Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Het meisje met het rode haar: The girl with the red hair

I came across the story of 'Hannie' Schaft when researching the WWII experience of Jan de Jong. An inspirational story that sheds further light on the war years of De Jong.

Jannetje Johanna (Jo) Schaft, was a Dutch resistance fighter whose code name in the Dutch resistance was Hannie. She was born 16 September 1920, died 17 April 1945, aged 24. What were you doing in your 20s? Who were you in your 20s? If you think you are 'hard core' or 'tough', Hannie was the real deal (De Jong was roughly the same age, in the same situation).

Hannie was born in Haarlem, the capital city of the Dutch province of Northern Holland. She was a shy child, perhaps because she was teased by schoolmates for her reddish hair and freckles. Her parents were over protective possibly due to the death of her older sister.

Hannie was a law student at the University of Amsterdam when Holland was invaded by Nazi Germany. Hannie's sense of justice was offended by the laws enacted by the invaders, so, she became involved in small acts of resistance. She went to swimming pools to steal ID cards for Jewish friends, the Jewish ID cards being marked with a 'J' signifying Jew.

In the spring of 1943, the Germans enacted a law requiring all university students to sign a loyalty declaration to Nazi Germany, promising, among other things, to spend a certain amount of time working in Germany after graduation. Hannie, along with 80% of Dutch university students, refused to sign.

Hannie left university and returned home and joined a Resistance organisation called Raad van Verzet (the Council of Resistance), or RVV.

Women were always in demand in RVV as couriers because women were less likely to be stopped and searched as their male counterparts. Hannie wanted to do more. She wanted to fight with weapons.

The RVV agreed to Hannies 'request'. Her first assignment was to assassinate a particular target thought to be a traitor. Hannie fired the gun, only to hear the click on an empty chamber followed by another. The target turned, and introduced himself. It had been a test which Hannie had passed, but she was furious.

Hannie teamed up with sisters Truus and Freddie Oversteegan, 16 and 14 at the beginning of the war. 16 and 14! What were you doing when you were 16 or 14? What are your children doing when they are 16 or 14?

The team engaged in sabotage, and assassinations of Dutch Nazis, Dutch collaborators, and German secret police. They would ride on their bicycles with the passenger being the assassin; 'drive-bys' on a bicycle.

Hannie, Truus, and Freddie, had no qualms about assassinating the abovementioned targets. But when they were instructed to kidnap the children of a Nazi official, they refused. If the plan failed, they'd have to kill the children: 'We are no Hitlerites', Hannie said to Truus and Freddie as they walked away, 'Resistance fighters don't murder children'.

Hannie became recognised because of her red hair being spotted at certain assassinations. She took up a new name, dyed her red hair, and took to wearing fake glasses. Truus would dress as a male and they would pretend to embrace waiting for a target, before Hannie would disengage and assassinate the target.

21 March 1945, Hannie was stopped at a checkpoint and searched. They found underground newspapers, and a pistol, in her handbag. She was arrested, and after being detained for a while, her auburn roots started to show through. The Nazis had captured the girl with the red hair. She was interrogated, tortured, and placed in solitary confinement.

On 17 April 1945, three weeks before the liberation of Holland, Hannie was taken to the sanddunes near Bloemendaal. A German SS officer took a shot and only grazed her temple. 'I can shoot better than that' cried Hannie. ... 'I can shoot better than that' this 24yo conservatively brought up woman shouted to her executioner. I don't know about you, but that is an image I cannot erase from my mind.

A Dutch NSB agent then killed her with a machine gun. She was buried in a shallow grave in the sand dunes. After the war, the bodies of more than 400 resisters were found in those sand dunes, all men and one woman - Hannie Schaft.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, what a story - I really like where you are going, exploring the dutch resistance - its very interetsing to hear these old stories.

    If poeople like yourself give voice to them on the internet, it may help us remeber these things in the future - almost worthy of a new blog (although 2 maybe enough for you!) - love to hear more stories like these.