One of our recommended books is Three Ordinary Girls by Tim Brady


The Remarkable Story of Three Dutch Teenagers Who Became Spies, Saboteurs, Nazi Assassins–and WWII Heroes

Told for the very first time, the astonishing true story of three fearless female resisters during WWII whose youth and innocence belied their extraordinary daring in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. It also made them the underground’s most invaluable commodity. Recruited as teenagers, Hannie Schaft, and Dutch sisters Truus and Freddie Oversteegen fulfilled their harrowing missions as spies, saboteurs, and Nazi assassins with remarkable courage, but their stories have remained largely unknown…until now.

May 10, 1940. The Netherlands was swarming with Third Reich troops. In seven days it’s entirely occupied by Nazi Germany. Joining a small resistance cell in the Dutch city of Haarlem were three teenage girls: Hannie Schaft,

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Told for the very first time, the astonishing true story of three fearless female resisters during WWII whose youth and innocence belied their extraordinary daring in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. It also made them the underground’s most invaluable commodity. Recruited as teenagers, Hannie Schaft, and Dutch sisters Truus and Freddie Oversteegen fulfilled their harrowing missions as spies, saboteurs, and Nazi assassins with remarkable courage, but their stories have remained largely unknown…until now.

May 10, 1940. The Netherlands was swarming with Third Reich troops. In seven days it’s entirely occupied by Nazi Germany. Joining a small resistance cell in the Dutch city of Haarlem were three teenage girls: Hannie Schaft, and sisters Truus and Freddie Oversteegen who would soon band together to form a singular female underground squad.

Smart, fiercely political, devoted solely to the cause, and “with nothing to lose but their own lives,” Hannie, Truus, and Freddie took terrifying direct action against Nazi targets. That included sheltering fleeing Jews, political dissidents, and Dutch resisters. They sabotaged bridges and railways, and donned disguises to lead children from probable internment in concentration camps to safehouses. They covertly transported weapons and set military facilities ablaze. And they carried out the assassinations of German soldiers and traitors–on public streets and in private traps–with the courage of veteran guerilla fighters and the cunning of seasoned spies.

In telling this true story through the lens of a fearlessly unique trio of freedom fighters, Tim Brady offers a never-before-seen perspective of the Dutch resistance during the war. Of lives under threat; of how these courageous young women became involved in the underground; and of how their dedication evolved into dangerous, life-threatening missions on behalf of Dutch patriots–regardless of the consequences.

Harrowing, emotional, and unforgettable, Three Ordinary Girls finally moves these three icons of resistance into the deserved forefront of world history.

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  • Citadel Press
  • Hardcover
  • February 2021
  • 304 Pages
  • 9780806540382

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About Tim Brady

Tim Brady is the author of Three Ordinary GirlsTim Brady is an award-winning author of nonfiction history books, including Twelve Desperate Miles, A Death in San Pietro, His Father’s Son and Three Ordinary Girls. In addition, he has written and helped develop a number of television documentaries, including the Peabody Award-winning series, Liberty! The American Revolution for PBS. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.


“Historian Brady delivers a dramatic group portrait of three teenage girls who fought in the Dutch resistance movement during WWII. Brady conveys the inhumanity of the period with precision…This moving story spotlights the extraordinary heroism of everyday people during the war and the Holocaust.”Publishers Weekly

“Brady has explored little-known aspects of World War II, from the life of Ted Roosevelt Jr. to the story of a civilian freighter that aided in a critical Moroccan invasion. Now he turns his attention to the Netherlands, highlighting three young women who worked for the Dutch resistance…Their missions were often based on their ability to infiltrate male spaces by taking advantage of soldiers’ assumptions about femininity: that the girls were naive, stupid, and innocent when they were anything but…This book will please Brady’s fans as well as those who are interested in new and different stories of WWII.”—Booklist

Three Ordinary Girls is a poignant account of heroic young women who demonstrated idealism, patriotism and courage in the face of constant danger. The book is also a reminder of the hazard of underestimating one’s enemies and the bravery that springs from the most unlikely sources.”HistoryNet

Brady paints a compelling picture of the fear, tragedy and paranoia of living in an enemy-occupied land. Heroism and betrayal exist side by side; mistakes are made in the fog of war.  His book succeeds as a tale of how extraordinary circumstances call forth the unexpected strength of ordinary people.”Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“Brady offers a little-known perspective of the Dutch Resistance by telling the stories of three courageous young women and how their dedication evolved into dangerous, life-threatening missions on behalf of Dutch patriots – regardless of consequences.”The Pritzker Military Library

