When she came across a Nazi killing an infant by repeatedly swinging its tiny body against a brick wall, Truus Oversteegen didn’t flinch.
The freckle-faced teenager, who was just three months shy of her 17th birthday when Germany invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, was a newly minted member of the Dutch resistance. She had been mostly assigned to hide Jewish children, political dissidents and homosexuals in various safe houses throughout Haarlem, her hometown, which was about 12 miles west of Amsterdam.
But what she saw now forced her to act with a sudden, brutal energy.
“He grabbed the baby and hit it against the wall,” Truus recalled years later of the horrifying scene. “The father and sister had to watch. They were obviously hysterical. The child was dead.”
Truus quietly pointed her gun in the direction of the Nazi and shot him dead.
“That wasn’t an assignment,” she said. “But I don’t regret it . . . We were dealing with cancerous tumors in our society that you had to cut out like a surgeon.”
Truus, her younger sister, Freddie, and law student Hannie Schaft were among a handful of young women who took on clandestine roles to destabilize Nazis during the Second World War. While women’s resistance work was largely confined to spying, code-breaking and typing, few actively dared to take on the work of the Dutch trio — as underground assassins.
That’s the theme of the recently published “Seducing and Killing Nazis: Hannie, Truus and Freddie: Dutch Resistance Heroines of World War II” (SWW Press), which documents the exploits of the three young Dutch resistance fighters whose dangerous work set them apart.
“These women never saw themselves as heroines,” writes the book’s author Sophie Poldermans, who is also a human-rights activist in the Netherlands. “They were extremely dedicated and believed they had no other option but to join the resistance. They never regretted what they did during the war.”
Although their roles in the underground were at first confined to stealing Dutch identity documents to help persecuted Jews, the girls quickly graduated to more ruthless duties.
Freddie, who was just 14 when she began to work for the resistance, was often mistaken for a schoolgirl and was dispatched as a courier delivering important messages during the occupation. But later, all three young women worked to seduce Nazis: applying makeup and bright red lipstick to pick up soldiers at bars and lure them to their deaths.
We were dealing with cancerous tumors in our society that you had to cut out like a surgeon.
“Ha Heinz, come here,” they would call, often pretending to be drunk when they struck up conversations with their targets.
Hannie, barely 20 when the Netherlands was invaded, made a point of teaching herself German for the work. Lithe and striking, with red hair and milky white skin, she became an expert at starting seemingly casual conversations with Dutch Nazis and German soldiers. Suggesting that they accompany her on romantic walks to the woods, they would often be shot dead by her male comrades who were lying in wait.
While the three young women often relied on the men of the resistance for the ambush and shooting, they were not shy about using guns themselves and became expert at shooting targets from their bikes. In addition to German soldiers, they also went after Dutch collaborators, Poldermans said.
“They were killers, but they also tried hard to remain human,” said Poldermans, 38. “They tried to shoot their targets from the back so that they didn’t know they were going to die.”
After the war, when the sisters — Truus and Freddie — were asked how many people they had gunned down, they refused to give a specific number, said Poldermans.
“You never ask a soldier how many people he’s killed” was the response the Oversteegen sisters often gave to curious people they lectured on their wartime work.
Poldermans said she was close to the sisters for 20 years before writing her book, having met them when she was a 16-year-old high-school student working on a history project on the late Hannie Schaft, who is considered one of the greatest wartime heroines in the Netherlands. Through a family friend, Poldermans met and interviewed the Oversteegens, prying out more information about their roles in the war than they had ever told their own families.
“After the war, they had post-traumatic stress and nightmares,” Poldermans told The Post, adding that the sisters were also ostracized because they had worked closely with the Communist Party in a country that became virulently anti-Soviet after the war. The Oversteegens didn’t receive a pension for their wartime work until well into the 1960s, she said.
For many years, they suffered from depression and would wake up screaming from nightmares, especially during the anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands by Allied troops.
“I wasn’t born to kill,” Truus told Poldermans. “Do you know what that does to your soul?” After each attack, Truus recalled, she often fainted or broke down in tears.
When Poldermans completed her high-school paper, the Oversteegen sisters asked her to present her work at the annual conference they organized for Hannie. They were so impressed that they later asked her to join the board of the National Hannie Schaft Foundation, a Netherlands-based nonprofit they founded in 1996. The organization works to sponsor an annual lecture on human rights and promotes the memory of Hannie.
In addition to killing Nazis, Hannie also worked to sabotage German military installations, bombing power lines and munitions shipments. The Oversteegens worked closely with Hannie, part of an underground cell of seven committed and fierce fighters.
They were a formidable fighting force, although they refused to target the children of high-ranking Nazis, Poldermans said. When they were ordered by their resistance commanders to kidnap the three children of Reich Commissioner Arthur Seyss-Inquart, the women refused.
“Resistance fighters do not kill children,” Truus told Poldermans. “We only fight against real fascists, not against children.”
Still, they caused so much damage and killed so many Nazis that Hannie became an important wartime target — “the girl with the red hair.” Her capture was deemed a high priority, ordered by Adolf Hitler himself.
A marked woman, she went into hiding, dying her hair black and borrowing glasses. Even when the Nazis jailed her parents in order to pressure her to give herself up, Hannie refused. Her family was eventually released when it became clear they had no information about their militant daughter.
Hannie was later captured on March 1945, picked up after a routine check and taken to the Amsterdam House of Detention, where she was tortured by the Nazis. She was also placed in solitary confinement, with a sign on her door that labeled her “morderin” or murderer.
Hannie was executed on April 17, 1945, just 18 days before the liberation of the Netherlands.
After the war, Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower awarded Hannie a posthumous Medal of Freedom.
Truus was honored by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem for her work in protecting Jews, and she and Freddie were awarded the Mobilization War Cross by the Dutch prime minister in 2014.
Truus passed away in 2016 at the age of 92, and Freddie passed away two years later, at the same age.
Before their deaths, the sisters told Poldermans that Hannie was defiant until the end, and they liked to repeat the story of her execution — which has become the stuff of legend in the Netherlands, based on several police reports and witness statements.
When the first bullet missed its mark, Hannie fixed the soldiers sent to kill her with a steady gaze.
“Idiots,” she said. “I shoot better than you.”
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