￼￼￼You say we could lose our lives for this child. I would consider that the greatest honor that could come to my family.
—Corrie Ten Boom
During World War II a 50-year old single woman had a brick wall built through her bedroom to create a “hiding place” for Jews and other fugitives from the Nazis who had occupied her country. Corrie ten Boom and her family suffered and some of them died in providing shelter during the genocidal storm that swept Europe.
The ten Booms lived in Haarlem, Holland, where Corrie came from a long line of watchmakers. She learned the trade and became the first woman licensed in Holland as a watchmaker. She also engaged in social work, organizing girls clubs and also groups for families with developmentally disabled children.
Then in 1940 the German army invaded and occupied Holland. The Nazis banned Corrie’s girls clubs, but the heaviest restrictions fell upon the Jews of Holland. As Jews started to be arrested and their property seized, the ten Boom family joined the Dutch underground in assisting Jews to escape. At first they kept small numbers of fugitives for a night or two before helping them make their way to other safe houses and eventually to neutral countries or to remote places where they could hide throughout the war. Corrie helped secure a hundred precious food ration cards that were only supposed to be given to non-Jews. Corrie took the illegally gained ration cards and distributed them to help feed the Jews in hiding. When the ten Booms were sheltering a family with a baby a friend who was a pastor of a church in a village outside Haarlem visited them. They asked if the pastor would take the family to their home for the next step of their journey, but the pastor replied, “Definitely not! We could lose our lives for that Jewish child!” Corrie’s father Casper ten Boom picked up the baby and held it tenderly in his arms: “You say we could lose our lives for this child. I would consider that the greatest honor that could come to my family.”
Soon the ten Booms were faced with refugees who were difficult to place in other safe houses, people too old or too sick to travel or with such strongly Semitic features that they could not be disguised safely. They decided they needed to provide some permanent shelter within their own home, so they constructed the “hiding place” up in Corrie’s third floor bedroom, the furthest point from the door where searching police might enter. An elderly cantor from a local synagogue, Meyer Mossel, was their first permanent hide-away guest. Mossel and Casper ten Boom would recite the Psalms together. Eventually a core group of seven fugitives joined their family household along with the on-going steady flow of visitors who would stay for just a few nights.
The ten Boom family not only hid the Jews but honored their culture and faith. The entire household kept the Sabbath. They celebrated Hanukkah. They prepared kosher food as long as possible until the time when food shortages left them without meat for weeks. When Corrie’s sister Betsie secured some sausage for the hungry household, Mossel said, “There’s a provision for this in the Talmud … and I’m going to start hunting for it, too, just as soon as dinner’s over!” The graciousness of these Jews and Christians living intimately together under grave threat brought much joy and even humor amid the fear and anxiety.
In February 1944 someone betrayed the family to the German Gestapo. The house was raided, and a trap set to seize anyone who came to the house throughout the day. Thirty people in all were arrested, but the hiding place was not found. The four Jews and two Dutch underground workers who had been hustled into the hiding place stayed in that cramped wall cavity for 47 hours until the underground finally rescued them. Three of the four Jews who had been hiding during the raid and one of the underground members survived the war.
Meanwhile, Corrie ten Boom and her family were taken to a series of prisons and concentration camps. Caspar ten Boom died within ten days. Corrie’s nephew Christian ten Boom died in Bergen Belsen. Her brother Willem, an ordained Protestant minister, died shortly after the war from tuberculosis he contracted in prison. Corrie and Betsie were sent to the notorious Ravensbruck concentration camp. As she was dying from starvation and disease Betsie told Corrie, “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” On December 30, 1944, Corrie ten Boom was freed from Ravensbruck on what appeared to be an administrative mistake. She spent the rest of the war recovering from the deprivations she had suffered.
Following the war Corrie established rehabilitation centers for disabled people and for survivors of the Nazi concentration camps and prisons. She began to write down her stories, writing a number of books including The Hiding Place, which was later made into a movie. Corrie ten Boom is honored as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations” by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.
It is estimated that Corrie ten Boom and her family helped rescue about 800 Jews during the Holocaust. She died on her 91st birthday. Jewish friends said that only very blessed people are allowed the special privilege of dying on their birthday. She may have been blessed, but she certainly had been a blessing to many.
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This profile on Corrie ten Boom comes from the pages of Interfaith Heroes 2. Interfaith Heroes 2 is one of the three books that inspired this website. Learn more about Daniel Buttry’s series of books on global peacemakers.