“This riveting entry in the nonfiction thriller genre is jam-packed with episodes that showcase the heroism of the girls. From ferrying Jewish Children to safety, to blowing bridges and buildings, to smuggling arms to their fellow resistance fighters, they define heroism in every way, shape and form. Whoever said truth is stranger than fiction might well have had Three Ordinary Girls in mind. This is thriller writing of the highest order, as riveting as it is relentless.Providence Journal

“Exhaustively researched and written with both authority and style, Tim Brady’s Three Ordinary Girls is history that reads like a novel. A vivid and unforgettable portrait of three young women who put their lives on the line in a very personal fight against Naziism, this book is a page-turner and is highly recommended.” —Stephen Harding, New York Times best-selling author of The Last Battle

“James Bond on bicycles, Brady’s Three Ordinary Girls are NOT so Ordinary. These three teenage girls: Truus, her little sister Freddie, and the redheaded Hannie are courage personified and key members of the legendary Dutch resistance. Sometimes reckless, often naïve, always patriotic, our heroines wield guns like cowgirls, while risking their lives to fight the German occupation. And just when you think the Allies have landed and Europe is saved, things take a turn for the worse. Whether they are assassinating Nazis from their bicycles or smuggling Jewish children and satchels of weapons under the nose of the Gestapo, following these three not-so ordinary girls is a nail-biting experience, an exciting book that you won’t be able to put down until the last page.”—Heather Dune Macadam, author of 999: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz

“An important, untold story from WWII that needed to be told. A brave tale about an incredibly brave sisterhood who fought for all that was good and right and just in the world. The word ‘hero’ tends to be over-used these days, but not here – not with these utterly extraordinary heroines.” —Damien Lewis, #1 International Bestselling author of Churchill’s Hellraisers and Churchill’s Band of Brothers

Three Ordinary Girls delivers a lean and fast-paced true tale about a group of young women who assassinated Nazis, sabotaged bridges, saved Jewish children, and delivered priceless documents and information in the service of the Dutch resistance during World War II. Tim Brady writes captivatingly of under-recognized heroes and self-sacrifice in a chapter of the war’s history that will now be better known.”—Jack El-Hai, author of The Nazi and the Psychiatrist and The Lost Brothers, and winner of the 2020 Book Award in Biography/History from the American Society of Journalists and Authors

Discussion Questions

1. Many women served in the underground resistance during WWII. What makes the stories of Truus, Freddie, and Hannie so remarkable?

2. Hannie Schaft’s background was very different from that of Truus and Freddie Oversteegen, but the three joined forces despite their differences. What were the events that drew them together?

3. Truus, Freddie, and Hannie came of age during a tumultuous moment in 1930s Europe. How did life in their medieval village of Haarlem change after the commander of The Dutch Royal Army surrendered to the Nazis and nine million Netherlanders were suddenly under the heel of the German boot?

4. Hannie, Truus, and Freddie had a strong sense of social justice at a young age. How did that come about?

5. Do you think you would have aided in the Resistance if you had lived in the Netherlands during WWII? Why or why not?

6. How did the Hannie and the Oversteegen sisters use misconceptions about youth and teenage girls to their advantage?

7. The girls had mixed feelings about what they did in the name of the Resistance, but not in the Resistance itself. How did that conflict make you think about what constitutes duty and bravery?

8. The girls started with simple acts of covert illegality: lifting German ID cards to counterfeit them; distributing fliers announcing strikes, passing out anti-Nazi literature. But with each mission, the stakes got higher and their acts became more dangerous, evolving into stockpiling weapons, detonating bombs, spying, sabotage, and murder. Do you think they ever went too far?

9. Is there anything you would be willing to risk your life for the way Hannie, Freddie, and Truus did?

10. The stories of Hannie Schaft and the Oversteegen sisters are quite well-known in the Netherlands, but few people in the United States are aware of them. Why do you think that is?


Chapter 1


YEARS AFTER THE GREAT DEPRESSION, Truus Oversteegen recalled the miseries and struggles of those times as if they were still happening outside her window in Haarlem. She remembered standing in long lines with her mother and neighbors, waiting for the government dole to be parsed out. There were more lines outside the factory gates at Hoogovens, the blast furnace manufacturers, where laborers waited to find out who might or might not be given work within the plant on any given day.

Her parents knew precisely who was to blame for the worldwide woes: it was the capitalists, as they had informed her time and again. The owners of the factories who profited off the sweat of labor.

Truus remembered taking her father’s hand, as a five-year-old, as they marched in demonstrations and protests. She remembered the drums pounding, the red flags fluttering in the breeze. She remembered what it felt like to be surrounded by a sea of grown-up legs and chanting voices.

On one indelible occasion she and her father, Jacob Oversteegen, marched with a wave of protesters through Haarlem, until they crashed into a second wave of counter-protesters. These newcomers to the throng were angry men, shouting at the group in which she and her father were encircled. “String up the socialists!” they called out. “Hang them from the street lamps!”

