Freddie Oversteegen, 14 years old at the time, was one of the few women active in the WWII Dutch resistance.
Now ninety, Freddie – along with her sister Truus and the famous Hannie Schaft – would flirt with Nazi collaborators and then lead them into the woods where, rather than the make-out session the men expected, the men met their ends.
Hannie Schaft became world famous, courtesy a feature film titled “The Girl with the Red Hair,” and Truus Oversteegen likewise made a name for herself as a public speaker after the war. Freddie, however, never got much attention until Dutch filmmaker Thijs Zeeman made the Oversteegen sisters the subject of a recent documentary, “Two Sisters in the Resistance.“
This interview with Freddie Oversteegen was originally published by VICE Netherlands
VICE: Hi Freddie. I understand we don’t have a lot of time for the interview.
Freddie Oversteegen: That’s right. I’m meeting some people to play Scrabble at two. I do that twice a week. You can’t let people down if you’ve agreed to join.
Do you win often?
What is it like for you to remember the war on Remembrance Day? How do you wake up on a day like today?
I do feel a bit of dread. And it’s even worse today because I have to go to the dentist this afternoon. I’m not looking forward to that.
Are you going somewhere for the Remembrance Day ceremonies?
Yes, to IJmuiden. People lay wreaths there, including one in my name. And I get to sit on the front row, amidst all the notables.
What do you think about during the two minutes of silence?
Nothing, I just shut off my thoughts completely. And then I think about the fact that a lot of people have fallen. I remember how people were taken from their homes. The Germans were banging on doors with the butts of their rifles – that made so much noise, you’d hear it in the entire neighbourhood. And they would always yell – it was very frightening. Which paper is this interview for, by the way?
It’s for VICE, an online magazine. I see you have a computer, so…
Yes, but it doesn’t get internet. My children think it’s best if I don’t go on the internet.
I’ll make sure you get to read it. Now, back to a time before the internet. You were 14 when you and your sister Truus – who was 16 at the time – were asked to fight in the resistance. Did your mother agree right away?
A man wearing a hat came to the door and asked my mother if he could ask us. And he did, so yes, she was okay with it.
Freddie in the spring of 1945. Photo from the family album, courtesy of Remi Dekker
Where was your father?
My mother had divorced him, which was pretty unusual for that time. She was just fed up one day – we lived on a large ship in Haarlem but my father never made any money and didn’t pay anything for the barge. But it wasn’t an ugly divorce or anything – he sang a French farewell song from the bow of the ship when we left. He loved us, but I didn’t see him that often anymore after that.
And the three of you went to live somewhere else?
Yes, in a flat where we slept on straw mattresses. 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.
Were you hiding any people in your house as well?
Yes, definitely. Before the war started in the Netherlands – when we were still living on the boat – we had some people from Lithuania hidden in the hold of the ship. And during the war we had a Jewish couple living with us, which is why my sister and I knew a lot about what was going on. But they were supposed to be our enemy because they were capitalists, and we were communists.
When you were asked to join the resistance, did you have any idea what that would entail?
No. 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. Someone taught us to shoot and we learned to march in the woods. There were about seven of us then – Hannie wasn’t a part of the group yet and we were the only girls.
Much later, a Nazi big shot was killed in those same woods, and he was buried there as well. But Truus and I weren’t allowed to be there when that happened –they felt like that wasn’t something girls should see.
Freddie reads a poem Hannie Schaft wrote in the war. The picture in the book is of Hannie.
What was your role in that mission?
I didn’t shoot him – one of the men did. I had to keep an eye on my sister and keep a lookout from a vantage point in the woods to see if no one was coming. Truus had met him in an expensive bar, seduced him and then took him for a walk in the woods. She 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 to Truus: “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.
And you were okay with that?
Yes, I didn’t want to see that. They later told us that they had taken off all his clothes so you couldn’t tell who he was. I think he might still be there.
You were two years younger than your sister. Was she the brave one of the two of you?
When we were little she’d always say: “This is my beautiful sister.” And that was true, she was an unsightly child. But she was the brave one. And she was very good at public speaking – she did a lot of that after the war as well. She always knew her speech by heart, she never needed any notes. But that has changed now.
You did mention that she is suffering from dementia. Did the two of you used to talk about the war a lot?
Yes, always. We never had to say “remember when,” because it was always at the top of our minds.
Truus worked through her war trauma partly with the art that she made. How did you do cope?
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. I have always been a little jealous of her because she got so much attention after the war. But then I’d just think, “I was in the resistance as well.” You know what I’m going to do now?
Make a sandwich and have a cup of tea. I’ve been up since six.
Thank you, Freddie – enjoy your cup of tea!
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