Corrie ten Boom - Love in Action
By David R. Barnhart
Volume 29 Summer 2014 Issue 3
Love for Christ
There is a time and place for all God’s children to shine. Often that time and place involve the most dire situations and difficult circumstances. This was certainly true for Corrie ten Boom who, along with her family, is credited with saving over 800 Jews in Holland during World War II. But as one might expect, Corrie and her family paid a tremendous price for their heroic efforts.
While Corrie ten Boom’s story has been told in books and on film, there are many Christians, especially among the younger generation, who have never heard of her. For those who know of Corrie and those who do not, we present her story, believing it will strengthen your faith in all situations and circumstances.
Cornelia Arnolda Johanna ten Boom was born to Casper and Cornelia ten Boom, April 15, 1892. Corrie had two sisters, Betsie and Nollie, and a brother Willem, all of whom are deserving of praise and recognition for their personal efforts to save Jews from Hitler’s extermination camps.
Love for Jews
The ten Boom family’s love for the Jewish people dates to 1844, when Corrie’s great grandfather, Willem, began a weekly gathering to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and for the Jewish people in Haarlem. Those prayer meetings continued until 1944 when the family was arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis, exactly 100 years later.
Casper ten Boom and his family were members of the Dutch Reformed Church. Being devout Christians they put their faith into practice daily. In addition to weekly prayer gatherings for the Jewish people, Corrie and Betsie conducted Bible classes in the local schools, including classes for mentally retarded children. However, the Nazis ended their Bible classes after taking over the Netherlands.The remarkable part of Corrie’s story began in May 1940, when Hitler’s blitzkrieg brought about the surrender of the Netherlands in just four days. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, along with the royal family, fled to England where she set up a government in exile.
Immediately after the Nazis took control of the Nether- lands, the persecution of the Dutch Jews began in earnest. Thousands of Jews were rounded up and sent to concen- tration camps. However, more than a few Dutch citizens, at the peril of their lives, hid Jews and helped them escape Hitler’s “final solution to the Jewish question.”
Love in Action
One such “hiding place” was in the home of Casper ten Boom, a watchmaker and jeweler in Haarlem. Casper, a widower, shared a home above his jewelry shop with his two unmarried daughters, Betsie and Corrie.
Like her father, Corrie became a watchmaker and worked in the family jewelry shop. In fact, she was the first female watchmaker ever licensed in the Netherlands.
In 1940 when the Nazis required all Jews in the Netherlands to wear a yellow star, Casper, though not a Jew himself, stood in line to obtain a star which he proudly wore. The ten Boom family smuggled in bricks and mortar in order to construct a small room, 2 feet x 7 feet, accessible through a small closet in Corrie’s bedroom located on the top floor of the house. A bell was installed to warn “guests” when anyone suspicious approached the house. They even conducted drills to determine how long it would take their “guests” to rush upstairs and secure themselves in “the hiding place.” The average time was a minute and thirty seconds.
Between 1943 and 1944, the ten Boom family sheltered on average six or seven Jews daily in their home. The watchmaker’s shop was an effective cover for their clandestine operations. When asked if he knew what might happen to him if the Nazis ever discovered that he was harboring Jews in his home, Casper replied it would be a great honor to be killed for helping God’s ancient people.
Even before the war, the ten Booms were highly respected by the residents of Haarlem for their social work. Their efforts to hide Jews from the Gestapo was known by only a few trusted friends, although some nearby residents surmised what might be happening above the Ten Boom Jewelry Shop.
One of the ten Boom’s greatest problems was feeding all the people who were being sequestered in their home. Food was scarce, expensive and rationed. One day Corrie took a big risk and asked a Dutch official
who worked in the office where ration cards were handed out, if he might arrange to give her more ration cards, because she had so many people to feed. The official feigned shock at her question, then suggested such a thing would be impossible unless, of course, a robbery were to occur.
A few days later the same official, sporting a black eye and several bruises on his face, visited Corrie and handed her 100 ration cards. Corrie said nothing about his appearance, but quickly surmised “he must have been robbed.”
Love Put to the Test
Eventually someone in the neighborhood reported the ten Booms to the Gestapo. The secret police raided their home on February 28, 1944, and arrested everyone present, except four Jews and two members of the Netherlands resistance movement who had hidden in the ten Boom’s “hiding place” during the raid. The police questioned and beat both Corrie and Betsie in an effort to get them to reveal where the Jews were hidden, but the sisters refused to tell them.
Throughout the day of the raid, the Nazis watched the ten Boom shop and arrested 20 persons who tried to enter. Those caught in the actual raid itself included Casper, Betsie, Corrie, Willem, and Nollie, as well as her son Peter who happened to be visiting. All the ten Booms were taken to police headquarters for further interrogation and then incarcerated in Scheveningen prison near The Hague. Within 10 days Casper ten Boom, age 84, died from the ordeal.