Then the mounted police arrived, and suddenly Truus was lifted out of the crowd and onto the back of a horse, between a police officer and the saddle horn. As the police officer carried her away, her father disappeared from view, swallowed by the circling fury of protesters and counter-protesters. Disappearing was a thing he did quite often during those days when the family was living on a houseboat in the canal, as many families did in Holland.

At the police station, she was given a bowl of porridge, which she was too upset to eat. Finally her mother, Trijntje van der Molen, arrived, and Truus began to feel a bit better. As she and her mother walked home, she looked up at the streetlights, the angry voices from the demonstration—“Hang them from the street lamps!”—still ringing in her head. She asked her mother if they were socialists. Trijntje replied, “Yes, we are socialists,” and Truus could hear the fierce pride in her mother’s voice.

Truus Oversteegen was born in 1923. Her younger sister, Freddy Nanda, or Freddie, as she was called by everyone, arrived two years later. The girls were thick as thieves growing up, even after their father left the houseboat. In truth he had never provided much to the family in terms of stability anyway. He was a drinker and a womanizer who contributed little to the family’s financial needs, and in fact was likely more of a drain.

The breakup of their parents’ marriage and subsequent divorce was not something either of the girls remembered as traumatic. In fact, when her father left, Freddie remembered him singing a French farewell song to the family from the bow of the canal boat. The girls would continue to see their father around Haarlem for years to come.

Trijntje took the girls to live in a flat, where they shared a bedroom furnished with straw mattresses that Trijntje made herself. It was an impoverished existence, but they were a loving family and this pulled them through. They loved, in particular, to make music together. They had a whole string section in the family—Trijntje played the mandolin, Truus played the guitar, Freddie played both the ukulele and the zither, and they sang to their own accompaniment.

The Oversteegen family was a large one, with a tradition of being active in leftist circles in Haarlem. One uncle, George Oversteegen, an anarchist, had even earned a seat on the Haarlem City Council in the late 1920s. Trijntje was also raised with leftist values, and the economic uncertainties of the Great Depression sharpened her critique of the miseries that capitalism visited on the working class. For Trijntje, Truus, and Freddie, their political, social, and cultural lives revolved around the family association with leftist causes. The girls were members of the AJC (Arbeiders Jeugd Central) a socialist youth movement that emphasized education, physical conditioning, folk dance, music, and camping, all pursued in the context of a working-class atmosphere and socialist structure.

When the girls were still young, Trijntje gave birth to a brother named Robbie, and the flat they shared became even more crowded. Neither did his addition help in parsing out the government dole—the Dutch welfare stipend—on which the family lived. It amounted to precisely 13 guilders and 75 cents a week and the rent alone took 3½ guilders. Inspectors from a state organization called Social Help in Practice would periodically come by to check in the family cupboards and underneath beds just to make sure the Oversteegen girls and their mother and Robbie were not trying to hide a hoard of riches. Fat chance of that!

They also wanted to make sure Trijntje wasn’t entertaining any men in her home. There was none of that, but what she was doing was holding leftist meetings in the apartment, which included men. When the fact that she was hosting gatherings was discovered, it was enough to get the family cut off from the dole. Afterward, they were forced to go to friends and neighbors begging for soup.

In desperation, Trijntje went down to the welfare office with the girls in tow to demand that the officials rescind their decision and give her and the family back their food stamps and stipend for rent. She yelled, she remonstrated, she refused to leave. Finally, the police were called. When an officer grabbed Trijntje to force her out of the office, Truus jumped in and bit him at the same time as Freddie kicked him in the shins. These little girls were not wallflowers!

Unfortunately, when they left the government office, they still had no food stamps and no stipend for rent. For the next six weeks they ate brown beans.

When she was fourteen, Truus began working as a domestic for wealthy families in the Haarlem area. It was not work that suited her; her sense of independence usually overtook her willingness to follow orders. Later she would recall “children who were often little tyrants” and “lord[s] of the manor [who] wanted to pinch my buttocks.”

She took a position with one family who had a villa in the well-to-do Haarlem suburb of Bloemendaal, “the bastion of the rich in Holland,” Truus called it. Bloemendaal was near the sandy dunes of South Kennemerland, which was the area that ran along the coast of northwestern Netherlands. Truus was to be a live-in servant, but things didn’t work out as planned. She spent her very first night there homesick in an attic room thinking of Freddie and Robbie at home. Trijntje had packed peppermints and peanut brittle to ease the transition, but they only made Truus feel more homesick.

She was awakened the next morning by an unsympathetic German maid named Kathe, who greeted her at breakfast with a bowl of watered-down porridge. Truus had no stomach for the gruel to which Kathe said, “Zen you will eat nothing,” and sent the girl off to wash windows, make beds, and vacuum the house.

