Freddie Oversteegen, Dutch resistance fighter who killed Nazis through seduction, dies at 92

As a teenager during World War II, Freddie Oversteegen was one of only a few Dutch women to take up arms against the country’s Nazi occupiers. (Courtesy of National Hannie Schaft Foundation)

A recent image of Ms. Oversteegen. (Courtesy of National Hannie Schaft Foundation)

By Harrison Smith

She was 14 when she joined the Dutch resistance, though with her long, dark hair in braids she looked at least two years younger.

When she rode her bicycle down the streets of Haarlem in North Holland, firearms hidden in a basket, Nazi officials rarely stopped to question her. When she walked through the woods, serving as a lookout or seductively leading her SS target to a secluded place, there was little indication that she carried a handgun and was preparing an execution.

The Dutch resistance was widely believed to be a man’s effort in a man’s war. If women were involved, the thinking went, they were likely doing little more than handing out anti-German pamphlets or newspapers.

Yet Freddie Oversteegen and her sister Truus, two years her senior, were rare exceptions — a pair of teenage women who took up arms against Nazi occupiers and Dutch “traitors” on the outskirts of Amsterdam. With Hannie Schaft, a onetime law student with fiery red hair, they sabotaged bridges and rail lines with dynamite, shot Nazis while riding their bikes, and donned disguises to smuggle Jewish children across the country and sometimes out of concentration camps.

In perhaps their most daring act, they seduced their targets in taverns or bars, asked if they wanted to “go for a stroll” in the forest — and “liquidated” them, as Ms. Oversteegen put it, with a pull of the trigger.

“We had to do it,” she told one interviewer. “It was a necessary evil, killing those who betrayed the good people.” When asked how many people she had killed or helped kill, she demurred: “One should not ask a soldier any of that.”

Freddie Oversteegen, the last remaining member of the Netherlands’ most famous female resistance cell, died Sept. 5, one day before her 93rd birthday. She was living in a nursing home in Driehuis, five miles from Haarlem, and had suffered several heart attacks in recent years, said Jeroen Pliester, chairman of the National Hannie Schaft Foundation.

The organization was founded by Ms. Oversteegen’s sister in 1996 to promote the legacy of Schaft, who was captured and executed by the Nazis weeks before the end of World War II. “Schaft became the national icon of female resistance,” Pliester said, a martyr whose story was taught to schoolchildren across the Netherlands and memorialized in a 1981 movie, “The Girl With the Red Hair,” which took its title from her nickname.

Ms. Oversteegen served as a board member in her sister’s organization. But she “decided to be a little bit out of the limelight,” Pliester said, and was sometimes overshadowed by Schaft and Truus, the group’s leader.

“I have always been a little jealous of her because she got so much attention after the war,” Ms. Oversteegen told Vice Netherlands in 2016, referring to her sister. “But then I’d just think, ‘I was in the resistance as well.’ ”

It was, she said, a source of pride and of pain — a five-year experience that she never regretted, but that came to haunt her in peacetime. Late at night, unable to fall asleep, she sometimes recalled the words of an old battle song that served as an anthem for her and her sister: “We have carried the best to their graves/ torn and fired at, beaten till the blood ran/ surrounded by the executioners on the scaffold and jail/ but the raging of the enemy doesn’t frighten us.”

Freddie Nanda Oversteegen was born in the village of Schoten, now part of Haarlem, on Sept. 6, 1925. Her parents divorced when she was a child, and Freddie and Truus were raised primarily by their mother, a communist who instilled a sense of social responsibility in the young girls; she eventually remarried and had a son.

In interviews with anthropologist Ellis Jonker, collected in the 2014 book “Under Fire: Women and World War II,” Freddie Oversteegen recalled that their mother encouraged them to make dolls for children suffering in the Spanish Civil War, and beginning in the early 1930s volunteered with International Red Aid, a kind of communist Red Cross for political prisoners around the world.

