A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels

Khalid Elhassan - August 10, 2020

During World War II, the anti-fascist resistance in occupied Europe took on many forms and came in different groupings and sizes. There were lone-wolf actors, small cells, and battalion and regimental-sized groupings numbering in the hundreds or thousands. One common feature among resistance members was a detestation of the occupation. Another commonality was the courage to stand up and challenge evil despite daunting odds, and a willingness to risk life and limb for an opportunity to strike back against oppression. Following are forty fascinating things about some heroic resistance figures.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Franceska Mann. Hypeness

40. The Ballerina Sent to Auschwitz

Franceska Mann was born in 1917 into a Jewish family in Poland. She exhibited a talent for dancing from early on, and studied dance while growing up. By her early twenties, Franceska was one of the most accomplished dancers in Poland, and a rising star in Europe’s dance scene. Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 derailed her promising career.

She ended up in the Warsaw Ghetto, and survived its liquidation by the Nazis. Soon thereafter, however, she and thousands of other Jews hiding in Warsaw fell for a Nazi scheme designed to capture Jewish survivors. Jews were tricked into buying neutral country passports on the black market, on the assumption that doing so would legally transform them into foreign citizens. That would make them eligible to leave Nazi-occupied Europe. Franceska was among 2500 Jews who boarded trains that were supposed to take them to neutral Switzerland, but instead took them to Auschwitz.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Jews arriving in Auschwitz. Yad Vashem

39. Arriving in Auschwitz

On October 23rd, 1943, 1700 Jews were aboard passenger trains headed to what they believed was a transfer camp near Dresden. They were told that would get off the trains there, then go through bureaucratic formalities and health checks, preparatory to getting sent to Switzerland in exchange for German POWs. Instead, the trains stopped at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

Franceska Mann was one of the passengers who got off the trains. She and other women were told that Swiss authorities required that immigrants first be disinfected, before crossing the border into Switzerland. Instead of a disinfection station, they were taken to an undressing room next to the gas chambers, and told to undress. It was in that room, as other women disrobed, that Franceska suspected what was in store, and decided to become a one-woman resistance movement.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Franceska Mann. Wikimedia

38. A Last Minute Resistance Member

The women who undressed were hurried into the gas chamber, but Franceska Mann grew suspicious, and hesitated to disrobe. A group of SS camp guards entered the room, ordering Franceska and other women who had not yet undressed to hurry up. Franceska refused, and in that instance, became a one-woman resistance cell.

Until then, Franceska had not been a member of any resistance group. However, in a split second, in an undressing room next to a gas chamber, she decided to stand up and defy her oppressors. At that moment when she made up her mind to challenge evil and hit back, Franceska Mann effectively became a resistance cell of one.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Franceska Mann’s uprising. The First News

37. A Ballerina Takes on the SS

In the most popular version of Franceska Mann’s heroic stand – although a version that has never been verified – she reportedly performed a striptease for the SS guards. Ogling the beauty before them, the SS guards let their guard down. That was when Franceska struck.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
SS guard Josef Shillinger, killed by Franceska Mann. The First News

Whether she had or had not performed a striptease, what is known is that Franceska took off a high heel shoe, and used the heel to stab an SS guard named Walter Quakernack in the face. As Quakernack clutched at his face, Franceska seized his pistol, and opened fire on the SS. She shot two guards, Josef Shillinger, and Wilhelm Emmerich. Shillinger died of his wounds a few hours later, while Emmerich was left with a permanent limp.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Franceska Mann. Polish Culture

36. Leading a Rebellion

As the stunned SS guards tried to process what had just happened, a dam of mounting tensions in the undressing room broke. Franceska Mann’s shots triggered the remaining women into attacking the SS guards with whatever lay at hand, and with their bare hands and teeth if they could not get a hold of anything else. One SS man was scalped, while another had his nose torn off before the guards fled the room.

As the women barricaded themselves, SS reinforcements arrived to put down the uprising. Using grenades and submachine guns, the Germans eventually killed everybody in the undressing room, including Franceska. Other versions have it that some survived, to be taken out and executed. What is certain is that SS guard Josef Shillinger was killed, Wilhelm Emmerich was shot and lived, while Walter Quakernack and other SS men were wounded. After Germany’s surrender, Quakernack was tried for war crimes and executed.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Georges Blind in his fireman uniform before the war. Musee de la Resistance

