The ten Boom family, living in the Dutch city of Haarlem, consisted of father Casper, son Willem, and daughters Betsie, Nollie, and Corrie. They were pillars of their community, widely respected and admired by their neighbors and friends. Their Christian faith sustained Corrie ten Boom and her family through the horror of the Nazi occupation from 1940-1945. This faith would be her salvation—as well as the salvation of all those whom she rescued from persecution and almost certain death, as their home would become both a spiritual and a literal hiding place.
Cornelia “Corrie” ten Boom, born in 1892, grew up as part of a tight-knit, devoutly Christian family that held regular Bible study sessions and taught their children to live according to Christian principles. The family patriarch, Casper ten Boom, was a master watchmaker whose skill was recognized all over Holland and even other countries in Western Europe. His watch shop was on the ground floor of the family’s home, known as the Beje.
Corrie would often accompany Casper on the train to business trips in Amsterdam. During one of these journeys with her father, young Corrie recalled asking him about “sexsin,” a word she had heard in a poem at school. Topics like sex were rarely discussed openly by families in early-20th century Europe—and certainly not in the conservative ten Boom household. After she asked this question, Casper asked Corrie to carry a box full of heavy watches across the train platform. She struggled and told her father that she couldn’t do it. He explained to her that just as there were physical burdens that were too heavy for her to bear, there were spiritual burdens that she could not carry on her own, so it was best to let God carry them for her.
Her mother, Cornelia, would take Corrie and her sister Nollie with her on her many visits to the city’s poorest slums to deliver alms to the needy. On one of these alms-giving expeditions, Corrie saw a baby dead of malnutrition. After relating this story to her father, Casper explained to Corrie that death was in God’s hands, and only He could judge when one’s time on Earth was finished. He said that when death came for her, God would give her the strength she needed.
Corrie formed a special bond with her maternal aunt, Tante Jans (“tante” being Dutch for “aunt”). Tante Jans was active in charity and religious work, believing that God judged individuals based upon how much they accomplished in life. For Tante Jans, her faith-based work was her life. Unfortunately, Tante Jans was diagnosed with diabetes in 1914. In January 1919, her condition took a turn for the worse and she knew she would soon die. Before she passed, Tante Jans told Corrie that we all went to God empty-handed, for our deeds on Earth were nothing compared to Christ’s sacrifices on the cross.
As a teenager, Corrie had a failed courtship with a young man named Karel, a university classmate of her older brother, Willem. Distraught after the end of this relationship, Corrie came to Casper for comfort. Casper explained that Corrie should never seek to block out her love for Karel, but instead, look to God to show her a new way for that love to express itself. Little did Corrie know just how much love she truly had to share with the world.
Corrie’s mother, Cornelia, died in 1921, a few years after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. In the years that followed, Corrie settled into life at the Beje as a dedicated spinster aunt with her sister Betsie (also a spinster) and Casper. She became the bookkeeper for her father’s watch shop, while Betsie poured herself into refurbishing the Beje. Betsie made the Beje truly glow, while opening its doors to anyone in Haarlem who wished to stop in for a hot cup of coffee, homemade soup, or Christian prayer and fellowship.
One afternoon in 1937, when Corrie was 45 years old, the ten Booms held a party to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their family watch shop, started by Corrie’s grandfather, Willem, in 1837. In the hardships that were soon to befall her, Corrie would recall this day of celebration as one of the best and proudest of her life. The entire Haarlem community showed up to toast the ten Boom family, including fellow congregants at their church, St. Bavo’s, as well as business associates, suppliers, customers, and even competitors.
At the party, guests talked about Adolf Hitler, the growing threat of Nazi Germany, and their fears of another European general war. Willem, a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, was taking in Jewish refugees from Germany. One of these refugees, a man named Gutlieber, was at the party. Willem told the guests that Gutlieber was forced to flee Munich after a violent assault at the hands of Hitler Youth members, during which they attempted to set his beard on fire.
