Forgotten History-Hannie Schaft resistance fighter.

When we think of WW2 heroes we (including me) tend to think only of men, this is of course wrong.

There were many women who gave their lives during the war. This story is about Hannie Schaft, although the title Forgotten History is slightly incorrect in a Dutch context because Hannie’s story has been told in a book which has also been made into a movie.Known as “Het meisje met het rode haar” the girl with the red hair. I do believe her story is not that well known outside of the Netherlands. Although

Jannetje Johanna Schaft was born on September 16, 1920. Her nickname was Jo or Jopie. Hannie was the name she used later on in the resistance group. She grew up in the northern part of Haarlem (a city 12 miles west of the capital Amsterdam), where she lived with her parents and her 5 year older sister Annie. Annie died in 1927 from diphtheria. Jo was very quiet and shy. She was very good at school, her GPA (Grade Point Average) was even the highest of her class. The political development in Germany was a frequently discussed subject in her family.

They were worried about Hitler and his national socialism in Germany, but also about Mussert and his national socialistic party in the Netherlands. At the time the war broke out, Hannie went to law school at the university of Amsterdam. From the moment that the Germans occupied Poland in 1939 on, Hannie tried to help. She sent small packages to captured Polish officers with a program of the International Red Cross. When the Germans occupied Holland, Hannie tried to help people too and she offered resistance. An example is that when the Jews weren’t allowed to walk in a park anymore in 1941 Hannie said: ‘If they aren’t allowed to walk there, I won’t walk there either’. Little by little she got more involved with the resistance movement.

From 1942 on all Jews had to wear a yellow star.


When the need for false identity cards increased to help Jews in hiding, Hannie stole identity cards in all sorts of public areas for them. In the spring of 1943 there were several razzia’s at the universities. Later the Germans announced that every college graduate had to go to Germany to work there for a while and finally the college students who wanted to continue their education had to sign a loyalty affidavit to the Germans. Hannie didn’t sign and so she quit school.

Her mother was a Mennonite and her father was attached to the Social Democratic Workers’ Party. During her law studies at the Universiteit van Amsterdam she became friends with the Jewish students Philine Polak and Sonja Frenk. This made her feel strongly about actions against Jews. With the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II university students were required to sign a declaration of allegiance to the occupation authorities. When Hannie refused to sign the petition in support of the occupation forces, she could not continue her studies and moved in with her parents again. She became more and more active in the resistance movement and helped people who were hiding from the Germans with stolen identification cards and food-coupons.

She went back to Haarlem, where she joined the RVV, the council of resistance. She said that food aid wasn’t enough for her, she was willing to offer armed resistance. The RVV ordered her and another member of the group to ‘eliminate’ an officer of the German secret police, the Sicherheits Dienst. Hannie was scared to death but she fired. Instead of a shot, a click was heard and nothing happened. The SD officer introduced himself as Frans van der Wiel, the commandant of the resistance group. It appeared to be a test. Although Hannie had past the test, she was furious. Hannie got to know many people who were involved with the resistance. That is how she met Truus Oversteegen and her sister Freddie, who were also members of the resistance group. Hannie was 19, Truus was 16 and Freddie only 14 at the beginning of the war. Truus became the leader when they worked together because Hannie was a bit dreamy, according to Truus, and Freddie was still too young. Most of the work existed of spreading illegal newspapers, transportation of weapons, stealing and/or falsifying identity cards, sabotage, disguising as German girls to extract information from the German soldiers and bringing Jewish children to hiding places. Hannie took also part in bigger actions. In November 1943 Hannie and a few other members of the resistance group tried to blow up a power station near Haarlem. Only a part of the explosives did actually explode, so only one transport system was damaged. Although the attempt didn’t work for one hundred percent, it gave the people hope.

Hannie also eliminated several members of the German secret police and Dutch collaborators. One example is that on March 15, 1945 Hannie and Truus saw Ko Langendijk, a hairdresser who betrayed people for money. Hannie and Truus shot him. They hid in a hotel afterwards. Remarkably was that Hannie powdered her face because she wanted to die pretty. Luckily they didn’t get caught.

