German troops at Grote Markt, Haarlem, May 1940, SWW PressGerman troops at Grote Markt, Haarlem, May 1940, SWW Press

German troops at Grote Markt, Haarlem, May 1940, SWW Press

Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied Haarlem: a Review of ‘Seducing and Killing Nazis’

In ‘Seducing and Killing Nazis’ author Sophie Poldermans skillfully recaptures the story of WWII heroes Hannie Schaft and Truus and Freddie Oversteegen.

Most Americans forget the degree to which the Nazis infected Europe during the Second World War. For those living in the countries controlled by the Nazis, however, the brutality of the occupation was ever-present. Dutch resident Truus Oversteegen once came across a collaborating Dutch SS officer murdering an infant by bashing it against a wall. Worse yet, the soldier forced the child’s father and sister to watch, helpless.

But “helpless” was not a state of being that worked for Truus. When she was confronted with this atrocity, she didn’t stand idly by. She shot the Nazi to death on the spot. Though only a teenager at the time, this active member of the Dutch resistance already had several enemy kills under her belt.

“That wasn’t an assignment, but I don’t regret it,” she recalls in Sophie Poldermans’ new book Seducing and Killing Nazis. “We were dealing with cancerous tumors in society that you had to cut out like a surgeon. You couldn’t say, ‘Hey, mister, you’re doing it wrong,’ because then you would risk a bullet through your head, you couldn’t arrest him … There was no other solution. That is the cruelty of war.”

When the Nazi war machine swept into the Netherlands in May 1940, they broke the government’s back and triggered the full surrender of the country’s army in just five short days. Their government on the run, their army crippled, most Dutch citizens tried to pretend their way around the war and go about their day-to-day lives. 

Passive compliance, however, never seemed a viable option for Truus Oversteegen, her sister Freddie, and their compatriot Hannie Schaft. For five long years, these three teenage girls enabled the escape of countless Jewish people, trafficked resistance reports, and spread fear through the ranks of every Nazi squad unlucky enough to get stationed in the Netherlands.

Utilizing a deft mixture of research and personal interviews, Poldermans resurrects the story of these courageous young women in a fast-moving narrative that reads like excerpts from a Tarantino film. From their days of progressive rebellion before the war to their time as action-hero resistance fighters, Seducing and Killing Nazis tells the story of three girls caught in a tragic situation, who were light-years ahead of their contemporaries in terms of intelligence, bravery, and grit.

As some of only a handful of women participating, Hannie, Truus, and Freddie quickly became indispensable to the Dutch resistance. Often overlooked because of their sex and their youthful appearance, the trio were able to operate in ways their male counterparts never dreamed. Along the way, they gained a fearsome reputation as some of the resistance’s most effective agents. Though they became most famous for their practice of luring horny Nazis into the woods of Haarlem only to execute them and bury their bodies, during the war their work ran the gamut from open protest to blowing up a supply train.

Seducing and Killing Nazis could easily have moved from set piece to set piece, powered by the vibrancy of Poldermans’ central characters, and been none the worse for wear. However, Poldermans strengthens her story by taking the time to shine a light on the real girls behind the legendary war heroes. Hannie, Truus, and Freddie made mistakes, they laughed off their anxiety during tense situations, and they felt every ounce of anguish World War II could throw their way. Through it all, however, these women persevered, helping turn the tide of Nazi control.

Whether you’ve heard of Hannie Schaft and the Oversteegen sisters, or you’re new to their story, Seducing and Killing Nazis is a fierce, personal narrative that provides a gateway to an urban battlefield of World War II too often forgotten.