The Teenage Girl Gang That Seduced and Killed Nazis

iStock.com/D-Keine
iStock.com/D-Keine

When sisters Freddie and Truus Oversteegen were young, their mother made them sleep in the same bed. This wasn’t an act of forced sibling bonding: Though the family had more than one mattress, all of them makeshift and stuffed with straw, they shared their modest flat with the Jewish refugees they regularly housed.

The girls didn’t mind. Raised primarily by their mother, Trijntje, after their parents divorced, Freddie and Truus grew up as communists in what was then the village of Schoten (now part of Haarlem) in North Holland in the years before World War II. Trijntje taught the girls compassion for those less fortunate than themselves. The sisters made dolls for children affected by the Spanish Civil War. They gave up their living space for people fleeing Germany and Amsterdam. And when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, Freddie and Truus handed out pamphlets opposing the occupation and plastered warnings over propaganda posters calling for workers in Germany.

It was dangerous and subversive work. When the Nazis invaded, Trijntje made sure the refugees they'd been hosting were sent away, fearing they’d be discovered because of her family’s known communist leanings. Many were subsequently deported and killed. This stirred a fire in Freddie and Truus.

When the leader of a Dutch resistance group took notice of their radical bent, he asked Trijntje if she would permit her daughters to join. Freddie was 14. Truus was 16. Without knowing explicitly what they were agreeing to, the three women all said yes. And soon, the teenage girls were doing more than handing out literature. They were luring Nazis into the woods and assassinating them.

A fog moves through a wooded area
iStock.com/AVTG

Freddie and Truus were, for a time, the only two women in the seven-person rebellion dubbed the Haarlem Council of Resistance. After being recruited by commander Frans van der Wiel in 1941, the two learned the basics of sabotage, picking up tricks like how to rig railways and bridges with dynamite so travel paths would be cut off; how to fire a weapon; and how to roam undetected through an area peppered with Nazi soldiers. The latter ability was a result of their appearance. With her hair in braids, Freddie was said to have looked as young as 12 years old. Few soldiers took notice of the two girls as they rode bicycles through occupied territory, though they were secretly acting as couriers, transporting paperwork and weapons for the resistance. The duo burned down a Nazi warehouse undetected. They escorted small children and refugees to hiding spots and secured false identification for them, which they considered of paramount importance even as Allied bombs went off overhead.

But the resistance had one other job for them, one Freddie later described as a “necessary evil.” They were tasked with murdering Nazi officers and their Dutch collaborators because no one would likely see them coming.

Some of Freddie and Truus’s assignments involved acting as bait. Once, while Freddie stood as a lookout, Truus entered a restaurant and struck up a conversation with a high-ranking SS officer. While flirting with him, she asked him to go for a walk in the woods. Once they were isolated, Truus and her companion bumped into a man along the same path. Unknown to the Nazi officer, the man was a resistance member. He proceeded to execute the officer and leave him in a hole that had been dug earlier.

Freddie and Truus soon graduated to eliminating their own targets, which Freddie would later describe as “liquidations.” Sometimes the girls would ride a bicycle, Truus pedaling while Freddie shot from the back. They also followed the officers home to ambush them while their guard was down. While they considered the work necessary, it was difficult for the girls to accept. Sometimes, Freddie said, she would shoot a man and then feel a strange compulsion to try to help him up.

Sisters Freddie Dekker-Oversteegen (L) and Truus Menger-Oversteegen (R) are pictured being awarded the Mobilization War Cross by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in 2014
Freddie Dekker-Oversteegen (L) and Truus Menger-Oversteegen (R) are awarded the Mobilization War Cross by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in 2014.

The only mission they refused to act in was a plot to kidnap the children of senior Nazi officer Arthur Seyss-Inquart, the idea being that his kids could then be exchanged for imprisoned Dutch radicals. Fearing the kids might be harmed in the process, Freddie and Truus declined.

The girls were joined by a 22-year-old former law student named Jannetje Johanna "Hannie" Schaft in 1943. The three women became inseparable, acting as a tightly coordinated unit for sabotage missions. For the next two years, they continued to target officers and elude identification, though the Nazis knew Schaft by her distinctive red hair.

It was this colorful feature that would be the trio's undoing. In April 1945, just weeks before the end of the war, Freddie and Truus grew worried when Schaft failed to report back after an assignment. They were horrified to discover their friend had been grabbed at a checkpoint when an officer recognized the red roots of her hair, which she had dyed black to avoid detection. Schaft was executed on April 17, and lore has it she taunted her executioner after he failed to kill her on his first attempt. “I’m a better shot,” she reportedly said.