35. The Resistance Member Who Smiled in the Face of Death

Georges Blind (1904 – 1944) was a French fireman, ambulance driver, and resistance member from Belfort. He became famous when a photo surfaced of him smiling at a German firing squad. Blind took his first steps towards joining the resistance just a few months into the German occupation, when he and others sheltered a statue of Edith Cavell, a WWI heroine executed by the Germans.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Georges Blind smiling in the face of death. Quora

He eventually became a resistance courier, using his ambulance to transport fugitives on the run from the Nazis, weapons, information, and clandestine publications. He was arrested by the Germans on October 14th, 1944, and jailed. At some point between October 15th and 23rd, he was placed before a German firing squad, and somebody took a photo that immortalized him as an anti-fascist symbol of the resistance. In it, Georges Blind can be seen smiling in the face of death, as German soldiers aim their rifles at him.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Closeup of Georges Blind’s death defying smile. Pintrest

34. Courageous to the End

Literally smiling in the face of death has to be one of the coolest and manliest ways to shuffle off the mortal coil. However, unbeknownst to Georges Blind, he was not to die that day. It was a mock execution, used by the Germans as psychological torture in an attempt to scare him into snitching on his resistance comrades.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
The building against whose corner Georges Blind was placed for his execution still exists today. WWII Forums

Blind refused to snitch, so on October 24th, 1944, he was sent to Dachau concentration camp, where he arrived on the 29th. From Dachau, he was sent to Auschwitz, arriving there on November 24th. There, he was killed by lethal injection on November 30th, 1944. Georges Blind was posthumously promoted to sergeant in the French Forces of the Interior. He was also posthumously awarded a Croix de Guerre, a Medaille Militaire, a Resistance Medal, and an Honor Medal for Fighters for exceptional services.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
The Eiffel Tower. DH Gate

33. Sabotaging a Landmark to Spite Hitler

The Eiffel Tower has been one of the world’s most recognizable structures, ever since its inauguration as the entrance to Paris’ 1889 World Fair. It was initially planned as a temporary structure, that would be torn down and sold for scrap after 20 years. Early on, many criticized it as an eyesore, and could not wait until the 20 years were up.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
German soldiers near the Eiffel Tower. Pintrest

However, the tower grew on people, and 20 years came and went without it getting torn down. Eventually, the Eiffel Tower became the City of Light’s most popular attraction, and a beloved fixture of the Parisian skyline that only a philistine would dislike. When the Germans captured Paris in 1940, Hitler wanted to savor his conquest from atop the Eiffel Tower. He was thwarted by workers – a de facto budding resistance – who sabotaged the tower to deny the Fuhrer the pleasure of gloating over the captive city.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Hitler and entourage touring a conquered Paris in June, 1940. Pintrest

32. The Fuhrer Fancied Himself a Man of Art and Architecture

The Germans overran Western Europe in 1940, in a devastating blitzkrieg campaign that crushed all opposition, and led to France’s collapse within 40 days. The French government fled its capital, and the French military evacuated Paris, declaring it an open city. On June 14th, 1940, the triumphant Germans marched into and seized the City of Lights.

Hitler fancied himself a man of art and architecture, and growing up, he had dreamt of becoming an artist or architect. His greatest hope had been to gain admission to the prestigious Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, and the rejection of his application – twice – was the most devastating setback of his youth. So when Paris fell, Hitler made a beeline to the captured French capital, not only to savor his victory, but also to savor the French capital’s art and architecture.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Hitler posing in front of the Eiffel Tower. Wall Here

31. Spiting the Fuhrer

Hitler looked forward to gazing at a captive Paris from atop the Eiffel Tower. However, prescient members of what would become the French resistance had anticipated that the Fuhrer and his Nazi sidekicks would derive great pleasure from surveying the French capital from that perch. To deprive them of that satisfaction, they cut the lift cables for the tower’s elevator cars.

Without an elevator, the only way to reach the top of the Eiffel Tower would be via a strenuous climb of 1500 steps. Hitler was in his 50s, and was hardly in the best of shape. So he decided to do without. Instead of treating himself to a view of Paris from atop the Eiffel Tower, the Fuhrer had to settle for posing for photos with Paris’ iconic symbol in the background.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Josephine Baker. Getty Images

30. The Superstar Who Joined the Resistance

Relatively few know it, but Josephine Baker (1906 – 1975), the first black person to become a world-famous entertainer, or to star in a major movie, was a resistance heroine. Dubbed the “Creole Goddess”, “Black Pearl”, and “Bronze Venus”, she was an American-born entertainer, renowned dancer, Jazz Age symbol, 1920s icon, and civil rights activist. She moved to France and made it her home. When her adopted homeland was conquered by the Nazis in WWII, Josephine Baker joined the French resistance.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Josephine Baker. JSTOR

Born into poverty as Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri, Baker was forced by her family’s dire financial straits into working since childhood. By age thirteen, she was already performing on stage, and became a chorus girl a year later. She became a hit with audiences, as she injected comedy into her routines.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Josephine Baker. Biography

29. Moving to France

Ambitious and confident in her talent, Josephine Baker refused to accept the ceiling imposed by the color of her skin in America. So she moved to France. There, her career took off in post WWI Paris, and she became a global superstar.

