Book Review: Three Ordinary Girls by Tim Brady

Three Dutch teenagers use the invisibility of their age and gender to join and successfully support the resistance in German occupied Netherlands during WWII.


SYNOPSIS

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. from Kensington Books.


MY THOUGHTS

A woman in dark clothing reaches into her purse while walking towards a black and white image of German soldiers.

MY THOUGHTS

Every book about a spy or a codebreaker during WWII makes me question myself. What would I do if I were faced with evil? Would I hide people in my home or would I just look the other way? I feel confident that I wouldn’t fall in line with the invading army. But I worry that I would do only enough to be neutral. There is a significant difference between surviving and resisting and this book was the first time I could start to understand how people are set on that path.

Truus and Freddie were raised by a mother active in the local communist party. Their mother organized for the party on a community level which meant she was connected to the early days of the resistance but too well known to actively participate. The resistance turned to her two teenage daughters. This felt organic. Certainly following in the footsteps of your parent made sense to me. However, Hannie was an even bigger leap for me. She was the only surviving, and therefore cosseted, child in her family and firmly onto a path in higher education. For her to put her parents at risk and jeopardize her education felt braver to me, perhaps only because I could grasp what was at risk for her. Still, I can’t help but wonder what I would give up, what I would be willing to sacrifice, to help someone else.

After all, the book presents harrowing examples, one after the other. One particular story will stay with me forever is one of the girls leading a whole group of Jewish children to safety by herself. When one of the children she is leading to safety taunts a German soldier, the soldiers started shooting. Only one child was eventually safely delivered.

And the worst part about this story is that I cannot remember which of the girls was involved. Sadly, most likely because I listened to this as an audiobook, I truly struggled to keep the three separated in my mind. This might be because of their names, which the audiobook narrator pronounces with a Dutch accent (or what I imagine a Dutch accent to be) or because the girl’s stories overlapped. The three of them came together and were frequently paired on excursions and assignments. But the whole book felt like we just broke the surface of their stories and it lacked depth for me. It felt like the author was trying to paint a picture of the Dutch resistance as a whole rather than tell these three women’s stories. The food rationing, the difficulties obtaining bicycle parts, and the mentions of Anne Frank made the story of this country’s experience during occupation very real but detracted from the women he featured.

Clearly, one of the things I struggled with was whether these three heroes were “girls” or “women” as the book treats them as “girls” throughout. They saw people murdered, shot and killed German soldiers, lost family members and friends to the German army, and were brave beyond measure. I am not sure at what point we stop being “girls” but if that word has a maturity limit, I am positive these three passed it long before the author stopped using it.

Overall, I am delighted that I read the story. It really did highlight the War in the Netherlands which is not frequently featured in typical WWII reading here in America. However, I wish the story had been billed as that instead of the story of Truus, Freddie, and Hannie. The book does a great deal for my knowledge of Dutch history and less for the honor of these women.


Tell me, please! Any recommendations on lesser known WWII history?


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