Hannie had to be very careful. She couldn’t tell her parents anything about her work for the resistance group. The nazi’s were looking for her, so she was obliged to dye her hair black and to wear glasses made out of clear glass

After a sub-department of the Raad van Verzet in Velsen killed a farmer, without authorization from the groups’ leaders, Hannie brought a list of names of the ones who did that to her leaders.

Afterwards the named people on this list were given to the Sicherheitsdienst, which meant a certain death. After the war this episode was investigated by a special commission

On March 21, 1945 Hannie was arrested at a routine checking because she had illegal newspapers and her pistol in her bag.Pistool_van_Hannie_Schaft

Soon the Germans recognized her as the girl with the red hair, for whom they had been looking for so long. On April 17, 1945 she was executed in the dunes.

It is the evening of 17 April 1945. A truck leaves the Huis van Bewaring, a prison on the Amstelveenseweg in Amsterdam. The truck contains a Dutch driver, three German soldiers and the Dutch detective, Maarten Kuijper.These men form the escort for one prisoner, a young Dutch woman of 24. They drive to the German Ortskommandantur in Haarlem where a soldier of the Feldgendarmerie (Gefreiter) equipped with a shovel gets in. The truck moves off again and the new man gives directions to the beach at Overveen, a few miles away. The truck stops near the beach where a path leads into the sand dunes.


Kuijper and the German, Mattheus Schmitz, lead their prisoner into the dunes, the man with the shovel bringing up the rear. Schmitz, who is walking a few paces behind the girl, draws his pistol and fires, she cries out in pain but does not fall. Kuijper, seeing she has a wound to the head but is still standing, levels his machine pistol and takes his turn. This time the bullets find their mark and the young woman falls dead.

Kuijper then helps the Gefreiter bury the body in a shallow grave, they are keen to be done with their work and in their haste long strands of red hair are left protruding from the sand

After the war, in these dunes the remains of 422 members of the resistance were found, 421 men and one woman, Hannie Schaft. She was reburied at the honorary cemetery Erebegraafplaats Bloemendaal in the dunes in Overveen Hannie Schaft was given a state funeral at the Erebegraafplaats on 27 November 1945 in the presence of Queen Wilhelmina who called her the “symbol of the Resistance”in the presence of Princess Juliana and her husband Prince Bernard. Later, as queen, Juliana unveiled a bronze commemorative statue in the Kenau Park in nearby Haarlem, her birthplace. Hannie Schaft also received the ‘Wilhelmina resistance cross’ and a US decoration.


Shortly after the war, the communist movement enjoyed popularity, partly because of the effort of the USSR in defeating the Nazis. However, with that country’s increasing influence in Eastern Europe, the popularity decreased. Because the Dutch communist party celebrated her as an icon, her popularity decreased too, to the point that the commemoration at Hannie’s grave was forbidden in 1951. The commemorators (who were estimated to number over 10,000) were stopped by several hundred police and military with the aid of four tanks. A group of seven managed to circumvent the blockade and reached the burial ground, but were arrested when they tolled the bell. From the next year on, the communists decided to prevent another such scene by holding their commemoration in Haarlem instead.


She was celebrated as a hero in some of the former Warsaw Pact (former eastern European communist countries) The DDR even had a stamp issued in her memory.Her name had been used a bit in a political context during the cold war which had alienated some war veterans.


A number of schools and streets were named after her. For her, and other resistance-heroines, a foundation has been created; the Stichting Nationale Hannie Schaft-herdenking. A number of books and movies have been made about her. She features in De Aanslag by Harry Mulisch, also released as a movie directed by Fons Rademakers. Ineke Verdoner wrote a song about her. Author Theun de Vries wrote a biography of her life.


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  1. I was one of the many school children lining the street when the procession took place. The drums were clothed in black. The music was the Death March composed by F. Chopin. I was 13 at that time, I am 85 today, but I will never forget standing on the Zijl straat. In 2013 I paid my respect to the Erebegraafplaats in Overveen when I visited my old country. I was born and raised in Haarlem. And, I will speak soon about Hannie at a Toastmasters meeting in Sechelt, British Columbia, Canada.


  2. mamzer says:

    May Hannie Schaft rest in peace.


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