The Re-Burial of Hannie Schaft

There were very few Dutch who defied the Nazi occupiers, this is not to judge, because I was never put in that situation and I just wouldn’t know what I would have done. But it is a fact that there were only a few who offered resistance.

Hannie Schaft was one of those few. Born Jannetje Johanna (Jo) Schaft on 16 September 1920. She became known as “the girl with the red hair” (Dutch: het meisje met het rode haar). Her secret name in the resistance movement was “Hannie.”

On 1 March 1945, NSB police officer Willem Zirkzee was executed by Hannie Schaft and her friend Truus Oversteegen, in Haarlem. On 15 March they wounded Ko Langendijk, a hairdresser from IJmuiden who worked for the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), a Nazi intelligence agency.

Hannie was eventually arrested at a military checkpoint in Haarlem on 21 March 1945 while distributing the illegal communist newspaper de Waarheid (literally ‘The Truth’), which was a cover story. She was transporting secret documentation for the Resistance. She worked closely with Anna A.C. Wijnhoff. She was brought to a prison in Amsterdam. After much interrogation, torture, and solitary confinement, Schaft was identified by her former colleague Anna Wijnhoff, by the roots of her red hair.

She was executed by Dutch Nazi officials on 17 April 1945. Although there had been an agreement between the occupier and the Binnenlandse Strijdkrachten (‘Dutch resistance’) to stop executions, she was shot dead three weeks before the end of the war in the dunes of Overveen, near Bloemendaal. Two men, Mattheus Schmitz and Maarten Kuiper, a Dutch policeman, took her to the execution site. Schmitz shot her in the head at close range. However, the bullet only grazed Schaft. She is said to have allegedly told her executioners: Ik schiet beter! (“I shoot better!) after which Kuiper delivered a final shot to her head. Kuiper was sentenced to death after the war.

Hannie was buried in a shallow grave in the dunes. On 27 November 1945, Schaft was reburied in a state funeral at the Dutch Honorary Cemetery Bloemendaal. Members of the Dutch government and royal family attended, including Queen Wilhelmina who called Schaft “the symbol of the Resistance.”


The Girl with the Red Hair

The below story was brought to my attention by a friend, he also published it in a local Athens-Alabama newspaper.


Equal justice under the law

Some may believe an event both a continent and 76 years away of little interest to our Athens- Limestone County. Let this flight of recollection help. We just commemorated the liberation of the Nazi Auschwitz concentration camp in January 1945. We recall with dread the Holocaust. When the gates finally opened at the death camp, only a few were left in that place of evil. What remained of the millions of Jews, resisters against Nazi power and social outcasts condemned to that place were starving, barely recognizable human beings. Yet, they were human. As one philosopher from the late 1600s said, all wars are civil wars, for we are all part of the human family. To recall what drove so many to fight the white racist Nazi regime, I read “Seducing and Killing Nazis,” by Sophie Poldermans, a Dutch author whose country fell and then suffered dramatically under the Nazi whip. Poldermans points out, however, that after her country was occupied, the Nazis tried to divide her people against one another. She illustrates how this happened by telling a story of three young resisters who secretly opposed this false god of racial superiority.

These young women learned while growing up at home never to prejudge others. Because, as their parents counselled, “All humanity is equal.” Such simple life guidance was catastrophically upended when violent, white supremacist Nazi Germany overran the Netherlands. By then only teenagers, the young women were old enough to know something was dreadfully wrong. Sophie Poldermans, an insightful Dutch author who personally knew two of the heroic resistance fighters remembered here, tells their story with heart-rending passion. She reveals the fear, Nazi brutality and unique horrors of that age. She does, however, show how the brave actions of the Dutch resistance helped raise a jaded world back to simple humanity.

Subtitled “Hannie, Truus and Freddie: Dutch Resistance Heroines of World War II,” this book is simply terrifying. Though only teenagers, we learn how they were subtly drawn into secret resistance against the invaders. Poldermans reveals a horrific, clandestine measure to assure their reliability. Indeed their test will remain with you forever. We follow Jo “Hannie” Schaft, whose tomboy elemental understanding of right and wrong allowed her to courageously, indeed often recklessly, fight back against the conquerors. Truus and “Freddie” Oversteegen displayed leadership and wise caution, each bringing her skills to great use in the underground defence of their country against the Gestapo and Dutch traitors.

Nazi Germans implemented laws based on racial hatred and political suppression. They enforced racial discrimination against Jews and outlawed political parties. Opponents were sent to concentration and death camps. How three young girls, for none was older than 19 at the time, fought back against such “discrimination and inequality” is brought to life in this utterly spellbinding tale of assassinations, train sabotage, conspiracy and intrigue.

Indeed, seducing and killing Nazis by Dutch teens is what they did. One is fascinated by how their missions were planned, organized and executed. The remarkable details of underground life, of forgeries, gathering stolen documents, explosives, food and other essentials would be story enough. But no, assassinations were also carried out by girls pretending to charm Nazis. The horror of taking a life, and the limits to any reprisal, even against Nazis, are memorably told. Indeed these are tales you’ll want to discuss. Available in all American outlets, this story of three women who sacrificed their innocence to restore goodness will first shock, and then bring you to tears. What a magnificent testimony to such true heroines who fought as underground soldiers against real tyranny. Through their heroism, they helped restore a world open to dignity and equality before the law.

We who live in our little Alabama county have enshrined our national belief that “all men are created equal.” We created a system of liberal democratic institutions, peacefully transferred, that protect the rights of all. We need to remember this is a system which deserves our constant vigilance and protection. Ours is a nation of laws, before which everyone must be treated the same. Poldermans has done well in reminding us there are those who would destroy such an open, equal and free society, that we must defend it with all our ability.

— John William Davis is a retired U.S. Army counterintelligence officer, civil servant and linguist. He was commissioned by Washington University in St. Louis in 1975. He entered counterintelligence and served some 37 years. A linguist, Davis learned foreign languages in each country in which he served. His published works include “Rainy Street Stories: Reflections on Secret Wars, Terrorism and Espionage” and “Around the Corner: Reflections on American Wars, Violence, Terrorism and Hope.”

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