The Sisters Who Assassinated Germans As Part of the Dutch Resistance

Photo Credit: Ministerie van Defensie / Wikimedia Commons CC0 1.0

There were many active resistance movements throughout the course of World War II. In countries where the German Army had invaded, they worked tirelessly to sabotage their occupiers. While the majority of members were male, there were numerous female fighters who used their good looks and inconspicuous nature to gain the upper hand.

Freddie and Truus Oversteegen

Truus and Freddie Oversteegen grew up in the Dutch city of Haarlem with their single mother. Freddie was two years younger than Truus and looked even younger when she wore her hair in braids, something that worked in her favor when she joined the Dutch resistance.

Freddie and Truus Oversteegen standing with Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte
Freddie and Truus Oversteegen with Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte during the War Mobilization Cross ceremony, April 15, 2014. (Photo Credit: Ministerie van Defensie / Wikimedia Commons CC0 1.0)

Their mother was a communist, and from a young age taught them the importance of fighting injustice. When the war broke out in 1939, she taught hid people from Lithuania and a Jewish couple in their home. This influenced the girls’ later actions, as they learned they needed to make sacrifices in order to help others.

Joining the Dutch resistance

In May 1940, the Germans invaded the Netherlands, beginning an occupation that lasted until the end of the war. As in other countries they’d invaded, there were extensive efforts to remove Jews, while non-Jewish residents were forced to contend with terrible living conditions.

Armed Dutch resistance fighters speaking to each other
Dutch resistance members with captured German arms during the country’s liberation, 1944. (Photo Credit: Keystone Features / Getty Images)

The invasion activated Truus and Freddie’s rebellious spirit. The pair joined their mother in distributing anti-German pamphlets and newspapers for the resistance. This caught the attention of Frans van der Wiel, a commander with the Haarlem Resistance Group, who visited the Oversteegen home and asked the girls’ mother if they could join the resistance – she agreed.

At the time, Freddie and Truus didn’t know what working with the resistance would entail. To start, they were tasked with disabling bridges and railroads with dynamite, particularly the rail line between Ijmuiden and Haarlem. They also burned down a German warehouse, and aided in the smuggling of Jewish children out of the country – they even helped them escape concentration camps.

Dutch resistance members posing for a group photo
Dutch Resistance group operating near Dalfsen, Ommen and Lemelerveld. (Photo Credit: Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons CC0 1.0)

The girls’ gender aided in their success, as resistance activities were largely viewed as being conducted by males. The Germans assumed women were only involved in distributing newspapers and other documents. Given they were female – and not to mention young – they were able to skirt by with little suspicion.

Teaming up with Hannie Schaft to become assassins

Before long, the girls were tasked with carrying out assassinations of Germans and Dutch collaborators. Using their youthful appearance, they lured German officers into the woods – either while on patrol or in a local tavern – and shot them. According to Freddie, it was something they had to do. “It was a necessary evil, killing those who betrayed the good people,” she said.

Members of the 101st Airborne Division and the Dutch resistance looking over a map
Members of the Dutch resistance speaking with the 101st Airborne Division during Operation Market Garden, September 1944. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

In 1943, the sisters joined up with Hannie Schaft, a former university student who’d dropped out after refusing to sign a loyalty pledge to Germany. She’d started out with small acts, such as stealing identification cards for Jewish people. When she began assassinating Germans, she became known as “the girl with the red hair.”

The trio formed an assassination and sabotage cell. Along with assassinations, they hid firearms in the baskets of their bicycles, and at one point erected a communist flag at the headquarters of the National Socialist Movement. They were so efficient that, by the end of the war, there was a 50,000 guilders reward for their capture.

Portrait of Hannie Schaft
Hannie Schaft, late 1930s-early ’40s. (Photo Credit: Unknown Photographer / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

On March 21, 1945, Hannie was arrested at a military checkpoint in Haarlem while in possession of the illegal communist newspaper, de Waarheid. She was subsequently interrogated, and on April 17, 1945 was executed by Dutch officials. Following the conclusion of the war, she was buried with honors in the presence of Queen Wilhelmina and Prince Bernhard, and today over 15 cities in the Netherlands have streets named after her.

Truus and Freddie never revealed how many people they killed throughout the duration of their resistance work. When asked, Freddie replied that they were soldiers and soldiers don’t reveal such details.

Post-war struggles and recognition

Following the war, Freddie and Truus struggled with the trauma of their friend’s death and the murders they’d committed. To cope, Truus became an artist and spoke at war memorial services. Freddie coped “by getting married and having babies,” yet nothing could help the insomnia she suffered.

Truus Oversteegen and others at Hannie Schaft's memorial
Truus Oversteegen at Hannie Shaft’s memorial, 1985. (Photo Credit: Poppe de Boer / Wikimedia Commons CC0 1.0)

The pair didn’t immediately receive recognition for their actions, as they were labelled as communists. In 1967, Truus was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations, an honor bestowed by the State of Israel upon non-Jewish individuals who risked their lives during the war. It wasn’t until April 2014 that the Netherlands recognized their efforts, awarding them the War Mobilization Cross.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte shaking Truus Oversteegen's hand
Truus Oversteegen with Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte during the War Mobilization Cross ceremony, April 15, 2014. (Photo Credit: Evert-Jan Daniels, Ministerie van Defensie / Wikimedia Commons CC0 1.0)

Both Freddie and Truus have since passed away. Truus died in June 18, 2016, while Freddie passed on September 5, 2018.