‘I was bait’: Teen Nazi killer’s confession
She was petite. She had beautiful braids. She was a child seductress who lured Nazi officers to their deaths.
Freddie Oversteegen was one of three young women recruited to a cell of Dutch resistance fighters in the city of Haarlem during World War II.
It was May 1940. The Netherlands had just fallen to Nazi Germany's Blitzkrieg (Lightning War).
Freddie was just 14. Her sister, Truus, was 16.
They were soon both to be in the thick of the action.
Freddie was feminine but fierce. Truus was a decisive but pragmatic tomboy.
War up-ended everything.
And Freddie was the first to kill.
"Yes, I've shot a gun myself, and I've seen them fall," she once said in an interview. "And what is inside us at such a moment? You want to help them get up!"
At the outbreak of war, the Oversteegen sisters volunteered as nurses in an emergency hospital on the border with Germany. There was a military air base nearby. So the sisters began to record its activities secretly.
The siblings showed no hesitation in risking their lives to resist the occupation.
The single-parent Oversteegen family had been sheltering Jews fleeing Germany since the mid-1930s. But, with the invasion, these refugees had to be relocated.
"We never heard from them again," Freddie said. "It still moves me dreadfully whenever I talk about it."
A Dutch resistance leader in nearby Haarlem soon heard of the brave young girls' activities.
He saw great potential.
So Frans van der Wiel paid a personal visit to the family. He quickly convinced the girls they would be of greater use to Holland by joining his organisation.
Freddie said her mother gave her blessing - with one condition: "Always stay human."
Keeping that promise was to prove far harder than any of them could conceive.
It was an inhuman war.
"I thought we would be starting a kind of secret army," Freddie told Vice. "The man that came to our door said that we would get military training, and they did teach us a thing or two. Someone taught us to shoot, and we learned to march in the woods."
Truus said: "Only later did he tell us what we'd actually have to do: sabotage bridges and railway lines - and learn to shoot, to shoot Nazis. I remember my sister saying: 'Well, that's something I've never done before!'."
The small cell of resistance fighters was joined in 1943 by the slightly older Hannie Schaft. She had been a law student.
Together, the trio formed a specialist assassination squad.
Hannie - who had fiery red hair - was the clever one. She had wanted to be a human rights lawyer.
Freddie was the most determined. She played up the role of a sweet, innocent young girl. She was good at being an unsuspected lookout. And bait. Especially when in braids.
Her older sister, Truus, quickly became their unofficial leader.
Together, they cycled the city, hunting down isolated collaborators and soldiers. Who would ever suspect such sweet, innocent young girls of ride-by shootings?
They sought out desperate Jews, homosexuals and political dissidents. Who would ever accuse such sweet, innocent young girls of harbouring fugitives?
At night, they would put on makeup and visit bars. There, they would seduce German officers and lure them into nearby woods. Who would ever fear such sweet, innocent young girls?
Freddie later said it "was like: 'Want to go for a stroll?' And of course he wanted to. Then they ran into someone - which was made to seem a coincidence, but he was one of ours - and that friend said … 'Girl, you know you're not supposed to be here.' They apologised, turned around, and walked away. And then shots were fired, so that man never knew what hit him. They had already dug the hole, but we weren't allowed to be there for that part".
TRIAL BY FIRE
Eventually, Oversteegen mother's prophetic command was put to the test.
They were to target the reichkommissar - the senior Nazi commander - of the Netherlands. The idea was to kidnap his children and force a prisoner exchange.
The young women refused.
The risk to the children's lives, they insisted, was too high. And children were innocents.
"Resistance fighters don't murder children," Freddie said in the 2011 book, Women Heroes of World War II.
But Nazi politicians, soldiers and collaborators were fair game.
"We were no terrorists … We had to do it. It was a necessary evil."
When asked long after the war, Freddie refused to reveal how many men she had killed: "You shouldn't ask a soldier how many people they've shot."
In her mind, she, Truus and Hannie were soldiers. Child soldiers. But soldiers nevertheless.
They were regularly witnessing inhuman scenes.
"Once, I was confronted with an SS soldier, a Dutch SS soldier even, who was killing a small baby by hitting it against a wall," Truus said in the book, Seducing and Killing Nazis.
"The father and sister had to watch … I shot that guy. Right there and then. That wasn't an assignment, but I don't regret it."
THE PRICE OF FREEDOM
Demoralising rumours circulated among the invading Nazis about the Dutch angels of death.
Hannie, in particular, became something to fear. Officers and troops were on their guard for a deadly-beautiful "girl with red hair".
Such was her fame. She was declared a Dutch national heroine shortly after the war.
The two Oversteegen sisters survived the conflict.
But their emotional scars never fully healed.
Both had nightmares. They suffered from insomnia and depression. Peace always seemed just out of reach.
These days, it's called Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD).
The oldest member of the female hit-squad, Hannie, remained eternally young. She was stopped by the Nazis while riding her bicycle. They found a pistol and documents concealed in her hamper.
Hannie endured three weeks of torture before being executed on April 17, 1945. According to tradition, she taunted her Nazi executioner by declaring "I'm a better shot" after his first attempt failed to kill her.
Just 18 days later, the Netherlands was liberated.
Freddie married an engineer and had three children. A secluded family life, she said, was how she sought to put the horror of her war exploits behind her. She died in 2018, aged 93.
Truus married a fellow former resistance fighter and became an artist. She wrote an autobiography called Not Then, Not Now, Not Ever and lectured about her experiences.
She died in 2016.
Truus toiled all her life to ensure the exploits of their fellow Dutch resistance fighters would never be forgotten. It was only later that the still traumatised Freddie would take up the fight.
But they were both sidelined for their Communist past.
It took until 2014 for their national service to be honoured.
Both endlessly repeated their mother's one steadfast rule: "Always remain human".
The sisters had been killers. But not by choice.
"It was tragic and very difficult, and we cried about it afterwards," Truss said. We did not feel it suited us … One loses everything. It poisons the beautiful things in life."
Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel