The plinth commemorating Schaft is unusual because it sits among shrubs and next to a plinth for the man who may not just have been her lover, but ultimately and tragically, betrayed her name to the Nazis.
The “girl with the red hair”
Schaft was a communist, the “girl with the red hair” who had wanted to be a human rights lawyer. Instead she was an assassin on a bike who killed Nazis and their collaborators, by any means necessary. Her exploits became legendary. She was shot at and wounded, blew up trains and carried out sabotage.
Her actions included seduction where literally, her and two female colleagues would invite unsuspecting Nazi collaborators for a sexual liaison and certain death. Working with Schaft were the Oversteegen sisters, Truus and Freddie, who later survived the war.
The shy sisters were being brought up by a single mother with strong antifascist convictions when war broke out. Along with Schaft, the sisters saw it as their moral and ideological duty to fight fascism. They took most, but not all, their instructions from the Communist Resistance (also known as the Raad Van Verzet, or RVV).
Their plan was simple, brutal and brilliant. The three teenagers knew how to use their youthful charm and good looks to full advantage. They targeted collaborators, or in their own words “traitors”, and this included those (including other women) from 1942 onwards who began helping the Nazis collate Jewish names. Eventually, the three girls began targeting Dutch men in the service of the Nazis. Allowing themselves to be “seduced”, they would agree to liaisons in a forest. Once the amorous collaborator arrived he would be shot by one of the girls, or an RVV accomplice.
Schaft had been forced to leave university after showing sympathies with Jewish students and refusing to recognise and swear allegiance to either the Nazis or the collaborationist government. She had refused the role of messenger offered to her by the RVV, declaring she would rather kill Nazis herself than order others to do the same.
Few actually knew her name or her true identity
When she was not studying, she was receiving instructions as who to target and kill. Few actually knew her name or her true identity outside of the leadership that directed her small team, though rather unhelpfully she had been given the codename “Hannie” inside the party.
Her partner, Jan Bonekamp, who is remembered by a memorial on the roadside next to Schaft’s, was tortured on his death bed in 1944 and forced to provide the name of his accomplice and lover to the SS. It resulted in her parents being sent to a concentration camp.
Schaft was arrested in her hometown of Haarlem while carrying documents for the resistance. Despite being exhausted and depressed, she refused to buckle under interrogation, not even to confirm her suspected identity. Sadly, her resistance was in vain as she was eventually identified by a former colleague.
Despite the war nearing an end and a moratorium between both sides on executions, Dutch Nazis took her out and shot her, dumping her body with the bodies of hundreds of other resisters in the dunes west of Haarlem. It was just 18 days before the Netherlands was liberated, but to the Dutch Nazis who were themselves to face treason charges, the murder of Schaft was a matter of honour.
Schaft was later given a state funeral attended by the Dutch Royal family. She is remembered and commemorated every year in memorial services across the country.