Haarlem Shuffle

Hannie Schaft

"Symbol of the Resistance"

It is the evening of 17 April 1945. A truck leaves the Huis van Bewaring, a prison on the Amstelveenseweg in Amsterdam. The truck contains a Dutch driver, three German soldiers and the Dutch detective, Maarten Kuijper.

These men form the escort for one prisoner, a young Dutch woman of 24. They drive to the German Ortskommandantur in Haarlem where a soldier of the Feldgendarmerie (Gefreiter) equipped with a shovel gets in. The truck moves off again and the new man gives directions to the beach at Overveen, a few miles away. The truck stops near the beach where a path leads into the sand dunes.

Kuijper and the German, Mattheus Schmitz, lead their prisoner into the dunes, the man with the shovel bringing up the rear. Schmitz, who is walking a few paces behind the girl, draws his pistol and fires, she cries out in pain but does not fall. Kuijper, seeing she has a wound to the head but is still standing, levels his machine pistol and takes his turn. This time the bullets find their mark and the young woman falls dead.

Kuijper then helps the Gefreiter bury the body in a shallow grave, they are keen to be done with their work and in their haste long strands of red hair are left protruding from the sand.

Hannie Schaft
Hannie Schaft

The Hannie Schaft Monument in Haarlem
The incident described above took place less than a month before the liberation of Holland and concerns the final hours of Haarlem-born resistance fighter Hannie Schaft. She had been arrested three weeks earlier at a checkpoint in Haarlem Noord for possession of underground pamphlets and a pistol. Her arrest and subsequent murder brought to an end one of the most heroic and gripping stories of WW2.

Jannetje Johanna Schaft (Hannie was an alias she assumed during the war) was born on 16 September 1920 in Haarlem. Her father, Pieter Schaft, had trained as a teacher and her mother, Aafje, had given up her career when they were married. When Jo, as she was known to friends and family, was seven, her older sister, Annie, died which resulted in her mother becoming over-protective of her remaining daughter. The family lived a close-knit and isolated existence, entertaining themselves at home with books and discussions about the political issues of the day.

Despite her somewhat unusual upbringing, Hannie Schaft was a good student and after much hard work she obtained a place at the Gemeente University in Amsterdam where she began her studies in 1938. At first her parents insisted she live at home and commute but eventually she took a flat in Amsterdam with two fellow students. She began to study hard for a degree in law and in her spare time was involved in the founding of a new university debating society.

On 10 May 1940, German forces crossed the Dutch border and after four days of fighting, culminating in the bombardment of Rotterdam, Holland capitulated and the occupation began. Initially, little changed for Hannie Schaft but she was disgusted by recent events and alarmed by the presence of German troops on the streets. This period of relative normality soon came to an end when in October 1940 the persecution of the Dutch Jews began.

During the next two years Hannie Schaft became involved in minor acts of resistance against the authorities. It began with stealing identity cards from public places (the swimming baths was a favourite location) to help keep her Jewish friends out of the hands of the Germans. Later she progressed to stealing weapons from German soldiers and distributing underground pamphlets. When the German authorities finally demanded that all students sign a declaration of loyalty, she refused and abandoning her studies returned permanently to Haarlem.

In 1943 she joined the communist-leaning resistance group, the Raad van Verzet. Her duties included gathering information for the allies, helping fugitives and distributing underground pamphlets. What set her apart from many other women involved in illegal organisations though was her willingness to take part in dangerous activities usually carried out only by men.

Two close associates of Hannie Schaft who also fell into this category were the sisters Truus and Freddie Oversteegen. Although they were even younger than Hannie, they were destined to take part in many dangerous missions together. These included weapon transports, sabotage and the liquidation of collaborators.

Those targeted for assassination were usually Dutch citizens who had allied themselves with the Germans and were actively involved in the betrayal of their fellow countrymen. The RVV saw it as their duty to stop these people by the only means available to them under the prevailing circumstances - liquidation.

It was during one of these missions that Hannie's close friend and fellow resistance fighter Jan Bonekamp was fatally wounded and captured by the Germans. Before his death Bonekamp was tricked into revealing the identity of Hannie Schaft who, until then, had been known only as 'the girl with the red hair'. From that time on she was forced to assume a false identity and wear a disguise including dying her hair black and wearing a pair of false, horn-rimmed glasses.

Despite the trauma of Bonekamp's death and a shot wound to the leg, Hannie Schaft later resumed her resistance work as the German occupation took on an even more brutal character, culminating in the starvation winter of '44-45. On 21 March 1945, Hannie Schaft was captured by the Germans at a check-point in Haarlem Noord. Feverish rescue plans were made by her fellow resistance fighters, all of which came to nothing.

At first her captors did not realise who she was but when the red roots of her hair began to show they were left in no doubt as to her identity. She was held in Amsterdam until her fateful last ride to the sand dunes of Overveen.

Hannie Schaft was given a state funeral at the Erebegraafplaats on 27 November 1945 in the presence of Queen Wilhelmina who called her the "symbol of the Resistance".

Much has been made of Hannie Schaft's communist sympathies but this should be seen in the context of the times. People who had experienced many years of economic failure and hardship were then faced with the threat of brutal, fascist dictatorship. Many communist sympathisers of that time were later to adjust their opinions in the light of the cold war and the revelation of the true nature of the Soviet regime.

It was because of this that the memory of Hannie Schaft became something of a political football during the cold war years. She was turned into an icon by the Dutch communist party, which in turn alienated many war veterans. It was not until 1982 that a monument in her honour was unveiled in the Kenau park in Haarlem.