the Netherlands, sometimes amidst the bombs falling from the Allied bombers. It was not always a success, and some children were killed— grief that the sisters had to carry until their final days.

Hannie Schaft, Girl With The Red Hair

Hannie Schaft
Resistance fighter Jannetje Johanna Schaft, (Hannie Schaft), b. 16 Sept. 1920. (Cees de Boer, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

In 1943, the duo was joined by a 22-year-old former law student named Jannetje Johanna “Hannie” Schaft. The trio became inseparable, always acting together in their sabotage missions. The three of them would continue to target Nazi officers for the next two years, though the enemies knew Hannie for her distinctive and notorious red hair. In 1945, just a few weeks before the war ended and 18 days away from the liberation of the Netherlands, the sisters were horrified when Hannie did not return from a mission. Later, they found out that she was grabbed at a checkpoint after a Nazi officer noticed the red roots of her black-dyed hair. And so, Hannie was executed on April 17, still despising the Germans even on her moments when she reportedly taunted her executioner after failing to kill her on the first attempt, saying, “I’m a better shot.”

Freddie Oversteegen, Hannie Schaft, and Truus Oversteegen
Hannie Schaft, Truus Oversteegen, and Freddie Oversteegen. (Oakland Ballet Company|Facebook)

Truus and Freddie returned to civilian life, grieving the loss of their sister from a different womb. Soon, Freddie married and had children while Truus dedicated herself to artwork, both coping with the horror and trauma of war. In 1996, they opened the National Hannie Schaft Foundation in her memory. In 2014, Prime Minister Mark Rutte awarded them with the Mobilization War Cross after years of feeling overlooked. Truus passed away in 2016 at the age of 92, and Freddie followed two years after.

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