At one point, Truus took her shoes off to have a cup of coffee. When she was ready to put her shoes back on, she discovered that one of the children of the house had put a thumbtack in the heel. Nice kids! She was then ordered by Kathe to empty a chamber pot filled to the brim with the family’s evacuations from the previous night. To top off her morning, she had an encounter on the stairs with the master of the house, who stopped Truus on a landing and gave her a long lascivious look before blatantly trying to grab her crotch.

Truus wound up kicking the chamber pot down the staircase in front of the whole family, retrieving her suitcase, and racing out of the house back toward home in Haarlem. Her mother told her it was too bad about the money she would have received for the job, but to make sure Truus understood whose side she was on, Trijntje quickly added, “I would have done exactly the same!”

* * *


A Q&A with Tim Brady

How did you come upon the story of these three extraordinary girls?

The idea for the book originated with the September 2018 obituary of Freddy Oversteegen in the New York Times. Freddy was the youngest of the three girls in the story—the sister of Truus Oversteegen—and was 93 years old when she passed. It was hard not to get excited when I learned the details of their lives. Freddy, Truus, and a third young woman, Hannie Schaft, had not only worked for the Dutch resistance during World War II, but had actually served as assassins and saboteurs against the Nazis.

I knew, of course, that many women had served in the underground throughout Europe during the war, but how many teenage girls had actually taken up arms in the resistance? I was immediately sucked into questions about who they were, what drove them to the extremes that they pursued, and how they carried out their actions. It was one of those rare stories that became more and more fascinating and remarkable the more I dug into it.

You’re a seasoned author who has written other military histories. What draws you to specific moments in history?

Though I’ve written a number of books that are set during World War II, and I’m drawn to that backdrop for my stories, I’m less interested in the large-scale actions and events of the war, than I am in smaller human tales that describe individual lives within the great scope of this global upheaval. The story of how three young women resisted the evils of Nazism in a country whose trials and tribulations are not as well-known to Americans as others in Europe, had an immediate appeal to me. I like stories that have not been widely told; I like stories that focus on the actions of individuals within the broader context of the war. I’m less interested in larger-than-life characters responding to the extreme stresses and upheaval of war

Some scenes are palm-sweating in their tension.  How did you construct these moments in the book?

When I’m writing narrative histories, I like to focus on individual stories and follow them in a cinematic fashion as they live through the action described. To do this with historical accuracy requires the use of the closely followed perspective of whatever character I’m writing about. I’m always looking for source material—diaries, memoirs, letters, interviews—that allow me to understand and use the voice of my subjects, so that to some extent I can see what they see, think what they think, and act as they act within the context of the narrative. Because almost all of the principals involved in the stories I write are no longer living, I usually must rely on other means than my own interviews to collect these tales. I found wonderful source material for Three Ordinary Girls, particularly the memoirs published by Truus Oversteegen after the war called Not Then, Not Now, Not Ever, as well as a biography of Hannie Schaft by journalist Ton Kors, who was able (in the 1970s) to interview a number of her contemporaries, including some of her fellow resistance fighters and even a couple of members of the Dutch Gestapo who arrested and interrogated her. The Oversteegen sisters both lived into their 90’s and late in life were filmed and interviewed for documentary television. Though both had passed by the time I started researching the book, being able to see them in this fashion, as frail, but still defiant white-haired ladies, gave me an indispensable sense of their character. It was possible to sense their steel and courage in the way they carried themselves.


A Note to Readers from Tim Brady

Dear Reader,

Thank you so much for your interest in my new book, Three Ordinary Girls: The Remarkable Story of Three Dutch Girls Who Became Spies, Saboteurs, Nazi Assassins—and WW II Heroes. The book was inspired by an obituary I read in The New York Times of Hannie Schaft, who was only a teenager when she began to fearlessly execute daring missions during World War II. Hannie and her friends, the Oversteegen sisters, became active in the Dutch resistance soon after Germany occupied the Netherlands in 1940.

As the circumstances of their lives became more and more oppressed during the course of the occupation, the girls were called upon to take ever more dangerous assignments by their comrades in the resistance. They responded to these demands with remarkable bravery and a savvy instinct for survival. Through the course of the war, they became feared assassins and accomplished saboteurs wanted throughout North Holland by the SS and their Dutch collaborators.

This is a unique story of resistance, little known in the U.S. I hope that I’ve told it with the sort of excitement, verve, and sense of appreciation for the courage of these extraordinary girls that their lives deserve. Again, I want to thank you for your interest in my work. And please hashtag #ThreeOrdinaryGirls if you opt to share your thoughts about the book online.


Tim Brady