When thinking of spies, our minds might logically think of James Bond 007 or some of the NCIS shows, but we somehow don’t think of women…at least not very often. Nevertheless, the truth is there are many women who are spies, and some of them were in the era of World War II. These women were gutsy. They faced danger defiantly. Jannetie “Hannie” Schaft was a Dutch resistance fighter during World War II. She could have done like so many others, and obediently taken the oath of loyalty to the Nazis. Her life would have gone on somewhat like it had before.
Schaft was born in Haarlem, which is the capital of the province of North Holland. Her mother was Aafje Talea Schaft (née Vrijer), who was a Mennonite woman. Her father, Pieter Schaft was attached to the Social Democratic Workers’ Party. Schaft led a sheltered life, because her parents were very protective of her following the death of her older sister. Her sheltered upbringing did not affect her personality. She was as bold and defiant as ever. When the Nazis wanted the people to swear allegiance to them, Schaff refused to do so. Instead, she joined Raad van Verzet, a resistance group with a communist ideology. I find it hard to think about communism being considered better than socialism, but many have considered it so. In her work for Raad van Verzet, Schaft spied on soldier activity, aided refuges, and sabotaged targets. She was very capable, and feared by many. Her work gained her the reputation as “the girl with the red hair.” While it was only a nickname, it would end up being her downfall.
Having a reputation based on the color of your hair could be a good thing. All you have to do is color your hair, and you have the perfect disguise…right? Well, it did work for a time. Schaft colored her hair to cover up the red, but then she was captured by the Nazis. They had no idea who they had, but as her hair began to grow out they quickly figured it out. Once the Germans discovered that they had the legendary spy and resistance fighter in captivity, I’m sure she was brutally beaten and tortured for information. Schaft was then executed on April 17, 1945. Schaft was never a quitter and she wouldn’t quit now. Defiant to the end, she began taunting the soldier who shot her in the head, but merely grazed her. She said, “I can shoot better than that.” The second shot killed her, but not before leaving an everlasting impression on her captors and witnesses. Schaft was just 24 years old when she died. She was given a state funeral after the war, attended by Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch royal family.
If you were ever a kid, you have played this one…the secret clubhouse. Ours was located in the attic of my parents garage. It was enclosed so we could walk around, provided we were careful not to step between the rafters and thereby through the floor. We spent a lot of time up there in the secret clubhouse…friends and sisters alike. It was just a great hangout. Of course, we had to have a president, vice president, and secretary/treasurer. Not that any of these positions really had any kind of an official job, except possibly the secretary part. She had to take the minutes of the meetings. Not that much ever happened at the meetings, besides maybe deciding on the treats for the next meeting. The main thing I remember about the offices of our secret meetings is that the names of the officers were written on the walls of the attic. They are probably still there to this day.
Secret club meetings can be held in a variety of places, because lets face it, not everyone can meet in the attic of their garage. Some are held in bedrooms, some outside…sometimes in a box, and some even in spare bathrooms…anywhere that kids can hide from the rest of the world and spend a little time in a fantasy world. They might pretend to be spies, which I know we did, or they might play school, which always strikes me as funny, since they don’t seem to want to go to school in real life. I’m not sure what makes it different in the world of make believe, except maybe the recess is a lot longer. Or they might even plan a play to be presented to their parents…or the neighborhood…for a fee, of course, since the dues weren’t ever really enough for the treats needed at the meetings. Thank goodness for mom or grandma for providing the necessary treats for the meetings, but our goal was always to be able to make that all important trip to the store to get special treats.
My girls had their secret club meetings, as did my grandchildren. It was always fun to watch them…from a distance, of course…no adults allowed you know, and remember when that was me, my sisters and friends holding our secret meetings and planning whatever it was that was on the agenda that day. I would love to show you pictures of those meetings, but everybody knows that there are no cameras allowed in the secret club meetings!! It just isn’t done. In fact the only evidence of secret club meetings is a few scattered and discarded notes, and maybe some empty dishes to point out the fact that the secret members were here. And once the cleaning lady came through, no evidence at all.