A short while later Nollie, Peter and Willem were released by the Gestapo, but Corrie and Betsie remained imprisoned. A few months later Willem’s son Kik was sent to Bergen Belsen for his work in the resistance movement. Willem, a pastor in the Dutch Reformed Church and part of the resistance movement, died in 1946 from tuberculosis which he contracted from previous imprisonments.
Love Tested in the Fires
Corrie and Betsie were held in separate prisons for several weeks, but eventually they were reunited on a transport train that took them to Ravensbruck, one of the Nazis’ most notorious death camps. It had been built to accommodate women and children. It is estimated that at least 90,000 Jews perished at Ravensbruck, at the murderous hands of the Nazis.
Upon arrival at Ravenbruck Betsie told Corrie, “Now we are in hell.” And hell it was for both sisters! The barracks were overcrowded and saturated with lice. But Betsie gave thanks for the lice when she discovered the guards were reluctant to enter the barracks because of the lice. Thus, Corrie and Betsie were able to conduct daily worship meetings without being caught.
In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie described some of their sessions: “A single meeting might include a recital of the Magnificat in Latin by a group of Roman Catholics, a whispered hymn by some Lutherans, and a sotto-voce chant by Eastern Orthodox women. At last either Betsie or I would open the Bible. Because only the Hol- landers could understand the Dutch text, we would translate aloud in German. And then we would hear the life-giving words passed back along the aisles in French, Polish, Russian, Czech, and back into Dutch. These were little previews of heaven, these evening meetings beneath the light bulb.”
The hardest moments in Ravensbruck for Corrie centered on Betsie, not on herself. She watched in agony as Betsie was beaten for not working fast enough. And when Betsie became so ill that she had to be taken to the prison hospital, Corrie’s anguish became nearly unbearable. Just prior to being hospitalized, some of Betsie’s last words to Corrie were: “We must tell them what we have learned here. We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still. They will listen to us, Corrie, because we have been here.” Finally, on December 16, 1944, Betsie died.
Two weeks later Corrie’s name and number were called. She thought she was being selected for death. Instead, she was taken to a prison office where she was handed her release papers. Corrie was let out of the prison after signing a statement about how well she had been treated.
With God’s help Corrie managed to reach the Nether- lands by train and was immediately hospitalized. In the course of the next several years, Corrie tried to put her life back together again, working with refugees and people whose lives had been devastated by the war. Eventually invitations to speak came pouring in from all over Europe. Corrie traveled extensively about Europe and later in the United States telling her story to all who would listen.
Forgive, Even When it Seems Impossible
In 1947 Corrie spoke at a church in Munich, Germany where her topic was on “forgiveness.” She spoke from her heart about the need to forgive those who have hurt and wronged you, recalling her own experiences at Ravensbruck.
“It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture— ‘When we confess our sins, God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.’”
Following her presentation most people were so over- whelmed by the message, they left the church in relative silence. However, one man stayed behind to speak to her—he had been one of her guards at Ravenbruck.
“Never,” she said later, “did I expect God to put my faith or my message of forgiveness to such a test.”
The former guard said, as he thrust out his hand to shake hers, “A fine message Fraulein. How good it is to know that all our sins are at the bottom of the sea. You mentioned Ravensbruck, I was a guard at Ravensbuck.”
“Obviously he did not remember me, but I remembered him,” wrote Corrie. Then he said, “But since that time, I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, will you forgive me?”
“As I stood there,” Corrie wrote, “I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible deathsimply for the asking? It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I ever had to do. I had to do it, I knew that.”
“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’”
“For a long moment,” said Corrie, “we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.”
In the later years of her life Corrie moved to the United States, where her book The Hiding Place became a best-seller. In 1972 Billy Graham’s Worldwide Pictures produced a movie about Corrie, also called “The Hiding Place.” Recently the movie has been remastered and is available today through various outlets including Amazon. We encourage you to buy or rent this movie and see Corrie’s amazing story.
It is estimated that of all the Dutch who hid Jews, one-third were killed. Of the 130,000 Jews living in the Netherlands prior to World War II, only 30,000 survived the war. Of the 75,000 Dutch Jews who were transported to the slave-labor and death camps in Germany, only five percent survived.
Corrie died on her 91st birthday, April 15, 1983. What a reunion in heaven the ten Boom family must have enjoyed! Today a tree grows on the grounds of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem in honor of Corrie ten Boom. It pays tribute to her courageous efforts to save Jews from the hands of the Nazis. Yad Vashem is a memorial to the six million Jews who were killed during the Holocaust. It honors not only the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust but also “righteous Gentiles” who risked their lives to save Jews during World War II. Corrie was surely “a righteous Gentile” in more ways than one.
Corrie's Unforgettable Quotes
“You can never learn Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have.”
“God does not have problems, only plans.”
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.”
“The devil smiles when we make plans. He laughs when we get too busy. But he trembles when we pray, especially when we pray together.”
“If you look at the world, you'll be distressed. If you look within, you'll be depressed. If you look at God you'll be at rest.”