When WWII broke out, Baker was recruited by French military intelligence. She had initially expressed support for the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in the 1930s, so when the Axis defeated and occupied France, they mistakenly assumed that she was friendly to their cause. They were mistaken. Taking advantage of the conquerors’ trust, Josephine risked her life by spying. Her fame opened doors, and rubbing shoulders with high-ranking Axis personnel, she collected information while charming officials she met in social gatherings.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Josephine Baker in uniform during the war. History Channel

28. Cloak and Dagger Heroics

As an international entertainer, Josephine Baker had an excuse to travel. So she did, within Nazi-occupied Europe, to neutral Portugal, and to South America. She crossed borders while transporting coded messages between the resistance and the Allies, that were written in invisible ink on her music sheets. They contained information about German troop concentrations, airfields, harbors, and defenses. She also hid fugitives in her home, and supplied them with forged identification papers and visas. Later in the war, she joined and was commissioned a lieutenant in the French Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. She also performed in concerts for Allied troops.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Josephine Baker with her medals during the 1962 March on Washington. The Washington Post

In recognition of her wartime exploits and contributions to France, Baker was named a Chevalier of the Legion d’honeur by Charles De Gaulle. Among the medals awarded her by the French military were the Croix de Guerre and the Medal of Resistance with Rosette. Upon her death in 1975, she became the first American woman buried with military honors in France, including a twenty-one gun salute.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Charlotte Sorkine’s wartime fake identification. The Forward

27. A French Resistance Heroine

French resistance member Charlotte Sorkine Noshpitz was born in Paris in 1925 to a Romanian mother and a Belorussian father. One of her grandfathers was an anthropology professor, and Charlotte was raised in an intellectual household. Her home hosted a weekly salon that was often attended by French luminaries of the arts, letters, sciences, and academia.

Her life took a drastic turn for the worse after the Nazis defeated France in 1940. The collaborationist Vichy regime enacted discriminatory laws that revoked the French citizenship of naturalized Jews, and authorized the internship of foreign Jews or the restricted their residence. When out in public, Charlotte and her family had to wear yellow stars of David sewn on their clothes to identify themselves as Jews.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Charlotte Sorkine. Washington Jewish Week

26. Joining the French Resistance

By 1942, Charlotte’s father was in hiding. Later that year, her mother was arrested in a roundup and deported to Auschwitz. Her father and brother fled to Nice in southern France, and were followed soon thereafter by Charlotte, who joined the local resistance at age seventeen. After her father stumbled upon her stash of weapons, she arranged false identity papers to get him out of the country and out of her hair. She led him to believe that she would go with him to Switzerland, but at the border, she bid him adieu as she handed him to a guide who escorted him into Switzerland. Charlotte turned around and returned to the fight.

Her resistance work included stashing and transporting weapons and money, often beneath the Germans’ noses, and creating and supplying fake documents. She also guided fugitives to the French border and safety beyond in Switzerland or Spain. In addition to escorting freedom fighters and political opponents of the Nazis and their French puppet regime, her charges included many Jewish children.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Charlotte Sorkine’s awards. The Forward

25. Blowing Up the SS and Fighting to Liberate Paris

Charlotte Sorkine also participated in direct actions, such as planting explosives – including a bomb that went off in a Paris movie theater where SS members were gathered. She also fought in the 1944 Paris Uprising that preceded that city’s liberation. For her wartime services, Charlotte was awarded the Médaille de la Résistance, the Croix du Combattant Volontaire de la Resistance, the Médaille des Services Volontaires Dans la France Libre, and the War Commemoration Medal.

After the war, Charlotte resumed her education, and studied psychology at the Sorbonne and art history at the Louvre, as well as languages. She sailed to the United States to further her mental health studies and to examine a model health treatment center in Kansas for replication in Paris. During a rough crossing of the Atlantic, she met and befriended Ernest Hemingway. After her return to France, she married in a ceremony attended by her resistance compatriots, and settled into family life and a rewarding professional career.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Zinaida Portnova. Valka

24. The Soviet Teen

Zinaida Martynovna Portnova was a teenaged Belorussian who fought in the partisan resistance movement against the Nazis during WWII. She became the youngest female recipient of a Hero of the Soviet Union award, the USSR’s highest distinction for heroic service to the country and society. Unfortunately, it was to be a posthumous award, as Zinaida was captured by the Germans and executed in 1944.

WWII came as a rude shock to Zinaida, as it did for most Soviet citizens. Born and raised in Leningrad, the then-fifteen-year-old was hundreds of miles from home, at a summer camp near her grandparents’ home close to the Soviet-German border in Belorussia in June of 1941. When the Nazis invaded USSR, German tanks swept past Zinaida’s summer camp, and the teenager found herself cut off behind enemy lines.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Zinaida Portnova plastering anti-Nazi posters on a wall. Imgur

23. Joining the Soviet Resistance

Living under brutal Nazi occupation, Zinaida Portnova became radicalized when a German soldier struck her grandmother while confiscating the family’s cattle. She joined the underground Komsomol – the Communist Party’s youth division – and its resistance group, dubbed “The Young Avengers”.

Zinaida started by distributing anti-German propaganda leaflets, collecting and hiding weapons for the partisans, reporting on enemy troop movements, and engaging in opportunistic acts of sabotage of enemy vehicles. After learning the use of weapons and explosives, she participated in raids and sabotage operations against power plants, pumps. She also took part in blowing up a brick factory near Vitebsk, which ended up killing about 100 German soldiers.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Zinaida Portnova during her interrogation. Agenda Communista

22. A Young Resistance Martyr

In 1943, Zinaida Portnova got a job in a kitchen that served the German garrison of Obol, and poisoned the food. When suspicion fell upon her, she demonstrated her “innocence” by eating the food to prove that it was not poisoned. When she did not exhibit immediate ill effects, she was released. She became violently ill soon thereafter, but survived.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Zinaida Portnova monument in Russia. Wikimedia

Fleeing Obol, she joined another partisan unit and served as its scout. In late 1943, contact was lost with the Obol partisans, and Zinaida was infiltrated back into the city to investigate. She was captured almost immediately but managed to grab a pistol her German interrogator had carelessly left lying atop his desk and shot him to death. She also shot guards who came rushing in upon hearing the gunfire. Zinaida escaped the building, but was eventually tracked down and captured. She was tortured and executed on January 15th, 1944, aged seventeen.

Also Read: These Tragic and Triumphant Teenagers Who Fought in World War II.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Harold Cole. The Daily Mail

21. The Dirty Resistance Member

Harold Cole (1906 – 1946) was an English criminal who served during WWII in the British Army, the French resistance – and double-crossed both by working for Germans. During his extraordinary wartime career, he lied and conned his way across France, joined the Nazis, and snitched on the Resistance, resulting in the arrest and execution of many.

By his teens, Cole was already a burglar, check forger, and embezzler. By 1939, he had served multiple stints in prison. When WWII began, he lied about his criminal history to enlist in the British Army and was sent to France. Promoted to sergeant, he was arrested for stealing money from the sergeants’ mess to spend on hookers. He became a POW in May, 1940 when the Germans captured the guardhouse where he was jailed. He escaped and made his way to Lille, where he got in touch with the French resistance, claiming to be a British intelligence agent sent to organize escape lines to get stranded and escaped British military personnel back home.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Harold Cole. Amazon

20. Doing Some Good Before Doing a Whole Lot of Bad

For some time, Harold Cole actually did some positive work for the Allied cause and for the resistance. He escorted escaped personnel across Nazi-occupied territory to the relative safety of Vichy France. From there, they slipped into neutral Spain, and took a ship back home. However, Cole also embezzled from the funds intended to finance those operations to pay for a high society lifestyle of nightclubs, pricey restaurants, expensive champagne, fast cars, and faster girls.

When his thefts came to light in 1941, the resistance arrested Cole and locked him up. While they deliberated what to do about him, Cole escaped. On the run from the resistance, he turned himself in to the Germans, and gave them 30 pages of resistance members’ names and addresses. He also became an agent of the SS’ Sicherheitdienst, or SD. As a result, over 150 Resistance members were arrested, of whom at least 50 were executed. Cole was present during the interrogation and torture of many of his former colleagues.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Harold Cole in disguise. The Daily Mail

19. Triple Crossing

As Allied armies neared Paris in 1944, Harold Cole fled in a Gestapo uniform. After the Third Reich’s collapse, he turned up in southern Germany in June, 1945, claiming to be a British undercover agent, and offered his services to the American occupation forces. Triple crossing, he turned against the Nazis, hunting and flushing them out of hiding, and murdering at least one of them.

The British discovered Cole’s whereabouts and arrested him, but he escaped the prison where he was awaiting court-martial and headed to France. There, French police received a tip-off that the fugitive was hiding in a central Paris apartment. On January 8th, 1946, they crept up a staircase to seize him. However, their heavy tread gave them away, and he met them at the doorway, pistol in hand. In the ensuing shootout, Cole was struck multiple time, and bled to death.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Marcel Marceau. Emaze

18. The World-Class Entertainer Who Joined the Resistance as a Teen

Marcel Marceau (1923 – 2007), was the world’s most famous mime. His white-faced character, the melancholy vagabond Bip, became globally famous from TV and stage appearances. His accomplishments during a long and eventful career included winning an Emmy Award; getting declared a national treasure in Japan notwithstanding that he was not even Japanese; becoming a member of the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts; and becoming a decades-long friend of Michael Jackson, who borrowed some of Marceau’s moves in his dance routines.

However, before becoming world-famous, Marceau spent most of WWII in hiding and working for the French resistance. After the Allies landed in France, he gave his first major performance before an audience of 3000 troops in recently-liberated Paris. He then joined the Free French army for the remainder of the war. His talent for languages and near fluency in English and German-led to his appointment as a liaison officer with Patton’s Third US Army.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Marcel Marceau. Virtual Jerusalem

17. Marcel Marceau in the Resistance

Marcel Marceau’s father, a kosher butcher, had to hide the family’s Jewish origins when the Nazis invaded in 1940. He fled with his family to central France, but was captured in 1944 and sent to Auschwitz, where he perished. By then, Marcel had moved to Paris with a new name and forged identity papers. Adopting the surname “Marceau”, after a French Revolutionary War general, he joined the resistance.

His underground activities included the rescuing of many Jewish children from German clutches, and smuggling them to safety. His talent for miming – a career to which he had aspired ever since he first saw a Charlie Chaplain movie when he was five years old – came in handy to distract and quiet the children as he smuggled them past German guards and across the border to safety in Switzerland.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Yugoslav partisans. Tumblr

16. The Yugoslav Resistance Hero

Croat resistance hero Stjepan Filipovic was born in 1916 in what became Yugoslavia after World War I. He left home at sixteen, became a metalworker, and in 1937, joined the local workers’ movement and became an activist member. He was arrested for political activity, and was sentenced to a year in jail. When he was released in 1940, he joined the Communist Party.

In 1941, Germany invaded and overran Yugoslavia. Filipovic volunteered to join the partisan resistance against the Nazi occupiers and was posted to a guerrilla unit near Valjevo, in today’s Serbia. Given responsibility for recruitment and for securing arms, he excelled in his duties and showed considerable promise. By year’s end, he had risen to command an entire partisan battalion. However, what secured Filipovic’s place in history was the defiance with which he faced death when it came calling.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Stjepan Filipovic, defiant unto death. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

15. Going Out in a Total Badass Way

Stjepan Filipovic was captured by the Nazis in February, 1942, and sentenced to be publicly hanged in Valjevo’s town square. At death’s door, he had the courage and presence of mind to seize the moment and defy his captors during his last seconds on earth. Mounting the gallows with the hangman’s noose around his neck, he defiantly thrust his hands in the air and struck a dramatic pose that was captured on camera. He then urged the gathered crowd to continue the struggle against the Nazi oppressors and their Yugoslav collaborators.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Stjepan Filipovic statue in Valjevo. Executed Today

Just before he was hanged, Filipovic became an anti-fascist icon, by crying out: “Death to fascism, freedom to the people!” It was a preexisting partisan slogan, and Filipovic’s martyrdom helped popularize it among the resistance. After the war, Filipovic was designated a national hero of Yugoslavia. A monumental statue was erected in Valjevo in his honor, replicating his Y-shaped pose in a style reminiscent of a Goya painting.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Germans storming into the Netherlands in 1940. YouTube

14. The Teen Resistance Heroines

Dutch resistance heroines Truus and Freddie Oversteegen were born into a left-wing working-class family. They grew up in an industrial district north of Amsterdam known as the “Red Zone” for its residents’ political bent. In the 1930s, their parents assisted an organization known as Red Aid, which helped Jewish and political refugees escape Nazi Germany to the safety of the Netherlands and beyond. In their youth, the sisters grew accustomed to fugitives hiding in their household from Dutch police, who were likely to deport and hand them over to the Gestapo at the border. The pair were thus already anti-fascist long before the Germans conquered the Netherlands in 1940, when Truus was sixteen years old and Freddie was fourteen.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Freddie Oversteegen in 1945. Vice

When the Nazis began deporting the Netherlands’ Jews, the country’s communists and socialists came together in February of 1941 to lead a massive strike in protest. It was one of the few successful nationwide protests against the Germans, and it encouraged the rise of the Dutch resistance.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Roundup of German Jews in the Netherlands. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

13. Repression Fuels the Resistance

In response to widespread protests and the budding resistance, the Nazis ramped up their repression and brutality in order to cow the occupied Dutch into obedience and toeing the line. The occupiers’ repression further alienated even more Dutch people, and drove them into the arms of the resistance.

By then, the Oversteegen sisters’ parents had divorced. Their father, an activist committed to political causes but not committed as much to family obligations, hardly brought in any money, and had the family living on a moored ship. His wife eventually got fed up, left, took the girls with her, and filed for divorce. As Freddie recalled decades later, it was not an acrimonious divorce, and her father sang them a French farewell song from the bow of the ship as they left. The mother arranged to live in a modest apartment, in which she and her daughters slept on straw mattresses that she had made herself.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
A WWII Dutch resistance cell. For God and Country

12. Straitened Circumstances Under Nazi Occupation

The Oversteegen family lived in straitened financial conditions, exacerbated even further by the hardships and shortages of life under German occupation. However, they managed to get by. Their mother also continued the family’s tradition of harboring fugitives from oppression, by hiding a Jewish couple in their apartment during the war. As Freddie recalled decades later, that confused her at first, because the Jewish couple was capitalists, while the Oversteegens were committed communists.

It was against that backdrop that the Dutch resistance approached Truus and Freddie Oversteegen’s mother, and asked if she would allow her daughters to join the Council of Resistance – an organization with close ties to the Communist Party of the Netherlands. After all, who would suspect teenage girls of being members of the armed underground? Their mother consented, and the sisters eagerly accepted the invitation and joined the resistance.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
The Oversteegen sisters. Dagospia

11. The First Women in Their Resistance Cell

The Oversteegen sisters became the first women in their resistance cell, which was later joined by an even more famous Dutch Resistance heroine, Hannie Schaft. Upon joining the Dutch resistance, the teenagers started off small, by distributing leaflets and illegal newspapers, and offering assistance to fugitives from the Nazis.

However, things changed in the aftermath of the brutal Nazi crackdown in 1941, in retaliation for the massive Dutch workers’ strike to protest the deportation of Jews. German brutality further radicalized Truus, and spurred her and her sister Freddie to join an armed partisan resistance fighter cell that engaged in direct action against the Nazis. After receiving military training and learning how to operate a firearm, Truus’ early assignments included flirting with and seducing German soldiers, and leading them into the woods to be killed by her comrades.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Freddie Oversteegen. The New York Times

10. Deadly Flirting

As Freddie Oversteegen described flirting with and seducing Germans to their death: “[Truus] was like: ‘Want to go for a stroll?’ And of course, he wanted to. Then they ran into someone — which was made to seem a coincidence, but he was one of ours — and that friend said to Truus: ‘Girl, you know you’re not supposed to be here.’ They apologized, turned around, and walked away. And then shots were fired, so that man never knew what hit him. They had already dug the hole, but we weren’t allowed to be there for that part“.

Before long, Truus was putting her weapons training to good use, and shooting Germans herself. Along with her sister, she also rigged up bridges and railroad tracks with explosives for destruction. The Oversteegen girls also helped smuggle Jewish children out of the country, carried out daring missions to help some of them escape from detention centers en route to extermination camps, and even sprang some from concentration camps.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Hannie Schaft. Wikimedia

9. Joined by Another Heroine

In 1943, a new member was added to the Oversteegen sisters’ resistance cell, Hannie Schaft. A conscientious young woman with conspicuous red hair, Hannie attended the University of Amsterdam’s law school in hopes of becoming a human rights lawyer. Unfortunately, Nazi-occupied Europe was a poor environment for studying or practicing human rights law. In law school, she became friends with Jewish students, which opened her eyes to the mistreatment of Jews by the occupiers.

