Although Peter has returned home, he’s still not safe—German soldiers have developed a practice of grabbing healthy young men in the street or even their homes and deporting them to munitions factories, which are short on labor. Nollie has created a hiding place by arranging her kitchen table over a trap door in the basement. One night, Corrie, Father and Betsie are visiting for Flip’s birthday when the children run inside, saying that soldiers are two doors away. Just as the soldiers arrive, Peter scrambles down and Corrie drapes a cloth over the table.
Nazi persecution began with the Jews, an already marginalized group; now, having asserted their power, they are targeting broad swaths of Dutch society. This development shows that intolerance isn’t just a threat to fringe groups but erodes the safety and moral fabric of the entire society.
The soldiers storm into the house, looking around for young men and annoyed not to see any. The situation is especially tense because one of the Jews that Nollie is hiding is standing right there, dressed as a maid. The soldier asks Nollie’s young daughter where her brother is, and Corrie holds her breath, knowing that the children have been taught not to lie and can’t do so convincingly. The girl says simply that her brothers are under the table, and when the soldiers check and see no one there, she laughs and plays it off as a children’s prank. Angry to see a young girl laughing at them, the soldiers leave.
While Corrie resigns herself to lying and stealing when she must, her niece embodies a somewhat different conviction—that one must find a way to protect those in need while also fulfilling religious teachings to the letter. While it has worked this time, it’s clear that this strategy isn’t tenable—there’s so many ways it could go wrong in the future.
That evening, the family debates the issue of lying. Nollie says that her daughter did the right thing, but Peter and Corrie think they are being impractical and even illogical; after all, if one speaks the truth but practices a deception—like procuring fake ration cards—one is still committing a sin. Nollie quotes a psalm that seems to make a distinction between these two kinds of lying, but Corrie points out that she really did lie “with her lips” in order to keep the radio.
Corrie and Nollie are trying to find the answers to these questions through literal interpretations of Biblical scriptures. As the memoir progresses, Corrie will conclude that while one should always rely on the Bible for guidance, one must sometimes apply a more figurative meaning to its text.
At the end of the night, Corrie is still confused, wondering how even God could “show truth and love at the same time in a world like this.” Suddenly, she thinks of the image of Christ stretched out on the cross.
As time goes on, it becomes harder and harder to find safe houses in the country. Corrie knows she has to start hiding people in the city, even though it’s not very safe there. Around this time, Harry and Cato come to her for help—their shop has just been confiscated, and they fear imminent deportation. Corrie is forced to send them to a safe house in the city where eighteen Jews are already living, mostly young people who are restless from confinement and make a lot of noise. Betsie, who visits often, is concerned that their carelessness endangers everyone.
While Corrie doesn’t always explain the backgrounds of the fugitives she houses, she always gives many details about the dangers Harry and Cato face. Toggling between a broad depiction of her work and focus on individual cases, Corrie conveys both the scope of Nazi persecution and its startling and compelling human cost.
That winter is very difficult. There’s little fuel, and people cut down trees along the canals to keep warm. Christoffels is found dead in his bed by his landlady, and the family gathers to bury him.
The death of Christoffels coincides and perhaps reflects the victory of his erstwhile Nazi tormentor, Otto—at least temporarily.
As spring slowly arrives, Cato arrives one night at the Beje. Tearfully, she tells Corrie that Harry has been arrested. The night before, a group of the young men “went crazy” and left the house. The Gestapo quickly caught them and raided the house. Cato hasn’t been arrested because she’s not Jewish, but she’s desperately worried about her husband. Every day she goes to the police station, begging to see her husband, but always in vain.
Even though what the young men did seems foolish, it’s easy to sympathize with their restlessness and despair. In its recklessness, their escape mirrors Peter’s youthful gesture with the Wilhelmus—but because they are Jewish and Peter is not, the consequences for them are much more dire.
That Friday, Rolf van Vliet visits the shop again. Hurriedly, he tells Corrie that Harry will be taken to Amsterdam the next day, and Cato should come to the police station that afternoon to see him. When they arrive, Rolf brings Harry out to make hasty farewells. Harry and Cato embrace, and Harry tells Corrie that he will use whatever experience is coming next as “my witness stand for Jesus.” Corrie feels that she will never see him again.
Even though Harry is being persecuted for his Judaism, he vows to use this tragedy in order to show his Christian values. His final gesture shows the essential and compelling linkages between these religions, and the utter folly of trying to separate them or discriminate on this basis.
That night the family debates taking Rolf into the operation. Corrie assigns one of the teenagers working for her as a messenger to figure out where Rolf lives. The next week, she visits him, asking if she can do anything in compensation for his kindness to Cato. Rolf says that a cleaning woman at the jail has asked for help hiding her son, in order to spare him from forced labor. Corrie tells Rolf to send her to the shop.
