Book Review: Three Ordinary Girls

Three Ordinary Girls by Tim Brady

Tim Brady’s Three Ordinary Girls follows three teenagers - sisters Truus and Freddie Oversteegen, and Hannie Shaft - as they became part of the Resistance during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in WWII. It’s a fascinating account.

The Oversteegen girls were raised by their mother (the father left when they were young). Their mother had strong left wing political views and was very active in socialist activities. Hannie Shaft’s father was a teacher who continued to work through the Great Depression, so, unlike the Oversteegens, he was able to keep his wife and daughter off the dole. Hannie also had strong leftist leanings, studying Marxism as part of her college coursework as the war came to the Netherlands.

At the start of the Nazi occupation the resistance was very loosely organized, and in each town people were figuring out ways to resist on their own.  In Haarlem the girls fell in with Frans van der Wiel, who would lead the local resistance. They started with actions like disrupting the speech of the locally installed Nazi leader by getting others to ring their bicycle bells while a compatriot cut the power to the leader’s microphone. 

But as the war progressed the actions became much more risky, including bombings and assassinations. The three women were active participants, and in fact were considered key players as they could move about more freely than their male counterparts - the Nazis were less suspicious of young Dutch women than the young men. 

I think that’s what Brady means by calling these women “ordinary girls”. Ordinary is how the Nazis viewed them. But the actions they took and the courage they showed were anything but ordinary. They became an important part of their tight knit group of resistance fighters.

Later, as the war in Europe entered its final stages the resistance began to be more organized and the group under Frans began taking direction from a more formal structure organized by the government-in-exile. Tension with those in charge began to arise, partly because the leaders were from the upper class and viewed Frans’ group as filled with lower class people with communist leaning. Neither side trusted the other completely.

Brady’s book covers the war years and after, including the reluctance to credit the socialist leaning members of the Resistance as the Cold War began to set in. Thankfully that is now in the past, and the heroism of all three women is now recognized and acknowledged within the Netherlands. With Brady’s book their story is gaining recognition with a broader audience.

The book is fast paced and graphically detailed. But it moves so fast that, even though Brady lays out all the pieces, the emotional punch inherent in the story doesn’t quite come through the page. So, while I learned a lot and enjoyed the book, it comes in as a Four Star ⭐⭐⭐⭐ read for me.

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Title: Three Ordinary Girls
Author: Tim Brady
Publisher: Citadel (Kensington)
Publish Date: February 23, 2021
ISBN-13: 9780806540382
Publisher’s List Price: $26.00 (Hardcover as of 03/2022)