On May 10, 1940, Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands, making the country’s worst fears of war and occupation a reality. It was still a stunning turn of events—not least for the pious ten Boom family. Disturbing changes began to present themselves. German uniforms and insignia became a common feature of ordinary life on the streets of Haarlem, while racist and antisemitic propaganda began to be published in once-respectable newspapers, now under the control of the Reich Ministry of Propaganda.
The Germans also ordered that all privately owned radios be handed over, in an effort to prevent the occupied Dutch population from hearing Allied broadcasts via the BBC. The ten Boom family chose to defy the confiscation order. Accordingly, when the German requisition officer visited the Beje to ask if the family had a radio or other contraband materials, Corrie lied and told him that they didn’t. This was one of the first moral conflicts of the war she faced. Corrie knew that lying was a sin, expressly forbidden by the Ten Commandments. But she also knew that the confiscation...
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The Hiding Place is Corrie ten Boom’s autobiographical account of her experiences rescuing Jews from Nazi persecution during the Holocaust. Her decision to risk her own safety to stand up for what she believed was right derived from her deeply held Christian faith and her unshakeable conviction in the power of love to trump hate.
Corrie grew up in the Netherlands city of Haarlem as part of a long-established, devoutly Christian family deeply committed to their faith. The ten Boom family were pious Christians, regular readers of the Bible who took the tenets of their faith seriously and sought to live their lives in a way that accorded with what they saw as the best principles of Christian theology—mercy, charity, forgiveness, kindness toward one’s neighbors, and most of all, the unconquerable power of Christ’s love.
The ten Boom family—father Casper, son Willem, and daughters Betsie, Nollie, and Corrie—were pillars of their community, widely respected and admired by their neighbors and friends. As long as Corrie could remember, her father and her late mother had taken in children without homes, believing that it was their Christian duty to extend their bounty...
In 1918, Cornelia ten Boom, Corrie’s mother, suffered a cerebral hemorrhage that put her into a coma. She lay unconscious for two months before she finally came out of it. She managed to survive, but she was a shadow of her former self. She was physically disabled and limited in her movements. Worse, she almost entirely lost her powers of speech. One of the few words she retained, however, was “Corrie.” This was how she now referred to all people. But Mama’s condition taught Corrie about how truly strong love was. Although her mother could hardly move or speak, Corrie knew that Mama loved her family and her community. Love could not be bottled up or stifled, no matter the circumstances.
Despite her condition, Cornelia survived to see the wedding of her daughter Nollie in 1921. At the wedding, something miraculous happened. Cornelia, who had not spoken coherently in years, suddenly rose to sing the hymn “Fairest Lord Jesus,” with the entire assembled family and congregation joining her in rapturous wonder. For Corrie, it was a miracle, albeit a temporary one, a blessing from God on that happy day. **Mama passed away a mere four weeks after Nollie’s wedding, but no one,...
Think about how your core beliefs anchor your behavior and outlook.
Corrie’s sense of right and wrong was powerfully influenced by her commitment to Christian doctrine. In a few sentences, describe what you think are the main influences behind your moral values.
More disturbing than the rationing, curfews, identity cards, or confiscation of radios, however, were the measures that the German occupiers began to take against the Jews of Haarlem. For years, Corrie’s brother Willem had warned his family about the violent antisemitic ideology of Nazi Germany. Now it was happening on Dutch soil.
The Jewish community of Haarlem began to face harsh discrimination. They were barred from entering restaurants, cafes, and parks, to Corrie’s horror and dismay. The anti-Jewish measures soon took on a violent character—Jewish cemeteries and synagogues were looted and vandalized, with the perpetrators desecrating holy religious texts and painting swastikas on the walls and doors of Jewish houses of worship. Later, Jews were marked out from the rest of the community by the infamous decree ordering them to wear yellow stars stitched to their clothing.
One of the most shocking aspects of the antisemitic campaign was how eagerly many ordinary Dutch people gleefully participated in it. The Netherlands had its own version of the German Hitler Youth, called the NSB. These were local Nazi sympathizers and collaborators, who espoused a hateful...
