“Three Ordinary Girls” by Tim Brady; Citadel (304 pages, $ 26)
Among the deadliest fighters in Nazi-occupied Holland were three schoolgirls who had barely any braids.
The sisters Freddie and Truus Oversteegen started small with their friend Hannie Schaft: They stole documents, distributed prohibited publications and passed messages on to underground resistance fighters.
But soon these cute young things – at the ages of 14, 16, and 19 when the Nazis invaded in 1940 – had formed a deadly gang that planted bombs and gunned down German soldiers and Dutch collaborators.
As fresh-faced teenagers, they were unlikely to be suspected of anti-fascist activities that enabled them to operate under the noses of the Nazis and, if necessary, flirt their way out of trouble. The amazing true story is told by St. Paul writer Tim Brady in “Three Ordinary Girls,” a report on the trio who were forced into roles as spies, saboteurs and assassins – heroes who traded their school books for weapons.
The Nazi occupation of countries across Europe revealed fault lines in these societies. Who would resist the brutal invaders? Who would work with them? And who would help the Jews, their fellow citizens, who are marked for ruthless extermination?
Brady’s subjects decided to fight. The Oversteegen sisters were raised by a single mother with passionate socialist and communist sympathies. Shaft was a law student whose parents tried to protect their only child from the world’s evil.
The young women joined the resistance in their hometown of Haarlem, a city on the outskirts of the metropolis of Amsterdam, and were soon distinguished by the courage with which they carried out their tasks. Over time, they became productive “liquidators” of the Nazi oppressors and the Dutch citizens who helped them.
The girls’ tactic in bike-dependent Holland was to shoot past on a bike that coolly trampled away after it shot down its target.
After seeing the atrocities the Nazis perpetrated on their friends and compatriots, the girls had no moral qualms about fighting back.
Brady paints a compelling picture of the fear, tragedy and paranoia of living in an enemy-occupied country. His book is a story of how extraordinary circumstances produce the unexpected strength of ordinary people.