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Jannetje Schaft 'Hannie': Heroine of the Dutch Resistance

16 September 1920 - 17 April 1945

Jannetje Johanna (Jo) Schaft was a Dutch Resistance fighter during World War II. She became known as 'the girl with the red hair' (in Dutch 'Het meisje met het rode haar', which was also the title of a book and film about her). Her secret name in the Resistance movement was Hannie.

Born in Haarlem, the Netherlands, she was the youngest daughter of Aafje Talea Vrijer and Pieter Schaft, an elementary school teacher. Her mother was a Mennonite and her father was attached to the Social Democratic Workers' Party; the two were immensely protective of Schaft because of the death of her older sister.

After secondary school, she studied law at the University of Amsterdam where she joined the Amsterdam Female Students Association. From a young age, Schaft had discussed politics and social justice with her family, which had greatly influenced her to pursue law and become a human rights lawyer.

In the spring of 1940, Holland capitulated to German forces. University students were required to sign a declaration of allegiance to the occupation authorities. Schaft refused, and became ineligible to continue her studies.

During her law studies at the Universiteit van Amsterdam she became friends with Jewish students Philine Polak and Sonja Frenk. This made her feel strongly about actions the Germans and Dutch collaborators were taking against Jews. Schaft stole identity and ration cards for them and this progressed to stealing weapons from German soldiers for the Dutch Resistance and distributing underground pamphlets.

By 1943, looking for a more active roll in resisting the occupation, she joined the Raad van Verzet (Council of Resistance), a resistance group tied to Dutch Communists, who gave her the name Hannie. Like most Dutch she was already fluent in German but here she refined her accent and also learned how to handle weapons.

Although busy gathering information and helping fugitives, she was determined to do more.

In November 1943, she and three other operatives tried to sabotage the power plant in Velsen-Noord. Although the effort failed, the attempt boosted local morale. She teamed with operative Jan Bonekamp, and the pair carried out several assassinations of Germans, Dutch Nazis, collaborators and traitors. When he was injured in an attempted assassination effort, he mistakenly gave her name to Dutch Nazi nurses disguised as Resistance workers. To force Schaft to confess, German authorities arrested her parents and sent them to the Vught concentration camp. The distress of this situation forced Schaft to cease resistance work temporarily; her parents were eventually released.

Upon recovery, Schaft dyed her hair black to hide her identity and returned to Resistance work. She once again contributed to assassinations and sabotage (her pistol shown to the right) as well as courier work, and the transportation of illegal weapons and the dissemination of illegal newspapers.

Schaft did not, however, accept every job. When asked to kidnap the children of a Nazi official she refused. If the plan had failed, the children would have to be killed, and Schaft felt that was too similar to the Nazis' acts of terror.

In March 1945, she was arrested after a checkpoint search found her carrying copies of the illegal socialist newspaper 'de Waarheid' and a pistol. Despite several interrogations, she refused to reveal any information. Eventually, she was transported to prison in Amsterdam, where after much interrogation, torture, and solitary confinement, she was identified by the roots of her red hair

Despite an agreement in place between the Germans and the Binnenlandse Strijdkrachten (Dutch Resistance) to suspend executions, such was her notoriety among the Germans, she was removed from her cell and taken to the dunes of Overveen. Two Dutch Nazi officials - truly the scum of the earth - took her there and one shot her at close range, but only wounding her. In a final act of defiance and to demonstrate her utter contempt for her captors she supposedly said to her executioners: 'I shoot better than you,' after which the other thug delivered the final shot.

She was buried in a shallow grave there, just three weeks prior to the liberation of Holland.

After the war, the dunes yielded the remains of 422 resistance fighters, only one of whom was a woman. On 27 November 1945, the remains were re-interred at Erebegraafplaats Bloemendaal in the dunes in Overveen, attended by Princess Juliana and her husband Prince Bernard. A simple tombstone (above) for her bore the epitaph 'She Served.'

Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands called Schaft 'the symbol of the Resistance.'

In 1982, a monument in her honor was unveiled by Queen Juliana in the Kenau Park in Haarlem. Hannie Schaft received the 'Dutch Resistance Cross', one of only 95 issued, and all posthumous by design (shown under). The Cross bears the words 'TROUW TOT IN DEN DOOD' ('Loyal To Death'). She was also decorated by the USA.

Hannie Schaft Memorial in Kenaupark Haarlem

A number of schools and streets were named after her. For her, and other resistance-heroines, a foundation has been created; the Stichting Nationale Hannie Schaft-herdenking. A number of books and movies have been made about her. She features in The Assault (De Aanslag, 1982) by Harry Mulisch, also released as a movie directed by Fons Rademakers. Ineke Verdoner wrote a song about her. Author Theun de Vries wrote a biography of her life, which has inspired the movie The Girl with the Red Hair (Het Meisje met het Rode Haar, 1981) by Ben Verbong featuring Renee Soutendijk as Hannie Schaft.

The last Sunday of each November in the Netherlands is a day of remembrance for Schaft's life and work.

We salute the indomitable spirit of the Dutch Resistance!

See also:

Remarkably, a previously-unknown Schaft family album has been discovered in the loft of a Dutch home. The photographs show a close and loving family growing up unaware of the creeping cancer across the border. (thanks to Co de Swart for information)

Schaft Family Album

Dutch people and Royal Family pay respects to Hannie Schaft 1945

Hannie on right, with sister and mother

SY 2019-03-12

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• Last Modified: 25 November 2022, 08:52 •