She was just a teenager when she joined the Dutch resistance, taking up arms against Nazi occupiers and local “traitors” on the outskirts of Amsterdam. Now Freddie Oversteegen, the last surviving member of the Netherlands’ most famous female resistance cell, has died. She passed away on September 5, just one day shy of her 93rd birthday.
Only 14 years old when she began her resistance activities, and still wearing her hair in braids, Oversteegen was completely inconspicuous to the Nazi soldiers in her hometown of Haarlem. But together with her sister Truus, two years older than her, and another young woman, Hannie Schaft, she blew up bridges and rail lines using dynamite, fired at Nazis from her bicycle, wore disguises and smuggled Jewish children across the country and out of camps. On other occasions, she seduced a member of the SS in a tavern before suggesting a stroll in the forest — where she then executed him.
According to Truus, her younger sister Freddie was the first to shoot and kill someone. “It was tragic and very difficult and we cried about it afterwards,” Truus said. “We did not feel it suited us — it never suits anybody, unless they are real criminals. . . . One loses everything. It poisons the beautiful things in life.”
“We had to do it,” Freddie told one interviewer. “It was a necessary evil, killing those who betrayed the good people.” When asked how many people she had killed or helped kill, she demurred: “One should not ask a soldier any of that.”
She has said she did not regret those five years, but they were a source of pain as well as pride.
Oversteegen was deeply influenced by her mother — a communist who insisted on a strong sense of social responsibility in her children. In an interview with anthropologist Ellis Jonker, Oversteegen recalled her mother encouraging the sisters to make dolls for children suffering in the Spanish Civil War, and encouraging them to begin volunteering for International Red Aid (a kind of communist red cross for political prisoners) at an early age. The family also harbored refugees from Germany and Amsterdam in the late 1930s, including a Jewish couple and a mother and son who lived in their attic.
Oversteegen told Vice in 2016 that she coped with the traumas of the war “by getting married and having babies.” She married Jan Dekker and raised three children.
Reflecting once on what happens when you shoot to kill, she told an interviewer: “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.”
Read the full story at The Washington Post.