They say that time heals all wounds, but for those who have lived through extraordinary trauma and times of suffering, they often carry the weight and pain of their experience for the rest of their lives.
During World War II, one Dutch girl was recruited to fight in the resistance. At just 14-year-old, she was one of the few girls to actively fight in the resistance. However, the unthinkable and unorthodox things she had to do in order to save innocent lives stuck with her until her very last day.
The End of The War
For most people, World War II ended decades ago in 1945. However, for a Dutch woman, the war didn’t end until the day she died on September 5, 2018, just a day before her 93rd birthday. “If you ask me, the war only ended two weeks ago,” Remi Dekker, the 92-year-old’s son, told the Observer.
A Never-Ending Battle
“In her mind, it was still going on, and on, and on. It didn’t stop, even until the last day,” Remi added about his mother, Freddie Oversteegen. In her old age, Freddie lived in a nursing home in Driehuis, a town in the Netherlands, that was just five miles from where she was born in the village of Schoten, which is now part of Haarlem.
A Unique Upbringing
Freddie was born on September 6, 1925. She and her sister, Truus, were raised solely by their mother, Trijn, after she divorced from their father when they were both young. Together, the three shared a small home together and slept on straw beds that Trijn made by hand.
Raised By A Strong Woman
“My mother had made those herself. I come from a very original family. We didn’t have much, but my mother always figured something out. And we were always singing. A bit later we got a baby brother, from a different father,” Freddie told Vice about her upbringing.
According to Freddie, her mother was a communist and taught them about their social responsibility to help others. Trijn was intolerant of injustice and instilled those same values in her children. Despite being poor, she went out of her way to help others in need and opened their home to them.
Before World War II started, Freddie and her family hid Jewish refugees from Amsterdam and Germany. Her mother also opened their home to dissidents and gay people who fled Germany in the 30s. To make room, Freddie, who was seven when the Third Reich took control of Germany, shared a bed with Truus, who was two years older than her.
A Life-Changing Day
According to Freddie, her life changed forever one Friday in May, 1940 when Germany invaded the Netherlands. When they heard planes and the smell of smoke that day, Freddie and her family realized what was happening and quickly burned all their communist and radical books.
A Traumatizing Day
“I remember how people were taken from their homes,” Freddie said about the traumatizing day. “The Germans were banging on doors with the butts of their rifles – that made so much noise, you’d hear it in the entire neighborhood. And they would always yell – it was very frightening.”
A Target For Raids
At that point, the Jewish couples who Freddie and her family had been hiding were forced to move to another hiding location since the family’s controversial political views were well known and they’d likely be raided as a result. “They were all deported and murdered,” Freddie told Ellis Jonker, who wrote about Freddie and Truus in the book Under Fire: Women in World War II. “We never heard from them again. It still moves me dreadfully, whenever I talk about it.”
The Fight Continues
However, Freddie, her sister, and her mother continued to fight against the Germans any way they could. Freddie and Truus spent as much time as they could handing out resistance pamphlets and hung anti-war posters. Before long, Frans van der Wiel, the commander of the underground Haarlem Council of Resistance, noticed their work.
Recruited For The Resistance
When Freddie was just 14 years old and Truus was 16, Frans approached the girls’ mother to recruit them for the resistance. He explained that no one would ever suspect two young girls of fighting in the resistance. Trijn gave Frans her permission under one condition. She made the girls promise that they would “always stay human.”
Joining The Fight
With Trijn’s permission, Frans asked Freddie and her sister if they would like to help fight the Germans. They agreed right away even though the had no idea exactly what they were going to be asked to do. “I thought we would be starting a kind of secret army. The man that came to our door said that we would get military training, and they did teach us a thing or two,” Freddie said.
Under The Radar
In the beginning, Freddie could still pass at a 12-year-old, which was invaluable since German soldiers never stopped her or paid her any attention. She could slip through their controls without any issue. She and Truus started at couriers moving weapons. They also stole identity papers to try and help Jewish people escape.
The Real Mission
“Only later did he tell us what we’d actually have to do: sabotage bridges and railway lines,” Truus told Jonker. “We told him we’d like to do that. ‘And learn to shoot,’ he added. I remember my sister saying, ‘Well, that’s something I’ve never done before!’” At that point, Freddie and Truus were the only girls in a team of seven others. Later, they were joined by Hannie Schaft, a former law student with red hair.
Taking a Life to Save Many
Together, the girls worked to smuggle Jewish children out of the country and sometimes even out of concentration camps. Other times, they served as lookouts, used dynamite to sabotage bridges and rail lines. According to Truus, Freddie was the first one to shoot and kill a German soldier.
A Necessary Evil
“It was tragic and very difficult and we cried about it afterwards,” Truus said about the moment their lives would never be the same. “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.”
Later, Freddie, Truus, and Hannie were tasked with shooting Germans while riding their bikes. They also started seducing their targets. The girls would flirt and ask the soldiers to join them for a walk in the woods. Their targets never suspected the young, innocent looking girls were planning to execute them. Once in the woods, Freddie explained that she would then pull out a gun and shoot the unsuspecting man. “We had to do it. It was a necessary evil, killing those who betrayed the good people,” Freddie said in an interview.
Coping With The Trauma
Tragically, Hannie was captured and executed by the German soldiers just weeks before the end of the War. For Freddie and Truus, however, the war never really ended. In the wake of the war, Truus became an artist to help her deal with the trauma. According to Freddie, she coped by “getting married and having babies. And I often babysat Truus’ children as well, because she was very busy. She’d visit Hannie a lot – the mother of Hannie Schaft.”
An Extraordinary Life
In 2014, two years before Truus’ death, she and Freddie were honored by the Dutch government and awarded medals of military service. While Freddie was also proud of what she was involved with and did, she also felt incredible guilt for it and was haunted by what happened for the rest of her life.
Pride And Pain
“She shot a few people, and these were the real, real bad guys,” her son explained. “But she hated it, and she hated herself for doing it.” Freddie eventually passed away in 2018 after suffering several heart attacks in the years before her death. Freddie had never admitted how many people she killed during the war but explained what it’s like to actually kill someone. “I’ve shot a gun myself and I’ve seen them fall,” Freddie told IJmuider Courant, a Dutch newspaper. “And what is inside us at such a moment? You want to help them get up.”