Although living in poverty, sleeping on makeshift mattresses stuffed with straw, the family harbored refugees from Germany and Amsterdam, including a Jewish couple and a mother and son who lived in their attic. After German forces invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, the couples were moved to another location; Jewish community leaders feared a potential raid, because of the family’s well-known political leanings.

“They were all deported and murdered,” Ms. Oversteegen told Jonker. “We never heard from them again. It still moves me dreadfully, whenever I talk about it.”

Ms. Oversteegen and her sister began their resistance careers by distributing pamphlets (“The Netherlands have to be free!”) and hanging anti-Nazi posters (“For every Dutch man working in Germany, a German man will go to the front!”). Their efforts apparently attracted the attention of Frans van der Wiel, commander of the underground Haarlem Council of Resistance, who invited them to join his team — with their mother’s permission.

“Only later did he tell us what we’d actually have to do: sabotage bridges and railway lines,” Truus Oversteegen said, according to Jonker. “We told him we’d like to do that. ‘And learn to shoot, to shoot Nazis,’ he added. I remember my sister saying, ‘Well, that’s something I’ve never done before!’ ”

By Truus’s account, it was Freddie Oversteegen who became the first to shoot and kill someone. “It was tragic and very difficult and we cried about it afterwards,” Truus said. “We did not feel it suited us — it never suits anybody, unless they are real criminals. . . . One loses everything. It poisons the beautiful things in life.”

The Oversteegen sisters were officially part of a seven-person resistance cell, which grew to include an eighth member, Schaft, after she joined in 1943. But the three girls worked primarily as a stand-alone unit, Pliester said, acting on instructions from the Council of Resistance.

After the war ended in 1945, Truus worked as an artist, making paintings and sculptures inspired by her years with the resistance, and wrote a popular memoir, “Not Then, Not Now, Not Ever.” She died in 2016, two years after Prime Minister Mark Rutte awarded the sisters the Mobilization War Cross, a military honor for service in World War II.

For her part, Freddie Oversteegen told Vice that she coped with the traumas of the war “by getting married and having babies.” She married Jan Dekker, taking the name Freddie Dekker-Oversteegen, and raised three children. They survive her, as do her half brother and four grandchildren. Her husband, who worked at the steel company Hoogovens, is deceased.

In interviews, Ms. Oversteegen often spoke of the physics of killing — not the feel of the trigger or kick of the gun, but the inevitable collapse that followed, her victims’ fall to the ground.

“Yes,” she told one interviewer, according to the Dutch newspaper IJmuider Courant , “I’ve shot a gun myself and I’ve seen them fall. And what is inside us at such a moment? You want to help them get up.”

Black German woman discovers her grandfather was Nazi Amon Goeth, featured in Schindler’s List

By Moni Basu

Jennifer Teege thought she knew the hard truths of her life: that her German mother left her in the care of nuns when she was 4 weeks old, and that her biological father was Nigerian, making her the only black child in her Munich neighborhood.

But the hardest truth came to her years later on a warm August day in Hamburg when she walked into the central library and picked up a red book with a black-and-white picture of a woman on the cover. It was titled “I Have to Love My Father, Don’t I?”

As Teege, then 38, flipped through the pages, she felt she’d been caught in a furious storm that had suddenly come from nowhere.

She had unearthed the ghastly family secret.

She looked at the names of people and places in the book and realized that the woman on the cover was her biological mother.

And the father in the title was none other than Amon Goeth, the sadistic Nazi who was commandant of the Plaszow concentration camp in Poland. Many came to know about Amon Goeth through Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of him in the 1993 movie “Schindler’s List.”

Teege doesn’t know why she was drawn to the book. But on that day, Teege learned that she — a black German woman who’d gone to college in Israel and befriended the descendants of Holocaust survivors, who now had a successful career and a loving family — was the granddaughter of a monster.

It was a moment that cut her life in two. There was the “before,” when she knew nothing of her family’s sinister past, and “after,” when she was forced to live with that truth.

In the library, Teege grew cold knowing she was connected by blood to a man responsible for the deaths of 8,000 Jews. She checked out her mother’s book, lay down on a bench outside and called her husband to come fetch her.

