This weekend, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is featuring the life of Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who, along with her family, saved the lives of over 800 Jews by hiding them from the Nazi occupiers in Holland during World War II. Corrie ten Boom’s life will be portrayed in a one-woman dramatization performed by Susan Sandager. Performances are at 1:00 on Saturday, December 6th and Sunday, December 7th in the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Theatre at the museum.
Corrie ten Boom’s wisdom was warm and personal. Her insight and Biblical values were instilled in the quiet regularity and spiritual depth of her father’s devotion; they were tested in the flea-infested barracks of a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. The Corrie who emerged from the evil of body searches, brutal beatings, and gas chambers would live to tell hundreds of thousands of people around the world that in Christ there is hope and healing.
When she arrived at the infamous Ravensbrk concentration camp and was forced into the inspection line, Corrie could feel the small bag holding her little Bible hit against her back with each step. She watched as the guards thoroughly searched every woman. She began to fervently pray that God would shield her from the search and protect her Bible from confiscation. She prayed constantly as the woman ahead of her was searched. “Lord, cause now Thine angels to surround me; and let them not be transparent today, for the guards must not see me.” As long as they had a Bible, she thought, she and her sister, Betsie, could survive.
Miraculously, when it was her turn, the guard moved to Betsie who was behind her. It was as though the guard did not even see her. Corrie prayed with thanksgiving, “O Lord, if Thou dost so answer prayer, I can face even Ravensbrk unafraid.” They could study God’s word surreptitiously! “In spite of all that human madness could do,” said Corrie, “we learned that a stronger power had the final word, even here.”
Corrie and Betsie’s story has inspired hundreds of thousands of people. Those who read The Hiding Place or see the movie, sense Corrie’s innate wisdom and her essential kindness. Her love for God and for people was reflected in her face and in her words. Her faith was such an essential part of who she was that people were drawn to her like a magnet.
She spoke with reverence about her sister’s devotion to Christ, but to read her writing or to listen to her words is to know that here also you are in the presence of a Godly woman; to see Corrie is to see the reflection of Christ in a human life. Corrie became one of the most revered and beloved women of the 20th century.
After she was released from Ravensbrk, Corrie spent the next thirty years telling people about God’s faithfulness. She visited over sixty countries, including six visits to Britain. She enjoyed calling herself, “a tramp for the Lord.”
Corrie’s ministry became the embodiment of Betsie’s vision of their future while they were in the prison camp. “Corrie,” Betsie had said, “after the war, we must tell people how good God is. No one will be able to say that they have suffered worse than us. We can tell them how wonderful God is and how His love will fill our lives, if only we will give up our hatred and bitterness.”
To understand the meaning behind Betsie’s words, we have to go back to the beginning of Corrie’s story. She and Betsie were the daughters of a Dutch watchmaker in the town of Haarlem. Corrie also became a watchmaker the first woman in Holland to be certified for that profession. After Hitler attacked Holland, and German soldiers occupied their town, food was rationed, radios were confiscated and Jews were harassed.
Soon, young males were rounded up and sent to Germany and Jews began disappearing. Many of the Dutch people were disturbed by the rumors that the Gestapo was killing Jews. Friends tried to help the Jews escape the German soldiers. When Jewish friends of the ten Boom family were attacked and threatened, Corrie began to get involved in helping them escape through an underground of about eighty sympathetic people.
Eventually it became impossible to get people out of the country and they had to be hidden. The ten Booms had a secret room built into the top floor of their home where they could hide Jews if the soldiers came searching. When the dreaded day came that the Gestapo at last arrested the ten Boom family, the secret room was not discovered and the Jews hiding there remained safe.
The ten Booms were taken to a prison in a distant town. Before being place in separate cells, they were first gathered in a gymnasium-type room. There Father ten Boom gathered the 35 members of his group together and recited for them, reverently, Psalm 91:
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High
shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord,
He is my refuge and my fortress:
my God; in him will I trust.
Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler,
and from the noisome pestilence.
He shall cover thee with his feathers,
and under his wings shalt thou trust:
his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
Those wonderful promises would ring in their minds during the trials and persecution that lay ahead of them.
Eventually, while in prison, Corrie became quite ill. As a result, she was placed in a solitary cell and kept there for four months. Prison life exacted a terrible toll illness, suffering, harassment, and beatings. Over 700 of the male prisoners were shot and killed. All of the German concentration camps were places of terror, but as bad as conditions were at other prisons, they were far worse at Ravensbrk. The barracks were built to house about 400 people, but were being used to keep 1400. Fleas and mud made life miserable. The work was unbearable and the food was not fit for animals. And, constantly there was the specter of the gas chambers where those who were too ill to work were taken.
In the abject misery of that hellish prison camp, Corrie and Betsie’s Bible was a beacon of hope. And even in the midst of such savagery, Corrie and Betsie found ways to tell the Gestapo about God’s love. Whenever the Gestapo interrogated Corrie or Betsie, they would turn the questions into opportunities to describe their Christian faith and tell about their ministry before the Germans took over their town.
God even used the conditions of the camp for His purposes. Corrie and Betsie even rejoiced over the infestation of fleas in their barracks: the fleas made the patrol officers avoid coming there, providing opportunities for Corrie and Betsie to bring comfort and hope to the fellow sufferers who gathered around to pray and hear the Scripture read.
Betsie’s unwavering reflection of God’s love both in her manner and in her wise words inspired and buoyed Corrie’s spirits and the spirits of their bunk mates. Betsie would pray for their fellow prisoners and the guards; she was so close to God that she inspired the others to keep going. Betsie’s visions, in particular, would lift Corrie’s mind and spirit out of the camp and out to the future.
Once Betsie told Corrie about a house where they would live after the horror was over; it was a place where they could help people come back to wholeness. Betsie described the house and made it seem real. She described their life there and made it seem possible that they would live normally again. She told her skeptical sister, “I believe God is going to give us that house.”
But, Betsie did not make it out of the camp. The cold and the cruelty took its toll on her weak, malnourished condition. First, she couldn’t get her work done and was cruelly beaten; after that, she grew weaker and finally was admitted to the dreaded hospital where visitors were not allowed and where people rarely left alive.
Corrie was devastated and heartbroken, but when Betsie died, a prisoner friend sneaked Corrie in to say goodbye to her sister. In death, Betsie’s face had been transformed. She was no longer in agony; instead, her countenance was angelic. Corrie left confident that Betsie was with God, whom she loved above all else.
Finally, there came a day when Corrie’s name was called by the guards; she could only assume she would be punished or sent to the gas chambers. Instead, by “mistake,” she was released . . . just one week before all of the women her age in the camp were killed. Corrie liked to say of that experience, “No pit is so deep that the love of God is not deeper still.”
Her release from Ravensbrk was only the beginning of God’s miracles. Just months after Corrie returned home, the war ended and when Corrie was healthy again, she was able to tell others about all that had happened including God’s miracles in the camp.
Once, when she told about Betsie’s vision of a house to care for former prisoners of war, a lady whose son had returned safely from one of the camps, gave Corrie her house so that Betsie’s dream could be realized. Corrie saw the house and smiled. It looked exactly like the house Betsie had envisioned in the midst of the squalor of a concentration camp.
When people heard Corrie speak, even after all the horror that she had gone through, they did not see a bitter, broken woman. They saw a dynamic, vigorous woman with extraordinary gifts of communicating. They saw a woman of joy and peace; a woman free of anger and bitterness. They saw a woman who declared, “All of our times are in God’s hands, even the most difficult ones.” They saw a woman whose message of love and forgiveness extended even to those who treated her and her loved ones with the most horrible viciousness and cruelty.
The wonder of Corrie ten Boom’s life affected people deeply. They were drawn to the God who could work such transformation in a person’s heart. Corrie wrote about the war and about the concentration camp. She wrote about the way the Jews were annihilated. She wrote about how her father and sister were killed. But all the gory details were bathed in the wonderful, merciful love of God, freely offered to all, even to those living in horrifically unjust and awful circumstances.
Her books offered the world a wisdom beyond human powers to understand. Those who read about or see the scene where Corrie meets one of the most brutal of the former Ravensbrk guards the one who had battered Betsie confront the reality of God’s grace at work in the human heart when she tells of God enabling her to forgive in that emotionally charged encounter. There is no glossing over of the pain. Instead, there is full acknowledgment of the evil, along with the overwhelming certainty of God’s sovereignty over that evil. Corrie’s testimony shows God’s power to cleanse His people of even the roots of bitterness and anger and replace them with His love so that the ugliness recedes into insignificance and His peace and joy reign supreme.
Corrie reminded all who would hear that “the life of a Christian is an education for higher service.” And, toward the end of her life, she looked back and said, “I can see the working of a divine pattern which is the way of God with His children.” Wise words, these. God grant us the ability to hear and heed.