Can there be freedom when evil triumphs all around you, when all that you love is taken away, and when your days are surrounded by brutality, death and horror in a Nazi concentration camp? In this remarkable true story published 40 years ago, Cornelia Ten Boom shares her journey from spinster watchmaker in 1937 Holland to a heroine of the Dutch Resistance and how she risked her life helping hide God’s chosen people from the extermination of Hitler’s regime.
In the preface of The Hiding Place, author Elizabeth Sherrill recalls the first time she heard Corrie Ten Boom speak at a 1968 service in Germany. Of the two sharing their experiences of the Holocaust, Sherrill was struck by the similarities in their stories and yet how different each speaker was affected. Both speakers had been prisoners of a concentration camp, brutalized and starved. Both had family that died in the camp. One speaker was emotionally and physically devastated but Corrie emanated just the opposite.
“Her face radiated a spirit of love, peace and joy,” wrote Sherrill, “how could that be?” Sherrill knew there was a story to tell and, together with her husband John, learned how God became Corrie’s refuge, a “hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest…the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” (Isaiah 32:2 KJV)
It was 1937 when Corrie and all the Ten Boom family were making preparations for the 100th anniversary of their little watch making shop in Holland. The Ten Booms were a well regarded and loving family. Many friends from town came to pay their respects to Corrie and her father at the humble little crooked home they referred to as the “Beje.” Together with her sisters, Nollie and Betsie, Corrie wondered where her older brother Willem was. An ordained minister, Willem had always had a heart for serving the Jews and had scrimped and saved to open a home to serve the elderly. As of late, there had been many young, frightened and homeless Jews knocking on his door escaping persecution in Germany.
As she sat and worried, Corrie remembered the words her brother penned in his doctoral thesis ten years prior while studying there. He had written that a terrible evil was taking root in Germany and at the university seeds were being planted of contempt for human life such as the world had never seen. The few that had read it laughed. No one was laughing now. In the years since, a deliberate and large scale movement was growing against the Jews. When Willem finally arrived at the Beje all eyes fixated on the man at his side. Badly burned and beaten was a Jewish man in traditional garb; set on fire by teenage boys on the streets of Munich. Little did Corrie Ten Boom know then what role she and her family would play in the dark days to come.
The Germans invaded Holland in 1940, and the changes brought by their occupation came slowly at first. Curfews were enacted, identity and ration cards became mandatory, Newspapers no longer carried News, phones were disconnected and radios seized. Minor attacks on the Jews began as if testing to see how the Dutch people would react. With little resistance from the public, the Nazis grew bolder. Synagogues were burned down. Businesses put up signs claiming no service for Jews and it became mandatory for them to wear a yellow six pointed star with the word “Jood” (Jew) in its center. Soon after they began to disappear, leaving their homes and businesses abandoned. Jewish men, women and children were being arrested and hauled away by the truckload. Risking their lives, the Ten Booms became a part of the underground resistance that whisked Jews to safe places. In the Beje itself, a secret hiding place was constructed for a group of six under their care. Even the Dutchmen, themselves, were not safe. Every young, healthy male between sixteen and thirty lived in fear of being herded away by the Nazis to a German munitions factory.
In February of 1945, the Gestapo raided the Beje arresting Corrie and her family on suspicion of hiding Jews. None were found in the house. All six had made it to safety in the secret hiding place in Corrie’s room and later rescued. Corrie’s faith and resilience would be tested beyond measure in the months to come. Separated from her family and living in the cruel conditions of solitary confinement, she yearned more than anything for a Bible. Her prayers were answered when a nurse managed to sneak to her four small booklets of the four Gospels. Jesus became Corrie’s hiding place and her refuge, bearing a burden too hard to endure on her own.
When the prisoners were transported to a concentration camp, Corrie was reunited with her sister Betsie. The worst was yet to come. One of the many great lessons in this book was how God can turn something deplorable into a surprise blessing. Upon entering the barracks at Ravenswood Concentration Camp outside Berlin, the sisters were overcome with despair at the filthy conditions. Although the beds were infested with lice, Betsie reminded Corrie to give thanks in all circumstances, even for this pestilence. Corrie was not convinced. How could they be thankful for lice? You will have to read the book to find out how God used the lowly lice for all their benefit. As conditions grew more horrific by the day, the Bible became the center of help and hope for the hundreds of women at the camp. “The blacker the night around us grew,” she recollected, “the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the word of God.” “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” she would read to them, “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?..Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” (Romans 8:35-37)
Before Betsie died, she shared with her sister a vision God gave her of ministering to people after the war. Shortly there after, a clerical error granted Corrie Ten Boom her freedom. – a week before the Nazis exterminated everyone in her age group. Until the end of her life, at age 91, she relentlessly shared her story around the world. Based on the book, a movie version was released in 1975. Next year a film based on the Dutch Resistance, Return to the Hiding Place, will be released in theatres. The Hiding Place is truly an inspirational book about faith triumphing over evil – a testimony on how God’s love can shine brightest even in the darkest pit of our circumstance.
Lisette Frevola can be reached at [email protected]