Teege had battled depression all her life and had wondered what was behind her sadness. In fact, she’d gone to the library that day for psychological research.

“I always had this inner feeling that something was wrong,” she says, likening it to being inside a house with many locked doors. “I didn’t know what was behind them.”

She looked in the mirror at herself, saw Amon Goeth’s chin, the same lines between the nose and mouth, and thought: “Do I carry something of him in me?”

After the initial jolt eased, she embarked on a quest to know everything. Eventually, she wrote a book of her own: “My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers her Family’s Nazi Past.”

She feels fairly certain that her grandfather would not have hesitated to kill her. She is, after all, far from the Aryan ideal espoused by Amon Goeth, who, according to Teege’s book, went to the gallows saying, “Heil Hitler.”

“It’s a story you can’t take to your grave. It’s exceptional,” Teege says on a recent January day at Atlanta’s Emory University, where she spoke about her identity and her journey to reconcile with it.

She has left her job in advertising and made her personal history her life’s work now. She speaks about how she progressed from her initial fear and guilt to acceptance of her history and knowledge that she is a very different person than her grandfather.

“Today, I am not afraid of him,” she says. “We are two very different people.”

And she talks about how, for a long time before her discovery, she didn’t believe in fate, only in chance. But now she thinks differently. She thinks about the choices she made that took her to Israel and led her to her mother’s book. She believes she made them for a reason.

Some things in life, she says, are predetermined.

Teege’s case was exceptional, thought Peter Bruendl, a Munich psychoanalyst who has treated her and other grandchildren of Nazis.

Teege first had to deal with being a mixed-race child given up for adoption and the feelings that can bring, of being unwanted and worthless, Bruendl says in Teege’s book. And then, when she thought she was settled in life, she suffered again with the discovery of her family history.

“Frau Teege’s experience is heartbreaking,” he says. “Even her conception was a provocation.”

Teege’s mother became pregnant after a brief affair with a Nigerian student. She was working six days a week and battling depression and took the baby to Salberg House, a Catholic home for infants in suburban Munich.

For the first few years of Teege’s life, her mother occasionally came to see her at Salberg House and sometimes took the child to visit her grandmother. A foster family took Teege in when she was 3 and adopted her four years later, insisting that her mother refrain from further contact.

Teege wouldn’t see her mother again until she was 21, after a younger half sister called and re-established contact. Born Monika Goeth, Teege’s mother had since taken her husband’s last name and is now known as Monika Hertwig.

Hertwig had never told her young daughter about their Nazi blood. Nor did she mention it at that meeting.

“She decided not to say anything,” Teege says. “She thought that if I didn’t know, it would be easier for me. I believe her.”

Teege found the book at the library 17 years later.

‘One minute like an entire day’: Remembering Auschwitz 02:56
Just hours after she took the book home on that day in 2008, German television aired a PBS documentary called “Inheritance” in which the filmmaker had taken Teege’s mother and Helen Jonas-Rosenzweig, a Jewish maid subjected to Amon Goeth’s cruelty, back to Plaszow.

Teege, however, did not see the film until later; even then, she could not finish it in one sitting. Beyond the shocking history, it was too much to bear to see intimate details about the mother who’d been absent in her life.

In retrospect, Teege thinks her mother should not have agreed to be filmed in such a vulnerable state. She looked so lost and lonely.

“My mother was fragile then. She wasn’t ready to be on screen,” Teege says.

The film documents awkward moments in which Hertwig is still repeating phrases she heard growing up, that Amon Goeth only shot Jews because they spread infectious diseases.

“Monika, please, stop. Stop right now,” Jonas-Rosenzweig tells her as the two are standing in Goeth’s villa at Plaszow.

At the time, Hertwig was still piecing together the story of her father’s horrors.

No one in post-war Germany spoke of what they knew of the Holocaust. Nobody wanted to talk about what happened to the Jews, Hertwig once said. “They were extinct like the dinosaurs.”