Grieving over the loss of Schaft, Freddie and Truus tried to enter civilian life following the war. Freddie got married and had children, which she later said was her way of dealing with the trauma. Truus poured her emotions into artwork, sculpting memorials to Schaft, and wrote a memoir. The sisters later opened the National Hannie Schaft Foundation in 1996. In 2014, Prime Minister Mark Rutte awarded the Mobilization War Cross for their service during the war, recognition that had been a long time in coming. (For years, Freddie felt overlooked because she once belonged to a Communist youth group and believed the anti-Soviet Dutch government held it against her.) Truus died at age 92 in 2016. Freddie followed in 2018.

It’s not known exactly how many Nazis the girls killed, as both were reluctant to discuss it later in life. When asked, Freddie would respond with, “One should not ask a soldier any of that."

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

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8 Facts About David Bowie's 'Space Oddity'

Express/Express/Getty Images
Express/Express/Getty Images

On July 20, 1969, astronauts walked on the Moon for the first time. Just a few weeks earlier, another space-age event had rocked the world: David Bowie’s single “Space Oddity” hit airwaves. The song, whose lyrics tell the story of an astronaut’s doomed journey into space, helped propel the artist to icon status, and five decades later, it’s still one of his most popular works. 

1. "Space Oddity" was inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Many listeners assumed that "Space Oddity" was riffing on the Apollo 11 Moon landing of 1969, but it was actually inspired by a Stanley Kubrick film released a year earlier. Bowie watched 2001: A Space Odyssey multiple times when it premiered in theaters in 1968. “It was the sense of isolation I related to,” Bowie told Classic Rock in 2012. “I found the whole thing amazing. I was out of my gourd, very stoned when I went to see it—several times—and it was really a revelation to me. It got the song flowing.”

2. "Space Oddity" was also inspired by heartbreak.

The track was also partly inspired by the more universal experience of heartbreak. Bowie wrote the song after ending his relationship with actress Hermione Farthingale. The break inspired several songs, including “Letter to Hermione” and “Life on Mars,” and in “Space Oddity,” Bowie’s post-breakup loneliness and melancholy is especially apparent.

3. "Space Oddity" helped him sign a record deal.

In 1969, a few years into David Bowie’s career, the musician recorded a demo tape with plans to use it to land a deal with Mercury Records. That tape featured an early iteration of “Space Oddity,” and based on the demo, Mercury signed him for a one-album deal. But the song failed to win over one producer. Tony Visconti, who produced Bowie’s self-titled 1969 album, thought the song was a cheap attempt to cash in on the Apollo 11 mission, and he tapped someone else to produce that particular single.

4. The BBC played "Space Oddity" during the Moon landing.

"Space Oddity" was released on July 11, 1969—just five days before NASA launched Apollo 11. The song doesn’t exactly sound like promotional material for the mission. It ends on a somber note, with Major Tom "floating in a tin can" through space. But the timing and general subject matter were too perfect for the BBC to resist. The network played the track over footage of the Moon landing. Bowie later remarked upon the situation, saying, "Obviously, some BBC official said, 'Oh, right then, that space song, Major Tom, blah blah blah, that’ll be great. 'Um, but he gets stranded in space, sir.' Nobody had the heart to tell the producer that."

5. David Bowie recorded an Italian version of "Space Oddity."

The same year "Space Oddity" was released, a different version David Bowie recorded with Italian lyrics was played by radio stations in Italy. Instead of directly translating the English words, the Italian songwriter Mogul was hired to write new lyrics practically from scratch. "Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola" ("Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl") is a straightforward love song, and Major Tom is never mentioned.

6. Major Tom appeared in future songs.

Major Tom, the fictional astronaut at the center of "Space Oddity," is one of the most iconic characters invented for a pop song. It took a decade for him to resurface in David Bowie’s discography. In his 1980 single "Ashes to Ashes," the artists presents a different version of the character, singing: "We know Major Tom's a junkie/Strung out in heaven's high/Hitting an all-time low." Bowie also references Major Tom in "Hallo Spaceboy" from the 1995 album Outside.

7. "Space Oddity" is featured in Chris Hadfield's ISS music video.

When choosing a song for the first music filmed in space, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield naturally went with David Bowie’s out-of-this-world anthem. The video above was recorded on the International Space Station in 2013, with Hadfield playing guitar and singing from space and other performers providing musical accompaniment from Earth. Some lyrics were tweaked for the cover. Hadfield mentions the "Soyuz hatch" of the capsule that would eventually shuttle him to Earth.

8. "Space Oddity" played on the Tesla that Elon Musk sent to space.

Dummy in Tesla roadster in space with Earth in background.
SpaceX via Getty Images

In 2018, Elon Musk used SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket to launch his Tesla Roadster into space. The car was decked out with pop culture Easter eggs—according to Musk, "Space Oddity" was playing over the car’s radio system during the historic journey. The dummy’s name, Starman, is the name of another space-themed song on Bowie's 1972 masterpiece The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.