When the Nazis issued a decree, requiring law students to sign a declaration of allegiance to the German occupation, Hannie refused, and was kicked out of law school. She promptly joined the resistance. Like the Oversteegen sisters, with whom she became fast friends – particularly Truus – Hannie began her underground career with small assignments. The resistance started her off with courier work, and tasked her with stealing identity papers to help Jews – including her Jewish friends – escape the ever-tightening Nazi noose.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Truus Oversteegen, right, during the war. Pintrest

8. Drawing the Line on Ruthlessness

Hannie Schaft wanted to do heavier lifting than what had been assigned to her. So she convinced the Resistance Council to train her in weapons. Before long, with the assistance of the Oversteegen sisters, she was carrying out attacks against German occupiers, Dutch Nazis, traitors, and collaborators. Hannie also learned how to speak German fluently, and got involved with German officials and soldiers, seducing information out of them and passing it on to the resistance.

Hannie’s conscientiousness, however, prevented her from unquestioning obedience and accepting all tasks given her by the resistance. Among the assignments, she turned down was the kidnapping of a Nazi official’s children. If things went wrong, the children would have had to be killed to keep them from identifying the resistance members with whom they had come in contact. However, killing children was a step too far for Hannie.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Truus Oversteegen. Jornal de Noticias

7. The Nazi Noose Tightens on the Dutch Resistance

Life in the armed resistance was tough, rough, full of dangers, and marked by tragedy as often as success. Early on, Truus Oversteegen, who had undertaken numerous missions to help Jews escape the Nazis’ clutches, was present at a failed rescue mission of Jewish children. It ended with the fugitives caught in searchlights in an open field, where most were mown down with machineguns. By the time the war ended, many of her resistance comrades had been arrested and executed.

Among them was Truus’ best friend, Hannie Schaft. When the redheaded resistance heroine was seen at the site of an assassination, the issued an all-points bulletin, alerting their forces and security personnel to be on the lookout for “the girl with the red hair”. She was placed on the Nazis’ most wanted list.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Freddie and Truus Oversteegen. Scribol

6. Sacrifice and Survival

Dyeing her hair black to hide her identity, Hannie Schaft continued her resistance work, until she was arrested at a checkpoint while distributing an illegal newspaper. After a series of brutal interrogations and tortures, she was executed on April 17th, 1945, just weeks before the war ended. Reportedly, her killers’ first fusillade only wounded her, so she taunted them “I shoot better than you“, before they managed to finish her off.

The Oversteegens and other left-wing resistance cells suspected that they had been betrayed by right-wing resistance members, who were backwards during the fighting, but came forward at the hour of liberation to claim the lion’s share of the credit. Notwithstanding the setbacks, daily dangers, and mistrust, Truus and Freddie Oversteegen courageously soldiered on and kept up the fight. They evaded capture despite sizeable rewards that were placed on their heads.

Related: 10 Fearless Female Resistance Fighters from World War I & II.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Freddie Dekker-Oversteegen and Truus Menger-Oversteegen at an award ceremony in 2014. Netherlands Ministry of Defense

5. After the War

Truus put down her arms and went about settling down and raising a family after the war. She married Piet Menger in November, 1945, and the couple had four children. She named the oldest after her martyred comrade, Hannie Schaft. Truus made a name for herself as a respected artist and sculptress, and as a public speaker about war, antisemitism, and tolerance. In 1967, Israel’s official memorial to the Holocaust, Yad Vashem, designated her as one of the Righteous Among Nations – an honorific for non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from the Nazis. In 1982, she wrote a memoir about her wartime experiences, Not Then, Not Now, Not Ever. Truus Menger-Oversteegen died on June 18th, 2016.

Her sister Freddie also put down her arms after the war, and beating swords into plowshares, settled down and raised a family. She married Jan Dekker, and the couple had three children. When her sister established the Hannie Schaft Foundation, Freddie served on its board. In recognition of their wartime exploits, the Oversteegen sisters were awarded their country’s Mobilisation War Cross in 2014. Freddie died on September 5th, 2018, one day shy of her ninety-third birthday.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
French resistance fighters, including 18 year-old Simone Segouin, during the Liberation of Paris in 1944. Rare Historical Photos

4. Caution Against Overselling the Actual Impact of the Resistance

The romance and memory of the resistance during WWII will probably last as long as humanity values the fight against oppression. Especially when done at harrowing risks, against forces of pure evil and in the face of daunting odds. However, from a historic perspective, we should be cautious of exaggerating the resistance movements’ actual impact on the course of the war. Particularly when it comes to the resistance movements in Western Europe.

