Cornelia (Corrie) Ten Boom was born on April 15, 1892 in Haarlem, Netherlands, the youngest of four children. Her father was a watchmaker and their family lived in a home they called the Beje. Her family was not wealthy, but Corrie didn’t know otherwise, because her mother was always packing baskets of food for Corrie and her sisters to deliver to other families in need.
During World War II this Dutch family hid hundreds of Jews from the Nazis, before being eventually betrayed and imprisoned. The book The Hiding Place tells their story.
Alert: there are spoilers in this post.
A Family of Faith
Raised in a devout, Calvinist family, Corrie noticed that her father, Casper, was a man of no prejudice. She entrusted her big life questions to him, including her fear of death. Her father responded to her fears by asking her, “When you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket”?
Corrie answered, “Why, just before we get on the train.”
Her father replied, “Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too. Don’t run out ahead of Him.”
Corrie’s mother, Cornelia, whom she was named after, was a very thoughtful and generous woman. One day when Corrie was saddened by the thought of people who were unable to leave their rooms due to poor health and fragility her mother said to her, “Happiness isn’t something that depends on our surroundings, Corrie. It’s something we make inside ourselves.”
This advice would become very important to her, as her own physical surroundings would soon become bleak.
The Hiding Place
During World War II, the Ten Boom family had invented a warning system to protect Jews from surprise and spontaneous raids. The family came to meet a “Mr. Smit” who was one of Europe’s most famous architects. He came to their home and installed a false brick wall in Corrie’s bedroom to create a hiding room.
The family went to great lengths to protect both the young and old, no matter the risk. This included crying babies and elderly women with unrelenting coughs. But no matter who they were, all who entered the Beje for protection had to learn the seventy-second drill for hiding. Mr. Smit taught them how to pay attention to every detail, not leaving a trace of their whereabouts. This included turning mattresses over in order to keep the German Sicherheitsdientst (Security Service) from finding warm spots on the bed.
Betrayal and Bugs
A fellow Dutchman eventually betrayed the Ten Boom family for concealing Jews. While most of the family was separated, Corrie and her sister Betsie remained together. They lived in two work camps before being transferred to Ravensbruck, the women’s extermination camp. During this train ride, women were cramped so tightly together that when a woman fainted, her body remained upright.
When they arrived at their barrack, Corrie was relieved to find an empty space of hay where she could sit down, only to find the straw crawling with lice. Eventually she had no choice but to spread out her blanket on the rustling, infested straw and sit on top of them. Her and Betsie’s skin became so devoured by the bugs that the sisters even found refuge in the icy waters of the showers which were mandated upon arrival.
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By a miracle, Corrie escaped being searched when she entered the camp, allowing her to sneak in her Bible. This became an immeasurable comfort for countless women in the camp. Betsie often read from the Scriptures, preaching to the other woman in the barracks verses like the ones found in Romans chapter eight:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
Scripture reminded them to think of Jesus hanging naked on the cross as they had their weekly medical inspection. Even on the coldest of days they were unable to cross their arms, ordered to leave their hands at their sides as the guards smiled and gawked at them.
Betsie would urge others to be patient with all, rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and “in all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Even for the fleas.
Due to rare observance in their barracks, there soon came to be regular religious services. Betsie and Corrie would read their Bible in Dutch and translate it aloud in German. They would then hear the words being translated into French, Polish, Russian, and Czech. They later learned the reason for low surveillance: the guards were afraid of the fleas!
It was then that Corrie remembered Betsie’s prayer of thanks to God for all creatures, even the bugs which Corrie found no use for.
“Look at Jesus Only”
Because Betsie suffered from anemia, her health quickly deteriorated in Ravensbruck. When not working quickly enough, Betsie was struck with a belt on her chest and her neck. When she saw Corrie staring at her she told her not to look at it, but to “look at Jesus only.”
While Corrie prayed daily to have the opportunity to show God’s love to her fellow prisoners, Betsie prayed daily to have the chance to show God’s love to their persecutors. Before dying of malnutrition, she told Corrie that they “must tell people 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.”
She died just weeks before Corrie was released.
His Will is Our Hiding Place
At fifty-two years old, Corrie was released right before the New Year of 1945. Corrie rolled over and over in her head the “what if” Betsie had lived just a bit longer. But then she could hear her sister saying. “There are no ‘ifs” in God’s kingdom. His timing is perfect. His will is our hiding place.”
Corrie wasted no time on starting the home that she and Betsie had talked about in the camps. A place where people could come to heal from their experiences during the war. She dedicated the rest of her life as an evangelist, telling her story of living in concentration camps and preaching on forgiveness. She traveled to every single continent except Antarctica and never accepted payment. Just a place to sleep and a meal.
When Corrie returned to Ravensbruck in 1959 she learned that she had been released by accident. A clerk had mistakenly recorded her number in a list of those meant to be freed. Her name was on the list of those to be executed!
In Corrie’s words, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
What unknowns in your life are you being asked to entrust to Jesus?
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