Hertwig’s mother — Ruth Irene Kalder, Goeth’s mistress at his villa in Plaszow — beat her when she asked too many questions. The older woman had always spoken of Goeth as a “war hero,” and Hertwig grew up surrounded by lies, thinking of her father as another victim of the Third Reich.

Hertwig finally learned from her grandmother that Goeth was far from a hero, that he tortured and killed people.

Ruth, who later in life took Goeth’s surname, never showed any remorse except once, according to Hertwig. Shortly before Ruth committed suicide in 1983, she said she should have done more to help people.

After finding Hertwig’s book, Teege knew she had to seek her mother out — not so much for a reckoning, she says, but because she had too many questions swirling in her head. She wanted details that only her birth mother could know.

By then, many months had passed and Teege had already gone to Poland, already seen the places where her mother had also returned to learn the truth. She found Hertwig’s address and went to see her, not knowing whether there would be acceptance or rejection. She had learned so much about her mother through her book, the documentary and online research. Yet she didn’t know her.

They visited Ruth’s grave together, and Hertwig talked about Amon Goeth as though he were at Plaszow only yesterday. Hertwig has said in interviews that speaking ill of her father feels like a betrayal of her mother.

She was living with the dead, Hertwig told her daughter.

Teege says she saw in her mother what she has seen in relatives of other Nazi perpetrators, especially their children. Many cannot bear to live with the sins of their fathers. Others have sterilized themselves, as though a Nazi gene could be passed on through birth.

Teege is thankful she is different than her mother, who Teege says still lives every day with the notion that she has to atone for Goeth’s deeds. Teege has seen this kind of suffering in the children of Holocaust victims as well.

“The second generation had a lot of trouble dealing with the Holocaust,” Teege says. “My generation, we are different. We know the difference between responsibility and guilt.”

Teege doesn’t believe in inherited guilt. Everyone, she says, has the right to his or her own life story.

Teege’s life story is punctuated with ironies and coincidences so great that they prompted her to rethink the concept of fate.

As a young woman, long before her discovery, she attended the Sorbonne in Paris for a year and, in a life drawing class, she met Noa, an Israeli woman. Teege later vacationed in Israel, and on one trip, after sleeping through her 4:30 a.m. alarm and missing her flight back to Germany, she ended up staying. She attended Tel Aviv University, earned a degree in Middle Eastern and African studies and learned to speak Hebrew.

“That I chose Israel … that I missed the flight and stayed — this makes my story more striking,” Teege says. “Destiny.”

Today, I am not afraid of him. We are two very different people.

She was in Israel when “Schindler’s List” opened, and everyone was talking about Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust movie. Teege watched it later on TV in her Tel Aviv flat. It was just a movie to her then, one that she thought had too much of a Hollywood ending.

The subtitle of her mother’s book was, “The Life Story of Monika Goeth, Daughter of the Concentration Camp Commandant in ‘Schindler’s List.’ ” That day in the Hamburg library, Teege’s mind churned to recall the movie. Suddenly, it became deeply personal.

Teege says she does not want to keep secrets from her friends and family. Two years went by before she could reveal her Nazi roots to her friends in Israel, descendants of Holocaust victims and survivors. She didn’t know if any of them were directly connected to Plaszow, and she was afraid how they might react.

But in her book, Teege describes her Jewish friends as being empathetic. “They cried with me.”

She also has spoken with her young sons.

“It was important to me not to keep it a secret,” she says. She doesn’t want them to go through the shock of discovery, which became almost as traumatic for Teege as the truth itself.

“But I have not let them watch ‘Schindler’s List,’ ” she says. “They should be older.”

People assume she has watched the movie many times. They are wrong. She doesn’t feel the need to watch it over and over. She knows her grandfather’s story.

A woman with two lives
It has been more than seven years since Teege learned she was the granddaughter of Amon Goeth. She thinks of her stranger-than-fiction life as a puzzle with many pieces but missing a frame. Her discovery at the Hamburg library helped her put it all together.

“My life is much better than what it used to be,” she says.

She is thankful she had an identity in her “before” years. That’s what she held onto in the “after” years.

