Kensington Publishing, of New York City, provided me with a book entitled “Three Ordinary Girls”, a true story by Tim Brady. You will rapidly see that these girls were certainly NOT ORDINARY.
Much of the action takes place in the town of Haarlem, during World War II, when the Germans invaded the Netherlands. The Oversteegens lived there and included the mother, Trijntje, her two daughters, Truus (14) and Freddie (12) (and later a step-brother, Robbie). Their husband/father, Jacob, was a drunkard and womanizer and was not involved much with the family.
Trijntje was active in political meetings and finding safe houses for refugees hiding from the Nazis.
Trijntje taught her daughters about the Nazis and allowed Frans Van der Wiel, a man organizing a resistance movement against the Nazis, who wanted to recruit Truus and Freddie to be a part of the resistance. The meeting was so secret that the girls’ mother had to leave the room while Frans discussed details with the daughters. The girls were given approval by their mother that: “You are free to undertake anything against the Nazis that you feel is right” (page 63).
How ready for war were the Dutch? They wanted to be a neutral country in the war. Four percent of their federal spending went to the war effort versus 25% of Germany’s spending. The Dutch Crown Princess, Juliana, her husband and their family fled to London, followed by the rest of their government, which was their new seat while the war was ongoing. The Dutch economy collapsed.
The first step for Frans was to test the bravery and devotion of the two sisters. He took them to an isolated place to meet, at which time he pulled a gun on them. The two girls overcame Franz, got the gun and pulled the trigger of the unloaded gun…Passed! Another time they were tested when told to shoot a Nazi. They tried again with the gun given to them and again they passed the test with the unloaded gun as they tried to shoot Frans dressed in a German uniform.
Shortly after being accepted by the resistance, the two girls’ team was increased by one when Johanna Schaft (referred to as Jo and later on as Hannie), Hannie, returned home to her parents from the Amsterdam University. Hannie was a bit older than Truus and Freddie but all three were teenagers. The resistance had three young girls now that the Nazi forces would not suspect.
They helped distribute some of the many underground newspapers, collected intelligence from some of the young Nazis, made fake identification cards, continued finding safe houses for the Jewish people and participated in killings of Nazis personnel.
Bicycles were an important mode of transportation for the Germans as well as the local population. Over the years, the Nazis took 100,000 bicycles from the Dutch. This provided an excellent plan for two of the girls to execute a Nazi riding alone on his bike.
One girl, the shooter, would slowly gain ground on the Nazi, while the other would be behind her on a bike as a lookout or to finish the German off if the first girl was unsuccessful.
As time went on their resistance group grew as many others did, too.
One of the more harrowing experiences was their aborted attempt to blow up a railroad bridge that led from the town of Haarlem to the industrial area to thwart the Nazis. The girls were on the tracks preparing to set a bomb off, when, to avoid a German patrol, in the dark, they had to get off the tracks (where there was no siding) and hold on to the steel plate with their fingertips as their feet rested on the bottom edge of the beam. One slip and they could hurtle down 100 feet into a river.
They did survive the challenge but were too exhausted to complete their objective. A second try at blowing up another bridge later on was successful.
The three UNORDANIARY girls risked their lives numerous times during World War II in the Netherlands to protect the citizens of their country and Jewish people who immigrated there looking for safety from the Nazis.
“Of the 80,000 Jews living in Amsterdam at the start of the occupation, only 5,000 remained when liberation came.” (page 282).
I would recommend this book for many reasons: to get a whiff of what it’s like to have your country invaded by the enemy; the large part a small number of brave people can play no matter how young; and how Truus tried to lead 12 Jewish children ages three to 14 on a perilous trip to safety. Finally, how Hannie was honored for her bravery although there was controversy how she, Truss and Freddie were honored.
The “Three Ordinary Girls” goes on sale Feb. 23.
Jeff Hall, of Honey Brook, contributes columns to Berks-Mont Newspapers.