Born Jannetje Johanna (Jo) Schaft (16 September 1920 – 17 April 1945), she was a Dutch communist resistance fighter during World War II. She became known as 'the girl with the red hair' (Dutch: Het meisje met het rode haar). Her secret name in the resistance movement was "Hannie". Hannie Schaft was born in Haarlem the capital of the province of North Holland. Her mother, Aafje Talea Schaft (born Vrijer) was a Mennonite and her father, Pieter Schaft was attached to the Social Democratic Workers' Party; the two were immensely protective of Schaft because of the death of her older sister.
From a young age, Schaft discussed politics and social justice with her family, which encouraged her to pursue law and become a human rights lawyer. During her law studies at the Universiteit van Amsterdam she became friends with the Jewish students Philine Polak and Sonja Frenk. This made her feel strongly about actions against Jews. With the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II, in 1943, university students were required to sign a declaration of allegiance to the occupation authorities. When Schaft refused to sign the petition in support of the occupation forces, like 80% of the other students, she could not continue her studies and moved in with her parents again. Schaft's resistance work started with small acts. First, she would steal ID cards for Jewish residents (including her friends). Upon leaving university, she joined the Raad van Verzet or "Council of Resistance", a resistance movement that had close ties to the Communist Party of the Netherlands. Rather than act as a courier, Schaft wanted to work with weapons. She was responsible for sabotaging and assassinating various targets. She carried out attacks on Germans, Dutch Nazis, collaborators and traitors. She learned to speak German fluently and became involved with German soldiers.
Schaft did not, however, accept every job. When asked to kidnap the children of a Nazi official she refused. If the plan had failed, the children would have to be killed, and Schaft felt that was too similar to the Nazis' acts of terror. When seen at the location of a particular assassination, Schaft was identified as "the girl with the red hair". Her involvement led "the girl with the red hair" to be placed on the Nazis' most-wanted list.
When one of Schaft's friends and fellow Resistance workers was injured in an attempted assassination effort, the friend mistakenly gave Schaft's name to Dutch Nazi nurses disguised as Resistance workers. To force Schaft to confess, German authorities arrested her parents and sent them to the Vught concentration camp. The distress of this situation forced Schaft to cease resistance work temporarily; her parents were eventually released.
Upon recovery, Schaft dyed her hair black to hide her identity and returned to Resistance work. She once again contributed to assassinations and sabotage, as well as courier work, and the transportation of illegal weapons and the dissemination of illegal newspapers. She was eventually arrested at a military checkpoint in Haarlem on 21 March 1945 while distributing the illegal communist newspaper de Waarheid (literally 'The Truth'), which was a cover story. She was transporting secret documentation for the Resistance. She worked closely with Anna A.C. Wijnhoff. After much interrogation, torture, and solitary confinement, Schaft was identified by the roots of her red hair by her former colleague Anna Wijnhoff.
Schaft was executed by Dutch Nazi officials on 17 April 1945. Although at the end of the war there was an agreement between the occupier and the Binnenlandse Strijdkrachten ('Dutch resistance') to stop executions, she was shot dead three weeks before the end of the war in the dunes of Bloemendaal. Two men took her there and one shot her at close range, only wounding her. She is said to have told her executioners: Ik schiet beter "I shoot better!", after which the other man delivered the final shot.
On 27 November 1945, Schaft was reburied in a state funeral. Queen Wilhelmina called Schaft "the symbol of the Resistance".