Teege’s mother has not called her daughter again since their last meeting. In Teege’s book, Hertwig says she didn’t understand her daughter’s need for reconciliation and felt it was too late to start a relationship.

But Teege’s quest to know her true identity opened other doors. Growing up, she’d never felt a need to find her biological father. But once she had come to terms with her mother’s family, she sought out her father, too. They finally met, and the two remain in contact.

“It’s a nice addition — to know my black heritage,” she says. “And crucial. It’s part of my identity.”

At 45, Teege says she is now a woman with two lives. She is a mother and a teacher. That’s the part she calls normal. The other life is led as the granddaughter of Amon Goeth. She knows she has to keep the two separate.

Most of all, she has learned not to live constantly in the past.

Vast underground complex where Hitler worked on developing nuclear weapons discovered in Austria

A labyrinth of secret underground tunnels believed to have been used by the Nazis to develop a nuclear bomb has been uncovered.

The facility, which covers an area of up to 75 acres, was discovered near the town of St Georgen an der Gusen, Austria last week, it has been reported.

Excavations began on the site after researchers detected heightened levels of radiation in the area – supporting claims that the Nazis were developing nuclear weapons.

Documentary maker Andreas Sulzer, who is leading the excavations, told the Sunday Times that the site is ‘most likely the biggest secret weapons production facility of the Third Reich’.

It is believed to be connected to the B8 Bergkristall underground factory, where the Messerschmitt Me 262 – the first operational jet fighter – was built.

There are also suggestions that the complex is connected to the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp.

Slave labour from the camp was used to build both complexes – with as many as 320,000 inmates in the harsh underground conditions.

But while the Bergkristall site was explored by Allied and Russia after the war, the Nazis appeared to have gone through greater lengths to conceal the newly-discovered tunnels.

Its entrance was only uncovered after the excavation team, which includes historians and scientists, pieced together information in declassified intelligence documents and testimonies from witnesses.

The team is now in the process of removing layers of soil and concrete packed into the tunnels and heavy granite plates that were used to cover the entrance.

Helmets belonging to SS troops and other Nazi relics are among the items that have been uncovered so far.

The excavation was halted last week by police, who demanded the group produce a permit for conducting research on historic sites. But Mr Sulzer is confident that work will resume next month.

He told the Sunday Times: ‘Prisoners from concentration camps across Europe were handpicked for their special skills – physicists, chemists or other experts – to work on this monstrous project and we owe it to the victims to finally open the site and reveal the truth.’

The probe was triggered by a research documentary by Mr Sulzer on Hitler’s quest to build an atomic bomb.

In it, he referenced diary entries from a physicist called up to work for the Nazis. There is other evidence of scientists working for a secret project managed by SS General Hans Kammler.

Kammler, who signed off the plans for the gas chambers and crematorium at Auschwitz, was in charge of Hitler’s missile programmes.

Mr Sulzer searched archives in Germany, Moscow and America for evidence of the nuclear weapons-building project led by the SS.

He discovered that on January 2, 1944, some 272 inmates of Mauthausen were taken from the camp to St Georgen to begin the construction of secret galleries.

By November that year, 20,000 out of 40,000 slave labourers drafted in to build the tunnels had been worked to death.

After the war, Austria spent some £10million in pouring concrete into most of the tunnels.

But Sulzer and his backers believe they missed a secret section where the atomic research was conducted.

The Soviets were stationed in St Georgen until 1955 and they took all of the files on the site back with them to Moscow.

Experts are trying to discover if there is a link between St Georgen and sites in Germany proper where scientists were assembled during the Third Reich in a bid to match American efforts to build the ultimate weapon.

In June 2011, atomic waste from Hitler’s secret nuclear programme was believed to have been found in an old mine near Hanover.

More than 126,000 barrels of nuclear material lie rotting over 2,000 feet below ground in an old salt mine.

Rumour has it that the remains of nuclear scientists who worked on the Nazi programme are also there, their irradiated bodies burned in secret by S.S. men sworn to secrecy.

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Thanks to Jody Troupe for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.