Less than a year after World War II started, German Nazis invaded the Netherlands on May 10, 1940. After five days of fighting, the Dutch were forced to surrender and the Netherlands became occupied by Germany. Dutch resistance groups began to form to help fight against the German occupation of the Netherlands. Much of the acts by the Dutch resistance movement were nonviolent, but there were resistance group members who were responsible for executing Nazis and Dutch traitors. Jannetje Johanna Schaft, most notably called “Hannie” Schaft was one of the members of a Dutch resistance group who acted as a courier and assassin.
The Strategy That Triggered the Invasion of Holland
World War II began on September 1, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. Great Britain and France declared war on Germany just two days after the invasion on September 3rd. It was unclear at the time whether Germany would try to invade the Netherlands as Holland attempted to remain neutral in the war. The occupation of the Netherlands was largely due to Germany’s plan of attack against France. Germany organized a Blitzkrieg attack on the Netherlands to catch them by surprise in order to avoid France’s line of defense and soon Germany would occupy a majority of Western Europe.
Early Life of Jannetje “Hannie” Schaft
Hannie Schaft was born in Haarlem, Netherlands on September 16, 1920 and soon became a known historical figure for her work in Dutch resistance fighting against German Nazis in WWII. As Hannie was growing up, she became interested in pursuing law and went on to attend the Universiteit van Amsterdam (University of Amsterdam) in 1938. Hannie concentrated her studies on international law and joined the Amsterdam Female Association (AVSV). Schaft became friends with the Jewish students that attended the university, including Sonja Frenk and Philine Polak.
By 1943, university students in the Netherlands were required to sign documentation that declared their loyalty to German authorities. Hannie, along with many other students, refused to sign the petition which forced her to discontinue her studies. Hannie returned home to Haarlem in 1943 and took Frenk and Polak with her to help them hide from German occupation authorities. This act was the start of Hannie’s deep involvement in Dutch resistance to fight against the Nazis during the war.
Small Acts of Resistance
Hannie dreamt of being a human rights lawyer and was interested in politics at a very young age. Prior to attending university, Hannie knew that she wanted to make a difference and when World War II approached, she would jump on the opportunity to do so. While attending university, Schaft sent parcels via Red Cross to Polish officers that had been captured when Germany invaded Poland at the start of the war. As Germany began to invade Holland, Hannie became more active in resistance work.
Schaft looked for opportunities to do resistance work in the Netherlands by stealing ID cards for Jews so they could not be identified by German Nazi officials and taking her Jewish friends, Sonja and Philine, into hiding. In 1943, Schaft came into contact with two other young women who participated in the resistance, Truus and Freddie Oversteegan. Hannie, Truus, and Freddie formed a trio of resistance and soon began to take on more resistance work.
Hannie Schaft: Known as the Girl With Red Hair
In the same year of 1943, Jannejte came into contact with the Haarlem Council of Resistance and wanted to become more involved by actively resisting with weapons if needed. She became a courier for newspapers and carried information between the Dutch resistance groups. Schaft would also become an assassin that would execute Dutch traitors and German occupation officers. Soon, the resistance worker became easily identified for her striking red hair which coined her nickname “the girl with red hair”.
Jannetje needed a new identity to prevent her from being identified by German occupation officers which led her to change her name to Johanna Elderkamp, nicknamed Hannie, born in Zürich, Switzerland. Hannie also dyed her hair black and began wearing eyeglasses to change her appearance. She would use her new appearance and identity to fall under the radar and avoid being captured. Schaft was very known to German occupation officials, so much so that she was on the German Nazis “most wanted” list for capture, so it was necessary for her to become unidentifiable or else she could have easily been recognized by German authorities.
Assassin and Courier for Dutch Resistance
In 1944, Hannie receives shooting lessons from a man named Jan Bonekamp, who would later inadvertently out her parents’ location after an attack on a Dutch police captain, Willem Ragut. Schaft and Bonekamp were to execute Ragut in Zaandam and Schaft shot him off of his bike. Before Bonekamp could make the final shot, Ragut shot Bonekamp in the stomach and was taken to the hospital. The nurses at the hospital claimed to be resistance workers and were able to get Bonekamp to release information on Hannie’s whereabouts.
Hannie went into hiding. German Nazi command officers, the Sicherheitspolizel, went to Schaft’s parents house and captured them in hopes that Schaft would come out of hiding and give a confession. After two months, Hannie’s parents were released and she came out of hiding to return to resistance work again. Schaft would continue to take on assasination assignments and do courier work for the resistance movement, such as transporting illegal newspapers and weapons.
Gearing Towards the End of WWII
Hannie was arrested at a police checkpoint on March 21, 1945 in Haarlem-Noord. Officers found illegal newspapers in her bag and she was taken to the House of Detention on the Oostvest in Haarlem. Schaft was interrogated tirelessly by German Nazi command officers and would eventually confess to several attacks that she committed. Not even a month later, on April 17, 1945, Hannie was taken to Overveen where she would be shot twice and killed by her escorts at the age of 24.
Hannie was killed just eighteen days prior to liberation. Despite an agreement between the Dutch resistance and occupier in which executions were to be stopped as the war was coming to an end, Nazi officials made Hannie an exception since she was on their most wanted list. There were 422 bodies found at the Oversteen dunes where Dutch resistance members had been executed by Nazi officials. All bodies were identified as male except for one female, Hannie Schaft. Hannie’s friends, Truus and Freddie Oversteegan, survived the war and recently died in the years of 2016 and 2018.
Remembrance of Hannie Schaft: The Symbol of Resistance
Jannetje “Hannie” Schaft was honored for her resistance work during World War II by receiving the Dutch Cross of Resistance and awarded a decoration by General Eisenhower. Schaft was reburied at the Dutch Honorary Cemetery Bloemendaal in a state funeral where the Dutch royal family attended and other members of the Dutch government. Hannie was recognized for her fearless work in resisting German occupation, killing Nazi officers and Dutch traitors, and serving as a protector of the Jews.
An annual commemoration for Hannie was held at her burial until 1951 when it became illegal for people to commemorate her grave because her actions were highly praised by the Dutch Communist party. The commemoration was then moved to Haarlem, Netherlands instead to celebrate her life. There are two schools in the Netherlands that are named after Hannie Schaft and also a number of streets. A movie called The Girl With Red Hair came out in 1982, inspired by Hannie’s life. Hannie is remembered every year on the last Sunday of each November in the Netherlands, known as the Day of Remembrance for Schaft’s life and work she did for the resistance movement.
Overview of Hannie Schaft: Teenage Resistance Fighter and Nazi Killer
Known as “the girl with red hair”, Jannetje Johanna “Hannie” Schaft is a well-known Dutch resistance fighter that worked with many others to help protect Jews from German Nazis. Within her short life, Hannie accomplished a number of attacks on Dutch traitors and German occupation officers, often while riding her bike or luring them to secluded places where she would execute them. Schaft also acted as a courier for illegal newspapers and information between Dutch resistance groups. She was captured in March 1945 and killed soon after in April at the young age of 24. She has been commemorated for her work every year since 1945 and the National Hannie Schaft Foundation (Dutch: Nationale Hannie Schaft Stichting) was created in her remembrance. November 2022 will mark the 77th annual celebration of Hannie Schaft.