Rachel M. Johnson is a lover of all things pop culture. She's been writing about music and entertainment online for years.
An Unsung Hero
Freddie Oversteegen was just 14 years old when she and her older sister, Truus, joined the Dutch Resistance in an effort to take down the German Nazis. The sisters and fellow fighter and friend Hannie Schaft ambushed and killed Nazis and Dutch collaborators, and would go on to become unsung heroes of World War II.
Freddie Oversteegen was born on September 6th, 1925, in Schoten, Netherlands. She and her older sister Truus lived with their parents on a barge. The Oversteegen family had harbored people from Lithuania in the hold of their ship, hidden and protected. From a young age, the sisters were taught the importance of fighting injustice and were brought up in a socially aware household. When their parents divorced, the girls stayed with their mother, Trijn, and were raised in an apartment in the city of Haarlem. Under the guidance of their mother, Freddie and Truus were taught communist values.
In 1939, when the threat of war was imminent in Europe, their mother hid refugees from Amsterdam and Germany in the family home. 14-year-old Freddie witnessed firsthand the monstrosities of Hitlerism and vowed to take a stand against the horrors being unleashed. In a 2016 interview, she once reflected, "I remember how people were taken from their homes. The Germans were banging on doors with the butts of their rifles--that made so much noise, you'd hear it in the entire neighborhood. And they would always yell--it was very frightening."
Joining the Resistance
When Freddie was 14 and Truus 16, a commander of the Haarlem Council of Resistance arrived at their home and asked Trijn if the teenagers could join the underground fight against the Nazis. Their mother obliged and granted the girls permission, and the two joined the Dutch resistance fight. No one would suspect such young, beautiful women being capable of deadly skills. The pair soon began training, joining a small group of other young female fighters. Freddie, Truus, and fellow fighter and friend Hannie Schaft worked to sabotage the Nazi military presence in the Netherlands. "Someone taught us to shoot and we learned to march into the woods. There were about seven of us then--Hannie wasn't a part of the group yet and we were the only girls."
Freddie was allegedly the first to shoot a "Nazi traitor"; she shot a soldier while riding her bicycle. The young women would also flirt with their targets in bars and ask them to take a walk in the forest, under the pretense of a romantic overture. The girls or fellow resistance fighters would then kill the soldiers once they were alone with them. The resistance worked to sabotage the Nazi military presence in the Netherlands; they would use dynamite to disable railroad tracks and bridges. They also aided Jewish children by smuggling them out of the country and helping them escape concentration camps.
Surviving the War
Freddie, Truus, and Hannie were given many risky tasks to complete and did so impressively. Had they been caught by the Nazis or Dutch police, they would have probably been killed. The fact that they were young girls allowed them to fly under the radar and become silent assassins. Freddie was especially good at following a target because she was young and looked unsuspecting. Though both sisters carried out many kills, they refused to reveal how many Nazis and Dutch collaborators they assassinated. Freddie would tell people that they were soldiers, and soldiers don't say. In 1945, just three weeks before the war in Europe ended, the girls' best friend and fellow fighter Hannie was captured by Nazis; she was later tortured and killed.
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The death of Hannie stuck with the sisters, as did the trauma of killing people and surviving the war. Once World War II ended, Freddie went on to live a normal life; she married Jan Dekker and had 3 children. Her sister Truus founded the National Hannie Schaft Foundation in honor of their fallen friend. Freddie served as a board member for the foundation.
Later Years & Life
For many years, the Netherlands failed to acknowledge and recognize the pair's achievements and labeled them as communists. Freddie and Truus were finally awarded the Mobilisation War Cross by Mark Rutte, Dutch Prime Minister in 2014. The Dutch Medal was given to the Oversteegen girls in honor of their valor during wartime. A street was also named in Freddie's honor in the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands. In an interview during her later years, Truus once reflected on their assassinations, saying, "We did not feel it suited us. It never suits anybody, unless they are real criminals."
Freddie threw herself into domestic life in an effort to escape the haunting memories of the war, but she struggled with the trauma all her life. The annual Remembrance of the Dead was a particularly hard time for her. Towards the end of her life, Freddie began to open up more about her war experiences and even appeared in the 2016 documentary Two Sisters in the Resistance. Their bond remained strong their whole lives. According to Truus's daughter, "One word was enough for them to understand each other. They had relied on each other completely during the war. Their lives were in each other's hands." Both sisters passed away at the age of 92; Truus in 2016 and Freddie on September 5, 2018, one day shy of her 93rd birthday.
© 2021 Rachel M Johnson
Rachel M Johnson (author) on May 18, 2021:
@Constant Juma, I couldn’t agree more!
Constant Juma on May 18, 2021:
True sisterhood and courage. Amazing