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."

Why Do People Toss Beads During Mardi Gras?

Kameleon007/iStock via Getty Images
Kameleon007/iStock via Getty Images

Each year, more than 1 million people descend on New Orleans for Mardi Gras, an organized parade of debauchery and alcohol-induced torpor that may be the closest thing modern civilization has to the excesses of ancient Rome. Saturating the scene on Bourbon Street are plastic beads, handed or tossed to partygoers as a kind of currency. Some bare their breasts or offer booze in exchange for the tokens; others catch them in the air and wear the layers around their necks. Roughly 25 million pounds of beads are in circulation annually, making them as much a part of the Fat Tuesday celebration as sugary cocktails and King Cake.

Traditions and rituals can be hard to pin down, but Mardi Gras historians believe the idea of distributing trinkets began in the 1870s or 1880s, several hundred years after French settlers introduced the celebration to Louisiana in the 1600s. Party organizers—known locally as krewes—handed out baubles and other shiny objects to revelers to help commemorate the occasion. Some of them threw chocolate-covered almonds. They were joined by more mischievous attendees, who threw dirt or flour on people in an effort to stir up a little bit of trouble.

Why beads? Tiny tokens that represent wealth, health, and other prosperity have been a part of human history for centuries. In Egypt, tokens were handed out in the hopes they would guarantee a happy afterlife; the abacus, or bead-based system of accounting, used trinkets to perform calculations; pagan pre-winter rituals had people throwing grains into fields hoping to appease gods that would nourish their crops.

Humans, argues archaeologist Laurie Wilkie, display "bead lust," or a penchant for shiny objects. It's one possible reason why Mardi Gras attracts so many people with their arms in the air, elated to receive a gift of cheap plastic.

Photo of a well-dressed bulldog celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Mario Tama, Getty Images

The early beads were made of glass before more efficient production methods overseas led to an influx of plastic beads in the 1960s. Unlike some of the more organic predecessors, these beads have come under criticism for being a source of health problems and pollution. Made from petroleum, they often harbor lead that seeps into the soil and rubs off on hands. (One estimate puts the lead deposit after a Mardi Gras celebration at 4000 pounds.) In 2017, New Orleans paid $7 million in clean-up costs to remove discarded beads from drain basins. In 2018, they installed gutter guards to prevent the necklaces from getting into the system in the first place. Meanwhile, scientists have been working to create an even more eco-friendly version of the beads—like a biodegradable version made from microalgae.

Environmental hazards aside, the beads of Mardi Gras have become as much a holiday staple as Christmas stockings or Thanksgiving turkeys. But the passion and desperate need for them is only temporary; in 2018, 46 tons of the beads were removed from just five blocks of the main parade route on Charles Street. And no bacchanal should leave that much bad juju behind.

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The Reason Prince George Always Wears Shorts

Prince George with his mother, Kate Middleton, and sister, Princess Charlotte, during a 2016 trip to Canada.
Prince George with his mother, Kate Middleton, and sister, Princess Charlotte, during a 2016 trip to Canada.
Chris Jackson - Pool/Getty Images

When it comes to being the royal family’s leading fashion icon, 6-year-old Prince George is arguably second only to his mother, Kate Middleton. His posh combinations of shorts and knee socks always make a splash on social media and complement his cherub-cheeked grin in a way that long pants and short socks never could.

As it turns out, Prince George’s go-to ensemble is more about tradition than sartorial innovation: Historically, dressing your young sons in shorts helped indicate you were a high-class family in England.

“Trousers are for older boys and men, whereas shorts on young boys is one of those silent class markers that we have in England,” etiquette expert William Hanson told Harper’s Bazaar. “Although times are (slowly) changing, a pair of trousers on a young boy is considered quite middle class—quite suburban. And no self-respecting aristo or royal would want to be considered suburban. Even the Duchess of Cambridge.”

These days, it’s more about maintaining tradition than highlighting class division, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are known for dressing their kids in affordable clothing. Today.com reports that a certain pair of red corduroy shorts that Prince George wore in 2016, for example, was the equivalent of only about $20.

The practice likely arose from “breeching,” a custom that began in the 16th century where boys wore gowns for a few years before switching to shorts (also known as breeches) and then pants when they were around 8 years old. So we’ll see George looking dapper in full-length trousers soon enough—he’ll turn 8 in July 2021, and he’s even worn pants in public a few times already, most notably to the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

It’s far from the only fashion rule that the royal family follows—find out about 15 other ones here.

[h/t Harper’s Bazaar]

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