The common perception is that the resistance was widespread in Western Europe, and that the efforts of those clandestine groups tipped the balance in the Allies’ favor, spelling the difference between victory and defeat. Unfortunately, when examining the cold hard facts, that perception turns out to be inaccurate. The moral and physical courage of the resistance is both inspirational and humbling. Those of who grew up in more peaceful times may well wonder whether we would have dared to do what they did, had we been in their shoes. However, the actual impact of the resistance in Western Europe on the course of the war was relatively minor.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
Soviet Partisans. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

3. Resistance Movements in Eastern vs Western Europe

It is true that Eastern European resistance movements, such as the Soviet and Yugoslav partisans, contributed materially to victory with intense and widespread sabotage and guerrilla activities. By contrast, the greatest contribution of Western Europe’s resistance lay in intelligence gathering: their sabotage and guerrilla efforts were negligible.

It took great courage, and the men and women of the Western European resistance risked their lives on a daily basis. Nonetheless, their impact was more symbolic than substantive. The actual impact lay in contributing more to Western Europeans’ pride and self-esteem after the war for having done something, not in having greatly contributed to the actual winning of the war.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
German Einsatzgruppen execution in Lithuania, 1942. Wikimedia

2. The Degree of German Brutality in Different Parts of Europe Impacted the Intensity of the Resistance

The disparity between the resistance movements in Eastern Europe and the Balkans versus those of Western Europe is due to the manner in which the German occupiers treated their conquered subjects in different parts of Europe. Jews excepted, German occupation of Western Europe, while severe, never approached the levels of psychotic cruelty and mindless brutality meted out to the conquered in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
German Einsatzgruppen carrying out a mass execution of Soviet civilians in 1941. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

With the exception of communists – who made a drastic turn from acquiescence to German occupation during the period of Soviet-German friendship to fierce resistance after Hitler attacked the USSR – Western European civilian populations generally did not exhibit a willingness to risk the horrific reprisals and atrocities the Germans were prepared to inflict upon troublesome subjects. It was not due to lack of courage, but lack of incentive.

A Ballerina Who Stabbed an SS Guard With a Stiletto and Other Historic Rebels
French policemen, under Gestapo supervision, rounding up Jews in Marseilles for deportation. Frank Fall Archive

1. Harsher Nazi Treatment of the Occupied in Eastern Europe Led to More Intense Resistance than in Western Europe

In general, the Germans did not treat the occupied peoples of Western Europeans nearly as atrociously as they did, e.g.; Soviet or Yugoslav civilians. Thus, Western Europeans’ backs were not as much against the wall to where they felt they had nothing to lose. As a result, Western Europeans never flocked to the resistance in the kinds of numbers that transformed it into a mass popular movement as happened in the Balkans and the USSR.

During the war, the resistance in Western Europe was not as widespread or intense as is often depicted in film or fiction. Far more people were willing to accept German occupation and make the best of a bad situation, than were willing to resist and risk German vengeance. For example, far more Frenchmen collaborated with the German occupiers than joined the resistance. Indeed, the French resistance’s numbers only boomed following the successful Allied landings in Normandy, after which late arrivals swelled the resistance ranks.

_________________

Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

All That is Interesting – Zinaida Portnova: The Teenage Partisan Who Became a Soviet Hero During World War II

Encyclopedia Britannica – Eiffel Tower

Encyclopedia Britannica – Josephine Baker, French Entertainer

Garlinski, Jozef – Fighting Auschwitz: The Resistance Movement in the Concentration Camp (2018)

Gildea, Roberts, et al. – Surviving Hitler and Mussolini (2006)

Ha’aretz, August 27th, 2019 – The Jewish Dancer Undressed Slowly. Then She Shot an SS Soldier to Death

History – The French Resistance’s Secret Weapon? The Mime Marcel Marceau

History Collection – Overlooked Important WWII Figures from History

History – This Teenager Killed Nazis With Her Sister During WWII

History Daily – The Story Behind: A Member of the French Resistance Smiling at a German Firing Squad

Jones, Sherry – Josephine Baker’s Last Dance (2018)

Libcom – Stjepan Filipovic: Everlasting Symbol of Anti Fascism

Murphy, Brendan – Turncoat: The Strange Case of British Sergeant Harold Cole, the Worst Traitor of the War (1987)

Musee de la Resistance – Georges Blind [French]

History Collection – The Night Witches and Other Warrior Women of World War II

Nonument – Stjepan Filipovic Monument

Vice, May 11th, 2016 – This 90 Year Old Lady Seduced and Killed Nazis as a Teenager

Vintage News – Eiffel Tower’s Cables Were Cut So That Hitler Would Have to Climb the Steps to the Top

Washington Jewish Week – Charlotte Sorkine: Unknown Hero of the French Resistance

Wikipedia – Resistance During World War II

Wikipedia – Truus-Menger Oversteegen

History Collection – Fearless Female War Heroes You Didn’t Learn About in History Class

Advertisement