The Girl with the Red Hair

The Fellowship  |  December 20, 2017

Black and white image of a young woman walking down the street.
The Girl with the Red Hair

Hannie Schaft

Life: September 16, 1920 – April 17, 1945

Why you should know her: Hannie Schaft was a member of the Dutch resistance during WWII whose acts of courage ranged from providing stolen ID cards for Jews to acts of sabotage against the Nazis.

Born in the Dutch city of Haarlem, Hannie Schaft was raised by her Mennonite Christian mother and a father who was active in social justice. Hannie studied law in Amsterdam, where she made Jewish friends. However, once the Nazis occupied the Netherlands, they required students to sign a declaration of allegiance. Hannie refused to sign such an oath to the Nazis, and in turn was kicked out of the university and forced to return home to her parents.

It was then that Hannie began a life of resistance against the Nazis. She started by stealing ID cards and providing them to Jewish people (including her college friends). But Hannie’s acts of resistance soon grew more dangerous. Not wanting to settle as being just a courier, Hannie learned to speak fluent German and started carrying out acts of sabotage and assassinations of Nazi officials and collaborators.

Hannie had a conscience, even in her fight against the Nazis. She was asked to kidnap the children of a Nazi official, but refused, knowing that the children might have to be killed and feeling that would be too close to the Nazis’ own acts of terror and murder.

The Nazis did not know this enemy woman’s name, but placed “the girl with the red hair” on their most wanted list.

When a fellow resistance fighter accidentally gave Hannie’s name to a Nazi nurse in disguise, the Nazis arrested Hannie’s parents and sent them to a concentration camp. This forced Hannie to stop her resistance work until her parents were released.

But Hannie would not be stopped for good. She dyed her red hair black and began to resist the Nazis again.

Hannie was arrested in her hometown on March 21, 1945. After interrogation, torture, and solitary confinement would not force her to talk, Hannie was identified by the red roots of her hair. She was executed just three weeks before the end of the war. Defiant to the end, Hannie was only wounded by the first shot and said to her executioner, “I shoot better than you,” before the coup de grace was delivered.

In the Netherlands, many schools and streets are named for this courageous woman, and the last Sunday in November is used to remember her life and work. So, too, was Hannie Schaft recognized by Israel and the Jewish people for her selflessness, named Righteous Among the Nations very early on in 1967.