By – May 1, 2023

Count­less books have been writ­ten about the Holo­caust — about vic­tims, sur­vivors, Nazis, the com­pli­ant nations who did lit­tle to stand in their way, and the Jew­ish par­ti­sans who did but were ulti­mate­ly mar­tyred. To Die Beau­ti­ful is dif­fer­ent. Buzzy Jackson’s nov­el opens the door to a world in which ordi­nary non-Jews, often in the first flush of youth and promise, risk their lives, refus­ing to let evil con­tin­ue. Though vast­ly out­num­bered, they defy the Nazi bul­lies who have over­tak­en their peace­able Hol­land, their actions rang­ing from leaflet dis­tri­b­u­tion and pet­ty van­dal­ism to bomb­ings and assas­si­na­tions. Giv­en the option of com­ply­ing with Nazism, they choose instead to stand up. 

Han­nie Schaft, the first-per­son hero­ine of the nov­el, is one of these heroes. Born into a mid­dle-class Dutch Chris­t­ian fam­i­ly, and about to enter law school, Han­nie is ordered to sign a loy­al­ty oath to the new regime. She leaves and shel­ters her two Jew­ish friends, Son­ja and Phi­line. Still a teenag­er when she com­mits her first defi­ant acts, she is not much old­er when she begins to assas­si­nate Nazis and their sym­pa­thiz­ers. With curly red hair and lips paint­ed crim­son, she lures pompous men to assig­na­tions. These end at first embrace, when she draws her gun. 

Soon Han­nie becomes known as The Girl With Red Hair,” with rumors of her seduc­tive dar­ing alleged­ly reach­ing the ears of Hitler him­self. But Han­nie is no slick Mata Hari. Even as she under­takes increas­ing­ly dan­ger­ous mis­sions, she retains a sense of child­ish inno­cence and moral puri­ty. To sim­ply let Jews die at the hands of mon­sters is incon­ceiv­able to her. What mat­ters most in life, she tells us, is to nev­er lose one’s sense of good­ness. After a café con­ver­sa­tion with anoth­er young girl in the Resis­tance, Han­nie sees her take pains to be honorable: 

A few steps from the table, Tru­us found a twenty-five-cent 

coin on the side­walk. A trea­sure. I was about to tell her it 

was a good omen, but she had already turned, jogged back, 

and set the coin down on the saucer next to her cof­fee cup, 

to pay for mine. She saw me watching.

Bli­jf alti­jd menselijk,” she said, by way of explanation. 

The words mean Always stay human.” With razor-sharp authen­tic­i­ty and basic ten­der­ness, Buzzy Jack­son restores our own sense of humanity.

Sonia Taitz, a Ramaz, Yale Law, and Oxford grad­u­ate, is the author of five books, includ­ing the acclaimed sec­ond gen­er­a­tion” mem­oir, The Watch­mak­er’s Daugh­ter, and the nov­el, Great with Child. Praised for her warmth and wit by Van­i­ty Fair, The New York Times Book Review, Peo­ple and The Chica­go Tri­bune, she is cur­rent­ly work­ing on a nov­el about the Zohar, the mys­ti­cal source of Jew­ish transcendence.

Discussion Questions

Half thriller, half love sto­ry, Buzzy Jackson’s grip­ping debut nov­el is based on the true sto­ry of Han­nie Schaft. Jack­son brings con­text to her sto­ry as she trans­forms from a shy law stu­dent to a dead­ly assassin.

Han­nie was, in her own words, an expert at being nobody.” But had she not been search­ing for a san­i­tary belt, she might nev­er have become a resis­tance fight­er. She found both her san­i­tary belt and her call­ing as a resis­tance work­er sav­ing Jew­ish refugees. As the Nazi per­se­cu­tion of Jews inten­si­fied, she moved to her child­hood home in Haar­lem, where she hid her two Jew­ish friends, Phi­line and Son­ja. Using her con­nec­tions, she joined the resis­tance and began her train­ing with her new lover, Jan Bonekamp, who taught her the art of assassination.

The com­bi­na­tion of Hannie’s unas­sum­ing per­sona and red lip­stick drew in her unsus­pect­ing Nazi tar­gets, giv­ing her an up close-and-per­son­al oppor­tu­ni­ty to assas­si­nate them. She was so dan­ger­ous to the Third Reich that Hitler per­son­al­ly ordered her cap­ture, call­ing her the girl with red hair.” 

To Die Beau­ti­ful is a fast-paced page-turn­er that will delight any­one inter­est­ed in his­tor­i­cal fic­tion. Hannie’s val­or, grit, and con­vic­tion leave a last­ing impression.