In this episode, it becomes evident that religious tolerance is beneficial to everyone in society. By bringing information to Corrie, Rolf provided help to Jews; in return, she is aiding a young man, a member of a different but also vulnerable demographic.
The next day the cleaning woman meets with Corrie at the shop, and that evening Corrie listens to her messengers’ reports and decides on a suitable hiding place for the boy. She gives the cleaning woman a banknote as a fee for the “host” and instructs her on a secret spot near the canal where her son must meet the messenger who will transport him to his new home. Full of gratitude, the woman promises that someday she will repay them for this.
This complicated arrangement shows how adept and respected Corrie is becoming among the underground, even though she rarely dwells on these personal developments. Moreover, it shows her expanding the network of friends and contacts on whom she can rely for help.
In this fashion, Corrie continues her work, solving each problem as it comes up. Pickwick sends someone to install a clandestine telephone in the house, which is incredibly useful—by now the Beje is headquarters to an operation of eighty people, but they have to limit traffic in and out of the house. Corrie constantly worries whether her neighbors will grow suspicious of the frequent visitors or hear the telephone ring.
Paradoxically, the growth of Corrie’s organization enables her to help more people but also makes her more susceptible to detection. Corrie is reliant on the brave moral choices of dozens of individuals, but she’s also vulnerable to anyone who chooses a different moral path.
One June night, Corrie takes in a young Jewish woman and her newborn baby—an especially dangerous fugitive, as it’s impossible to control the baby’s crying. The next morning, a clergyman and friend of the family visits the shop by chance and Corrie thinks she’s found her solution; she knows he lives in a secluded home outside the city. Quietly, she asks if he’d be willing to shelter a Jewish mother and baby. However, the clergyman becomes pale and fearful. He chides Corrie for endangering her father and sister by becoming involved with “this undercover business.”
The memoir often dwells on people like Rolf who voluntarily do brave things even when they themselves won’t benefit. Less frequently, it presents situations like this, where the clergyman falls short even when an opportunity for bravery is presented to him. Such moments are the flip side to the faith in people’s moral capacities that generally sustains Corrie.
Hoping to change his mind, Corrie runs upstairs and fetches the tiny baby, returning him and placing him in the clergyman’s arms. For a minute, the man stares down at the baby’s tiny face, but he ultimately refuses, unwilling to risk his life.
This is similar to the moment when Corrie watched the Jewish doctor play with his children; however, while this inspired her to activism, it drives the clergyman towards the opposite choice.
Father quietly appears in the doorway and takes the baby in his own arms. He tells the clergyman that dying for this child would be “the greatest honor that could come to my family.” The clergyman leaves quickly.
Father’s declaration of his willingness to sacrifice himself is reminiscent of Corrie’s earlier image of Jesus’s sacrificial love for humanity.
Without the clergyman’s help, Corrie has to accept a flawed solution, hiding the woman in a safe house that has already been raided by the Gestapo. A few weeks later, Corrie finds out that the farm has been raided again. In her anguish and hysteria, the mother began shrieking, and she and her baby were both taken.
Although the woman’s arrest was a random tragedy not explicitly connected to the clergyman, Corrie seems to imply that while good moral choices have transformative possibilities, bad ones can lead to catastrophe.
In order to communicate by phone, Corrie and her workers develop a secret code, referring to fugitives as watches. For example, when she tells someone that “I have a watch here with a face that’s causing difficulty,” she means that she has a fugitive with stereotypically Semitic features, who needs to be placed in an especially secure hiding place.
Corrie’s ability to speak in code like this shows her growing adeptness at leading an organization and coping with the many difficulties that arise.
One day, Corrie gets a call just like this, and tells the caller to “send the watch over.” As she is setting out dinner an obviously Jewish man arrives, introduces himself courteously as Meyer Mossel, and asks permission to smoke his pipe. Corrie takes to him instantly.
Meyer’s hallmark will be his ability to preserve the courtesies and gestures that, in this time of crisis, seem like outdated luxuries. He’s a reminder that Jewish fugitives were not always desperate refugees but ordinary and idiosyncratic people, just like Corrie and her family.
Corrie brings Meyer upstairs, where he immediately bonds with Father, whom he jokingly calls “one of the Patriarchs” for his long white beard. Meyer and Father joke about the Psalms, which they both know thoroughly. After dinner, Father passes the Bible across the table to the new guest and asks if he will deliver the nightly reading. As it turns out, Meyer was once a cantor in an Amsterdam synagogue, and he has a beautiful and haunting voice.
Father’s instant connection with Meyer recalls the visits he made to Jews in Amsterdam during Corrie’s childhood. It’s another reminder that his activism now springs from a lifetime of promoting tolerance. Moreover, the Bible again emerges as a symbol of tolerance, linking two religions together and engendering respect.
Corrie realizes that Meyer will probably have to stay at the Beje permanently, as they’re unlikely to find someone else willing to hide him She decides to give him a Christian name, settling on Eusebius (Eusie for short), after the fourth-century church father, and Smit—a nod to the alias adopted by all members of the underground.
Meyer’s new name is another homage to the links that bind Jews and Christians, and the respect with which they can approach each other’s religions.
A more practical concern is Eusebius’s devotion to kosher dietary rules, which prohibit him from eating pork. Meat is so rare by now that Betsie has to take what she can get for her ration coupons, and one day she firmly informs him that he must eat pork casserole to keep his strength up. Eusie concedes, saying that there must be an exception in the Talmud for these sorts of situations—and that he’ll look for it after dinner.
Like Corrie, who must accustom herself to lying and stealing when it’s necessary to save lives, Meyer must break the dietary rules he’s honored his entire life in order to preserve his health. Both of these examples show that faith isn’t about following arbitrary rules but adhering to a set of moral principles.
After Eusie’s arrival, the family starts acquiring more permanent residents. The current apprentice, Jop, takes up residence as he risks being deported for forced labor every time he travels to and from work. Two young Jewish men—Henk, a lawyer, and Leendert, a schoolteacher—arrive as well.
The new arrivals to the Beje reverse the trend of departures that’s been in effect since Corrie and her siblings reached adulthood. In this sense, the fugitives are not just guests but members of the family—inviting the reader to take a wider and more inclusive view of what constitutes a family.
Leendert makes an especially important contribution by building an electric warning system, which Pickwick has encouraged Corrie to acquire—something that will alert the whole household in the event of an unfriendly visitor and allow everyone to reach the secret room in time. Leendert installs a buzzer on the stairs and buttons to sound it at every window looking over the street, and in the workbenches in the shop.
Leendert’s buzzer system will prove useful, but it will also fail Corrie. Corrie sees innovations like this as a tool to aid her mechanism, but she ultimately concludes that they can’t stand in the way of God’s inevitable will.
To be more prepared, Corrie starts running drills to prepare the household, to see how quickly everyone can get to the secret room without prior notice. The fugitives have to run quickly up to the secret room, while the ten Booms have to conceal any traces of their presence, from stray garments to warm mattresses. At lunch, they have a trial run. It’s loud and chaotic, but the fugitives reach the secret room in four minutes while Betsie and Corrie rearrange the table to make it seem as though only three people are eating. Still, they leave tell-tale cigar ashes and other signs of additional occupants around the house.
After Corrie has spent so much time detailing the humanity, vivacity, and ingenuity of her fugitives, it’s startling to view them as hunted beings whose very existence must be concealed. Practices like this are a reminder of the terrible dehumanization on which Nazi ideology and persecution ultimately rests.
By the fifth drill, they’ve reduced their time to two minutes. Meanwhile, Corrie, Toos, and Father develop stalling techniques they can use if the Gestapo come into the shop.
Toos’s loyalty to the ten Booms is another quiet example of an ordinary person making exemplary moral choices in a time of need.
Three more fugitives arrive: Thea Dacosta, Mary Monsanto, and Mary Itallie. Mary, an elderly lady, poses an additional security problem. It’s difficult for her to reach the secret room quickly and she wheezes loudly from her asthma. Corrie calls a meeting to address this issue. Eusie emphatically voices his support for Mary to stay, and Henk suggests a vote. People begin raising their hands in favor, but Mary insists on a secret ballot, so everyone can feel free to voice their true thoughts. When Corrie counts the nine ballots, everyone has voted for Mary to stay.
Even though Corrie tries to maximize the safety of her family and her fugitives, sometimes she concludes that adhering to principle is more important than avoiding risk. The solidarity that quickly forms around Mary is an example of the strength of character that arises in an inclusive and respectful environment, no matter how small or limited.
The nine people settle into their routine as a household—a fairly happy one, thanks to Betsie. She organizes activities to alleviate the tedium of confinement, and the group enjoys impromptu concerts, theater readings, Hebrew lessons from Meyer and Italian from Meta. Because electricity is so limited, in the evenings one person pedals on Corrie’s bicycle to power up the headlight while another uses the light to read aloud history books, novels, and plays.
The group’s devotion to culture and study contrasts with the political climate outside the house, which seems to defy any ideal of civilization or decency. This lesson in preserving humanity and morale during hard times will serve Corrie well during her later imprisonment.