By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton
Germany invaded the Netherlands in May 1940. The Netherlands had added just two regiments of bicyclists to their military between the wars; to say the least, their defense strategy was no match to a German blitz. By the middle of May, the Dutch army had surrendered. German bombing had destroyed much of Rotterdam.
The Oversteegen family consisted of mother Trijintje and sisters Truus and Freddie. Truus was 17; Freddie, 15. They lived in Haarlem, near Amsterdam. Trijintje leaned toward Communism and had raised her girls with the same values. As the Nazis began Jewish persecution, the Oversteegen family began hiding Jews and helping them to safe houses. The girls also distributed anti-Nazi pamphlets and resistance newspapers.
Jannetje “Hannie” Schaft was the daughter of parents who supported Social Democratic causes. The father, Peter, was a teacher, and therefore their circumstances were considerably better than the Oversteegens’. Hannie had even begun to study law at the University of Amsterdam. While in school, she had made Jewish friends and the actions against Jews in Amsterdam was fighting. Hannie and the two Jewish girlfriends began their resistance work by passing around anti-Nazi papers. Hannie then moved to the important work of stealing ID cards.
In Haarlem, Truus and Freddie were also delivering anti-Nazi materials. In addition, they were involved in hiding members of the Jewish population as the Nazis ramped up Jewish persecution. Before long, the sisters were asked to join a small, independent resistance group. Young girls could move around with much less suspicion than most others, thus their value to the movement. From their mother, “You are free to undertake anything against the Nazis that you feel is right; but be careful and don’t let one another down when things get dangerous.”
With the entry of the United States into the war and the Russian invasion, Germany needed more workers and resources. They looked to the Netherlands for both. As the Dutch were feeling the pinch, the resistance became more determined. Hennie upped her activism; she stole ID cards and collected food for the hidden Jews. With the advent of a German loyalty pledge, instruction at the University of Amsterdam stopped. Hannie went home to Haarlem; there she became a partner to the Oversteegen sisters.
In 1943, there were several assassinations of Dutch nationals who were working withthe Nazis. The Nazis simply rounded up anyone nearby and executed them. That did have the effect of denying sympathy for many of the resistance actions. Weapons were now being collected and carried by the Haarlem group. Often it fell to the girls and their bicycles to transport the weapons to where they were needed. The sisters also rode along the coast to spy on the German effort to fortify the North Holland coast.
Meanwhile, Hannie,who was older than Truus and Freddie, became more deeply involved in the Resistance, even going so far as taking lessons in shooting and handling a pistol. She was soon involved with the assassinations.
Rumors of an allied attack and freedom from German control circulated, but …
The true World War II story, “Three Ordinary Girls,’’ goes on sale Feb. 23, 2021. Author Tim Brady is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and lives in St. Paul, Minn. The Winding Rivers Library System has several his books.