Monday, September 15, 2014

A Story of Hope: Corrie ten Boom

The ten Boom home and shop

Most of the stories of hope that I will feature here will be modern ones. Today, though, I want to share one that is decades old, but no less inspiring.

About twenty minutes west of Amsterdam is a city called Haarlem. There lived a family called the ten Booms, and they owned a very successful watch and jewelry shop. The shop is still existence, as you can see, but the home above and behind the shop has been transformed into a museum in order to honor the sacrifices of the ten Boom family - particularly Corrie, during World War II.

I had the opportunity to travel to Haarlem and see the home in person. Though I already knew the story, seeing the home in the context of my fellowship was extremely impactful. I highly recommend visiting this museum if you are ever in the Netherlands (it is free!), but in the meantime, here is Corrie ten Boom's inspiring story of hope:


Corrie was born in 1892 to Casper and Cornelia ten Boom. Her father owned the watch shop in Haarlem that was owned by his family for two generations at the time. Corrie was one of four children, two of which moved away from Haarlem after beginning their own families. In 1924, she became the first licensed watchmaker in the Netherlands. She and her sister, Betsie resided most of their adult lives with their father in their childhood home above the shop. The family were Christians and were very active in the community, running "girls' clubs," serving with their church, and caring for the mentally disabled of Haarlem.

The Hiding Place, opened for visitors to see

In 1940, though, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, ignoring its neutral status. One of the first of their strict regulations was that all organizations like the ones Corrie and Betsie were running be closed. When the oppression of the Jews in the Netherlands began to increase, people began to show up at the ten Boom house looking for help. The family was quick to help anyone who came to their door, despite the potential consequences. As the need increased, Casper decided that the home needed a secret room to be used in the case of a raid by the gestapo. They invited a trusted architect to design the room. A descendant of this architect serves as a volunteer tour guide in the house today.

Corrie's room was chosen for the placement of the secret room, which they soon called "the hiding place." The family took every precaution designing the room, tearing into the floorboards and ceiling in order to create an appearance of continuation for the false wall. The small room could hold up to 8 people, a pitcher of water, a small tin of biscuits, a radio, and a bucket for human waste.

The ten Booms hosted dozens of Jewish refugees. Some were simply passing through on their way to a safe farm house; others stayed for more extended periods. The family always provided kosher meals and honored their guests traditions - particularly the observance of a Sabbath. Corrie insisted that her guests participate in practice drills so they would be prepared for an emergency. There were many alarm buttons throughout the house, and the guests would practice cleaning up any trace of their stay and moving into the hiding place within 60 seconds.

Young and old, the Jewish refugees had to crawl through a trap door in Corrie's closet and squeeze into the secret room, which was only 30 inches deep. Unfortunately, on February 28, 1944, the room was put to use when a Dutch man betrayed the ten Boom family to the Nazis. The gestapo immediately arrested all of the family members, but the Jewish refugees managed to hide in the hiding place for 48 hours, regardless of intensive searches by the Nazis. All but one survived the Holocaust entirely.

Corrie, her sister Betsie, and her father Casper were taken to the Scheveningen prison. Sadly, Casper died there in the prison. Corrie and Betsie were eventually transferred to a concentration camp in Germany called Herzogenbusch. The sisters endured incredible suffering alongside hundreds of other political prisoners. In December, Betsie passed away tragically. Before she died, she told Corrie that God would use a miracle to set her free before the end of the year. On December 28, exactly 10 months after her arrest, Corrie was released from the camp.

This truly was a miracle, Corrie found out years after the war. She returned to the camp to look at the records and saw two columns in a ledger book. On one side were a few names to be released. In the other column were dozens of names of women over 50 years old. Those over 50 were sent to the gas chambers the day that Corrie was released. Corrie was 52, but somehow her name was on the short list of young women to be released.

Even more astounding, was Corries ability to forgive. She wrote a letter to man who originally betrayed the family, telling him that she forgave him and prayed for him often. At a speaking event, a guard from her concentration camp approached her begging for forgiveness. She graciously gave it. Corrie lived to an incredible age of 91. She spent all of her days telling others about the power of forgiveness and providing rehabilitation services to survivors and even ex-Nazis.

If you would like to hear more of this incredible story, you can read Corrie's book, "The Hiding Place."

Visiting her home was an incredibly moving and uplifting experience for me. In the midst of great injustice, this family took incredible risks to defend and help the oppressed. I am sure that, if Corrie were still alive today, she would be defending the cause of those who have experienced sexual exploitation and violence - as well as many other types of oppression. I am amazed by her bravery, encouraged by her perseverance, and challenged by her forgiveness.



No comments: