My wife and I were late to an evening service at a Christian Booksellers convention at the Dallas convention center in the early 70’s. Still breathing hard from our near run made haste to find a seat. Hardly rested, we began to hear the awe’s from nearly everyone around us as they peered backwards to the descending aisle to where we were sitting.
We sat in wonderment as a tall redheaded Dutch lady escorted a small stooped bespectacled lady with pig-tailed tied gray hair loosely rolled on each side near the top of her head. The two quietly and slowly sat directly beside me. It was obvious those around us knew who she was, but I was not to learn until after the meeting concluded when I discovered she was Corrie Ten Boom. Now I was in awe for I had read her book The Hiding Place that accounted the story of her family’s experiences in the midst of war and torture. What a story she had to tell.
Corrie was able to rescue many Jews from certain death at the hands of the Nazi SS during the Holocaust. The Ten Boom family were devoted Christians who dedicated their lives in service to their fellow man. Their home was always an "open house" for anyone in need. Through the decades the Ten Booms were very active in social work in Haarlem, and their faith inspired them to serve the religious community and society at large.
During the Second World War, the Ten Boom home became a refuge, a hiding place, for fugitives and those hunted by the Nazis. By protecting these people, Casper and his daughters, Corrie and Betsie, risked their lives. This non-violent resistance against the Nazi-oppressors was the Ten Booms' way of living out their Christian faith. This faith led them to hide Jews, students who refused to cooperate with the Nazis, and members of the Dutch underground resistance movement.
Through these activities, the Ten Boom family and their many friends saved the lives of an estimated 800 Jews, and protected many Dutch underground workers.
On February 28, 1944, this family was betrayed and the Gestapo (the Nazi secret police) raided their home. The Gestapo set a trap and waited throughout the day, seizing everyone who came to the house. By evening about 30 people had been taken into custody! Casper, Corrie and Betsie were all arrested. Corrie’s brother Willem, sister Nollie, and nephew Peter were at the house that day, and were also taken to prison.
Although the Gestapo systematically searched the house, they could not find what they sought most. They suspected Jews were in the house, but the Jews were safely hidden behind a false wall in Corrie’s bedroom. In this "hiding place" were two Jewish men, two Jewish women and two members of the Dutch underground.
Casper (84 years old) died after only 10 days in Scheveningen Prison. When Casper was asked if he knew he could die for helping Jews, he replied, "It would be an honor to give my life for God's ancient people." Corrie and Betsie spent 10 months in three different prisons, the last was the infamous Ravensbruck Concentration Camp located near Berlin, Germany. Life in the camp was almost unbearable, but Corrie and Betsie spent their time sharing Jesus' love with their fellow prisoners. Betsie (59) died in Ravensbruck, but Corrie survived. She later found out that an order had been given at the end of that very week to kill all women her age and older. An error in prison paperwork was the catalyst God used to release her. Corrie’s nephew, Christiaan (24), had been sent to Bergen Belsen for his work in the underground, and never returned. Corrie’s brother, Willem (60) contracted spinal tuberculosis and died shortly after the war.
Four Ten Booms gave their lives for this family’s commitment, but Corrie came home from the death camp. She realized her life was a gift from God, and she needed to share what she and Betsy had learned in Ravensbruck: "There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still" and "God will give us the love to be able to forgive our enemies." At age 53, Corrie began a world-wide ministry which took her into more than 60 countries in the next 33 years! She testified to God’s love and encouraged all she met with the message that "Jesus is Victor."
"Only to those who have been in prison does freedom have such great meaning. When you are dying—when you stand at the gate of eternity—you see things from a different perspective than when you think you may live for a long time. I stood at the gate for many months, living in Barracks 28 in the shadow of the crematorium.”
Corrie had vowed if God allowed her to live, she would tell as many people as possible about the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. She also promised to go wherever He led. She miraculously obtained a small New Testament from a prison worker and smuggled it past guards.
"Before long we were holding clandestine Bible study groups for an ever growing group of believers, and Barracks 28 became known throughout the camp as 'the crazy place, where they hope.'" Corrie describes a typical evening in which they would use their secret Bible to hold worship services: "At first Betsie and I called these meetings with great timidity. But as night after night went by and no guard ever came near us, we grew bolder. So many now wanted to join us that we held a second service after evening roll call. . . (These) were services like no others, these times in Barracks 28. A single meeting night 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 Easter Orthodox women. With each moment the crowd around us would swell, packing the nearby platforms, hanging over the edges, until the high structures groaned and swayed."
"At last either Betsie or I would open the Bible. Because only the Hollanders 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. They were little previews of heaven, these evenings beneath the light bulb"
No one is exempt from the fiery trials of life. All of us face times of adversity and suffering. For Corrie, the concentration camp was the fieriest place of all, becoming her classroom where she lived and learned the faithfulness of God. It was there she learned to hide her life under the shadow of His wings while He trained her for a much higher calling.
As I look back at that night, I am still amazed at how Miss Ten Boom’s faith was so real far beyond mine. This is confirmed as she wrote of her new freedom. "'Follow me,' a young girl in an officer's uniform said to me. I walked slowly through the gate, never looking back. Behind me I heard the hinges squeak as the gate swung shut. I was free, and flooding through my mind were the words of Jesus to the church at Philadelphia: 'Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it . . . '" (Revelation 3:8)
For the next four decades following her release from prison, Corrie traveled extensively, speaking in more than sixty countries, captivating audiences with her inspiring faith and love for God. She is the author of nine books, one of which is The Hiding Place, a personal account of her arrest and time spent in prison.
Corrie received many tributes. Corrie was knighted by the Queen of Holland. In 1968, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem (Yad Vashem) asked Corrie to plant a tree in the Garden of Righteousness, in honor of the many Jewish lives her family saved. (I visited this place in 1979 and had to leave halfway though the visit due to the atrocities shown therein). Corrie’s tree still stands there today.
I have many famous people over my life’s spa, but my recollection of Corrie Ten Boom overshadows most due to her faithfulness to God.
She died on her 91st birthday, April 15, 1983. It is interesting that Corrie's passing occurred on her birthday. In the Jewish tradition, it is only very blessed people who are allowed the special privilege of dying on their birthday!