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The man sent by the Resistance to examine conditions at the Beje introduced himself to Corrie only as “Mr. Smit.” False identities were standard operating procedure within the Resistance: knowing too much about one’s co-conspirators was dangerous for the entire group. Mr. Smit, Corrie learned after the war, was actually an architect, one of Europe’s most famous.
Some aspects of Corrie’s operation met with Smit’s approval. Corrie had, for example, implemented a warning system to prevent aid workers delivering supplies from entering the Beje if a raid was already underway—a small triangular sign that in the shop window was the “all clear” signal to enter; its absence was the signal to stay away. Smit deemed this acceptable, as well as the hiding space for the ration cards beneath the stairs.
But the lack of a true hiding place for the people at the Beje was a major cause for concern. When Smit went up to Corrie’s room, however, he found that the architecture of the house was ideally suited for constructing a secret hiding place.
Smit installed a false brick wall in Corrie’s room, behind which was to be the secret room where Jews would be able to hide. Corrie was...
In early 1944, one of Corrie’s operatives, a man named Jop, was captured by the Gestapo. Rolf warned Corrie that this likely signaled the beginning of the end for her rescue operation—the Germans would get information out of Jop one way or the other that was almost certain to result in the arrest and capture of everyone involved. Corrie had been concerned about the growth of her operation for some time and how difficult and complex it had become to maintain it. With a network of dozens of people delivering supplies and information, only one domino needed to fall for the whole operation to collapse.
On the morning of February 28, 1944, Corrie was in bed, sick with the flu and flushed with fever. As she opened her fluttering eyelids, she thought she saw Eusie and two of the other fugitives scrambling into the hiding place. Dismissing it as a fever dream (they hadn’t planned a drill for that day), she drifted off back to sleep.
Suddenly, officers burst into Corrie’s room, interrogating her exactly as Kik and Rolf had said they would. The practice had paid dividends. When they asked where the Jews were hiding, Corrie feigned ignorance and claimed she had...
Think about the circumstances that might cause you to defy authority.
Have you ever been in a situation where an authority figure asked you to do something or behave in a way that was in conflict with your beliefs? Briefly describe the situation.
One day early in the summer of 1944, Corrie was abruptly ordered by the guards at Scheveningen to pack out and form a line with the other women to evacuate the prison immediately. As she saw the prison being emptied, it became clear what was happening—the Allied armies had landed in Europe and were beginning the process of liberating the occupied countries!
In response, the Germans were moving their political prisoners out of the path of the rapidly advancing Allied forces and deeper into the interior of Europe. Corrie stuffed her few possessions—her sweater, pajamas, toothbrush, and Bible—into a pillowcase and awaited further orders as she was taken to a freight yard on the outskirts of The Hague. She was happy to be getting out of Scheveningen, but she was deeply fearful that something even worse might be in store for her. She was particularly terrified of being transported out of The Netherlands into Germany.
At last, their train arrived. The guards marched and shoved the prisoners onto the train, refusing to tell their human cargo where they were headed or what would happen to them when they arrived. But there was one ray of hope: **Corrie and Betsie were at last...
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Mere days after Betsie’s death, Corrie was ordered to stand to the side during roll call and report to the administration barracks. When she arrived, the clerk stamped her papers, which bore the words “CERTIFICATE OF DISCHARGE.” Next, she was handed a rail pass that would take her out of Germany and back into Holland.
Corrie was stunned—her ordeal was really coming to an end! But before she could walk out of the camp, she had to submit to one more humiliating, dehumanizing medical inspection. Much to her dismay, the doctor immediately looked at the swelling in her legs and feet and declared her unfit for release. Apparently, she was suffering from edema. Before she could walk out of Ravensbruck, Corrie would need to report to the camp hospital—the same place where her sister had died.
The hospital was a dreadful place, filled with dying and suffering women, languishing from untreated injuries and illnesses, many of them delirious from the combined effects of fever, malnutrition, and neglect. Some of the women had been on transport trains that had been hit in Allied bombing raids and were suffering from third-degree burns and severed limbs.
Explore the main takeaways from The Hiding Place.
In a few sentences, explore the conflict between Corrie’s Christian ideals and her defiance of the Nazi occupation authorities.