The 14-year-old assassin who lured Nazis and traitors to their deaths

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 soldiers and traitors during the German occupation. The women were part of a small cell of seven which consisted of her sister, Truus, and Hannie Schaft, 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. 

Communist background

Freddie was born in 1925 and initially lived on a barge with her family in Schoten. Freddie and Truus’ parents raised them 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 resisted 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. He came to 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,” the sisters joined 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. But they 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 in the park, asked her for her name — to see if 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. 

Members of the Dutch Nationalist Social Party being shamed by members of the Dutch resistance
Collaborators were publicly shamed. Image: Jan Arkesteijn/Wikimedia commons/CC3.0

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.” 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. They planned to exchange the children for captured members of the Dutch resistance. But if the negotiations soured, they would have to kill them

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. 

Legacy

Once the war was over, Freddie remained the quieter of the two Oversteegen sisters. Truus became an artist and gave lectures about her time in the Dutch resistance. 

It was only in 2014 that Freddie was really recognised for her efforts during the resistance. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte awarded her and Truus the Mobilisation War Cross. Her son, Remy, 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. 

What do you think of this brave teenager? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

Sarah O'Leary 🇮🇪
Sarah O'Leary 🇮🇪
Sarah originally arrived in the Netherlands due to an inability to make her own decisions — she was simply told by her mother to choose the Netherlands for Erasmus. Life here has been challenging (have you heard the language) but brilliant for Sarah, and she loves to write about it. When Sarah is not acting as a safety threat to herself and others (cycling), you can find her sitting in a corner of Leiden with a coffee, trying to sound witty.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. THERE WERE A LOT OF TRAITORS THAT WERE MISSED AFTER THE WAR .
    THE PROFITEEERS THAT STOLE THE ASSETS FROM THE JEWS NEVER WERE PROCICUTED.
    THE POLITITIONS MADE A BIG MISTAKE DURING THE WAR…THEY SHOULD HAVE BROADCAST ON RADIO ORANGE FROM ENGLAND–THE KNOWN NAMES OF TRASITORS AND WHERE THEY LIVE IN HOLLAND ..
    THE ALLIADS SHOULD HAVE BOMBED THE TRAIN TRACKS TO CONCETRATION CAMPS TO SLOW DOWN THE KILLINGS OF JEWS…..AND ANOUNCED THOSE FACTS DURING THE WAR AS THE ALLAIDS KNEW ABOUT THE MASS MURDER OF INOCENT PEOPLE ( JEWS ) .

  2. I’ve read several versions of this tale. The girls were given their targets by a higher-up in their resistance cell. These people acted as judge, jury and executioner of Dutch collaborators, which were their primary targets. These people were were their countrymen, and they executed them with no trial or evidence. It’s hard to imagine the full reality of the time but my Dutch colleagues have told me that collaboration was more the norm than the exception. They were trying to survive with an occupying army in any way they could.
    Were these young women brave? Sure. We’re they on the side of right in their actions? That’s for God to decide, but I don’t think a modern court would find favorably for them.

  3. I would call myself a sibling of the Dutch Resistance during and after WW2. My Parents, 2 much older brothers, maternal grandparents, all lived in a reasonably roomy house, plus cellar, underfloor hidden spaces, invisibly accessable from inside and outside. Originally our place was a hidden radio station, receining messages from London. My parents decided to answer my questions when asked, as best they could, thus recognising my endless natural curiosity. Its not long ago that I realised why I understood the english language as far as I remembeted. Officially I was taught in secondary school, 6 yrs later. Listening to Churchill’s messages and my questions, I picked it up from him, he had a strong voice and was a clear speaker. Last 2 years, 1943/44 are very clear in my mind. I eas too young to do any heroics, but was familiar with granates, verbal msgs that I took to other people, small parcels that I picked up from here, there and everywhere, knowing that I should never talk about or show any of these, just pick them up from where you are told and deliver where you were told. And so I did, never mind my extreme curiosity and rebellious nature. WHY?, BECAUSE MY father promised me he would tell me what, why and whatfor, at the right time, and he ceryainly kept his word. Born in 1937, at my wedding in 1958, the resistance people that were still alive, were ALL there, the ones that knew me that is. These man formed part of the first Batallion that went to Indonesia after officer training in England. 7RS, it was called. Many memories were maid by me from that time, Godd Bless Their Sole!!!!

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