Lesser-Known Women Who Were World War II Heroes


Sophie Scholl, member of the resistance group White Rose during the Third Reich. Portrait ca. 1941, digitally colorized. (ullstein bild/Getty Images)

Sophie Scholl

As the daughter of a progressive politician and outspoken critic of the Nazi regime, Sophie Scholl followed in her father's footsteps. In high school, she and her brother, Hans, created a secret club of anti-Nazi thinkers who called themselves White Rose. They created anti-Nazi pamphlets and began discreetly distributing them in summer 1942 around the nearby Ludwig Maximilian University.

While many at the school were interested in White Rose's goals, one of the maintenance workers on campus, a Nazi supporter named Jakkob Schmidt, alerted the Gestapo to the girl's activities. She was quickly arrested and assumed full responsibility, declaring that "somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don't dare express themselves as we did." She and the other identified members of White Rose were sentenced to death, and she and her brother were hanged on February 2, 1943, only hours after their conviction.

Freddie Dekker-Oversteegen. (Dutch Minister of Defense/Wikimedia Commons)

Freddie And Truss Oversteegen

This dynamic duo who were born in Schochten, Netherlands joined the Dutch resistance when they were only in their early teens. Their mother began offering refuge to fleeing Jews as early as 1939, but when the Nazis invaded their homeland, the teenagers decided to kick things up a notch and began secretly distributing anti-fascist flyers and posters across town. They played up their youth to avoid attention, styling their hair in braids and moving solely by foot or bike. It worked, so they leveled up again by blowing up rail lines with dynamite, hurting the Nazi war effort. They even began luring Nazi soldiers into the woods under romantic pretenses and then shooting them. For many decades, their bravery was kept out of the headlines, but in 2014, the Dutch government finally thanked them by granting them the War Mobilization Cross award.

Female war correspondent Lee Miller, who covered the U.S. Army in the European Theater during World War II. (U.S. Army/Wikimedia Commons)

Lee Miller

Elizabeth "Lee" Miller's career began serendipitously, as she was saved by Vogue editor Condé Nast from nearly being hit by a car after walking into the street without looking one day in Paris, where she hoped to work as a model. Nast liked her look and attitude, but soon, she felt herself pulled behind the camera, eventually establishing her own studio and showing in famous art galleries. She worked alongside greats like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and Jean Cacteau.

But like the rest of Europe, Lee had to shift gears when World War II came along and took to photojournalism instead, becoming one of Vogue's official photographers in the European theater, primarily focusing on the Blitz, which devastated England from 1940 to 1941. She then teamed up with Life Magazine photojournalist David Scherman to tackle longer trips across Europe, documenting the violence of the Battle of Alsace and the triumphs of Paris. They were especially notable for capturing the first use and effects of napalm during the Battle of Saint Malo, but their biggest victory was Scherman's photos of Miller taking a bath in Hitler's own bathtub in his Munich apartment after visiting the Dachau concentration camp, washing "the dirt of Dachau off in his tub."