Freddie Oversteegen was just 14-years-old when she became an assassin for the Dutch resistance during the German occupation of the Netherlands.
The teenager would ask her victims if they would like to go for a “stroll” in the woods. The men would never return.
Freddie is credited with the deaths of multiple German soldiers and traitors during the war. How did a young girl manage to do this you may ask? She wore her hair in braids of course. Well, that among other things.
The women of the Dutch Resistance: meet Freddie Oversteegen
Freddie belonged to a group of three young women who would sabotage and assassinate German soldiers and traitors during the German occupation. The women were part of a small cell of seven which also consisted of her sister, Truus, as well as Hannie Schaft, famously known as “The girl with red hair.”
While all three women carried out acts of brave resistance against the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, this article will focus on Freddie, the youngest of the three — and the first to kill.
Freddie was born in 1925 and initially lived on a barge with her family in Schoten. Freddie and her sister were raised to resist. Her parents hid Lithuanian refugees in the hold of their ship before the beginning of World War II. The family would also later hide a Jewish couple in their home during the 1930s.
Once their parents divorced, Freddie and her sister were raised primarily by their mother, who taught them communist principles. Given the principles they were raised with, it’s no surprise that the sisters would go on to resist the German occupation of the Netherlands.
Work for the Dutch resistance
When the war began, Freddie and Truus handed out anti-Nazi pamphlets on the streets — an act that caught the attention of Frans van der Wiel, the commander of the Haarlem Council of Resistance. Van Der Wiel arrived at the front door of the Oversteegen residence one day and asked whether the sisters would be willing to join. He hoped that their innocent looks would help the resistance.
Freddie was just 14-years-old at this point, but with the permission of her mother, and the promise to “always stay human,” Freddie and Truus joined Van Der Wiel and the Council of Resistance.
Truus recalled in an interview for the book ‘Under Fire: Women and World War II’ that it was only after joining the resistance that Der Wiel revealed that he planned for the girls to sabotage bridges and railway lines. “We told him we’d like to do that,” Truus said.
The girls followed through: they blew up bridges and train tracks, and also smuggled Jewish children out of the country and out of concentration camps.
A cycling assassin
However, this work was not the only thing that Der Wiel had in store for the two sisters. Truus recalled that he also told them they would need to “learn to shoot — to shoot Nazis. I remember my sister saying, ‘Well, that’s something I’ve never done before!'” Freddie would be the first of the three women to carry this act out.
Freddie was just a teenager when she first assassinated someone. In an interview with the BBC, her son speculates that her first victim was a Dutch woman who planned on handing over a list of Jewish people to the Germans. She approached the woman as she was walking in the park, asked her for her name — to be certain she had the right target — and then shot her.
Freddie was quite small and wore her hair in two braids which made her look innocent and enabled her to get away easily. Her method of attack was often a drive-by — Truus would cycle a bike whilst Freddie sat on the back and shot.
“We always went by bike, never walked, that was too dangerous. I always made sure the coast was clear. That worked very well.”
Luring Nazis and collaborators to their deaths
As if the idea of a young girl conducting a cycle-by shooting isn’t shocking enough, Freddie and her sister are most famed for their second assassination technique — luring men, often German soldiers, to their deaths.
Freddie would meet soldiers and collaborators in the taverns and ask them if they would like to go “for a stroll.” Upon accepting the offer, the targets would be led to the woods and shot in a surprise attack.
When speaking in a television interview about her attacks, Freddie talked of the strange compulsion to help her victims up again “Yes, I’ve shot a gun myself and I’ve seen them fall, and what is inside us at such a moment? You want to help them get up.”
Drawing the line
When asked about the attacks against soldiers and collaborators, Freddie described them as a “necessary evil.” However, the three women assassins did have to draw the line at one point.
The resistance had asked the women to help take the children of a senior Nazi officer hostage. The children were to be exchanged for captured members of the Dutch resistance, but if the negotiations soured, they would have to be killed.
At this point, Freddie, Truus, and Hannie refused to carry out the mission. “We are no Hitlerites. Resistance fighters don’t murder children,” Freddie told one interviewer.
Once the war was over, Freddie remained the quieter of the two Oversteegen sisters. Truus would go on to become an artist and gave lectures about her time during the years of Dutch resistance.
It was only in 2014 that Freddie was really recognised for her efforts during the resistance. She and Truus were awarded the Mobilization War Cross by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Her son, Remi, described the moment as a highlight in his mother’s life. Streets in Haarlem were even named after Freddie and her sister.
In an interview with VICE, Freddie said that once the war ended, she coped by “getting married and having babies.” However, her son, Remi, believes the war never stopped for his mother. In an interview with NH Nieuws, he claimed that “The war actually lasted 80 years for Freddie.”
Freddie expressed a similar sentiment herself when talking to VICE about conversations with her sister “we never had to say ‘remember when,’ because it was always at the top of our minds.”
Freddie Oversteegen passed away on December 5, 2018 — the day before her 93rd birthday.
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