In a series of flashbacks, Corrie recalls several formative moments in her childhood. It’s 1898, and she’s preparing for her first day of school. Betsie scolds her for wearing torn stockings and rummages around for a more presentable outfit. Meanwhile, Nollie declares that she won’t wear the ugly hat Tante Jans has bought her. Instead, she produces a tiny fur hat, which the milliner kindly gave her after seeing the unfashionable purchases made by their aunt.
In this flashback, the sisters’ different characters become apparent. Betsie, the oldest, is inherently maternal and concerned with household affairs, while Nollie is bolder and more extroverted. It’s Corrie’s character that remains undefined here, helping to create the sense that Corrie doesn’t really come into her own until she starts working in the underground as an adult.
Tante Jans has been living with the family ever since her husband died. This has complicated household arrangements, as Mama’s other two sisters are already living in the Beje. Tante Jans spends all day in her room writing “flaming Christian tracts” for which she’s well-known across the country, and visiting with the wealthy women who support her work. She has more personal space than anyone else in the family, but this has come to seem natural to Corrie. She’s always impressed by the commanding manner with which Tante Jans forces trolleys to stop in the middle of the street, rather than waiting at a station.
Corrie genuinely loves Tante Jans; however, her aunt’s approach to religion emerges as somewhat bombastic (she writes for large audiences rather than interacting with individuals) and self-centered (she has the biggest rooms even though she doesn’t help run the house). By contrast, Father’s faith is expressed in the moral guidance he dispenses to actual people, and the generosity Mama expresses through practical gifts to the poor like food and clothing.
Nollie knows that Tante Jans will protest if she wears the fur hat to school; to her, all fashionable clothes come “from the stylebook of the devil.” Corrie says she should put it under her bonnet, but Nollie chides her for advocating dishonesty. Corrie shrugs and puts on her own gray hat; she doesn’t care about clothes or understand why anyone else does.
For Tante Jans, fulfilling Christian principles entails rigidity and resistance to change of any kind. However, as Corrie grows up she realizes that her idea of “Christian” behavior must change with the times. For example, during the war she has to steal and lie in order to fulfill her Christian duty to save lives.
What Corrie does mind is the prospect of going to school. She doesn’t want to leave her comfortable home for the unknown. Suddenly, it occurs to her that she can simply refuse to go. Instead, she’ll stay with Mama and help out around the house.
Corrie’s reluctance to go to school reflects her comfort and satisfaction within her family, an attribute she will retain into adulthood.
The sisters run downstairs to breakfast. Tante Bep chides them for being late—a former governess, she often compares her nieces’ behavior to her erstwhile charges—but Father says it doesn’t matter. Mama warns them quietly to be nice to Tante Jans today, as it’s the anniversary of the death of a distant friend. Such things upset Tante Jans, especially since she’s often preoccupied with sickness and death anyway.
While Tante Bep and Tante Jans are beloved relatives, they make life difficult for their nieces with their self-centeredness. As she grows up, Corrie will learn from their negative example to cultivate humility and concern for the well-being of others.
Tante Jans appears at the door, holding a medicinal tonic she’s brewed herself. As if in the middle of the discussion, she starts meditating on the uselessness of medicine, as nothing can stop the will of God. Father gently points out that medicine has “prolonged many a life,” and Tante Jans launches into a long account of the last minutes of the friend whose death occurred years ago.
As an adult, Corrie will believe, just like Tante Jans, that God’s will is unstoppable. However, this belief doesn’t incapacitate her or encourage passivity—rather, it gives her the faith and strength to keep working even in the face of seemingly insuperable injustice.
Suddenly, Tante Jans notices Nollie’s hat and begins to criticize it. Quickly, Mama wonders aloud if the cheese is spoiled. This instantly distracts Tante Jans, who is extremely concerned with spoiled food. Nollie is saved and Father starts his daily Bible reading. The text of today’s psalm reads, “Thou art my hiding place and my shield.” Corrie wonders what there could possibly be to hide from.
The title of the memoir derives from this text, which is repeated multiple times and refers to both the physical hiding place Corrie will make in her house, and the moral comfort that a strong faith provides—ultimately emphasizing the strong relevance of Biblical texts to individual spirituality and the tangible events of the world.
After breakfast Betsie and Nollie hurry out the door, but Corrie lingers until Mama gently tells her to hurry up. Corrie announces bravely that she’s not going. All of her aunts begin to give their opinions on this statement at once, but Father grandly says that he will walk her himself. Corrie clings to the railing in front of the house, but Father gently disengages her fingers and totes her away to school.
While Corrie loves her mother and aunts, it’s Father who provides her with spiritual comfort and strength at important moments. While this pattern enforces gender norms that establish Father as the moral center of the family, it’s also important to note that he’s an involved and devoted parent who takes an active role in childrearing.
During the summer, Corrie accompanies Father on his weekly trips into Amsterdam, where he gets the precise time from the Naval Observatory clock. She loves the train trip and the beautiful landscape views it affords. When they arrive in Amsterdam, Father usually spends the morning visiting with various wholesalers, many of whom are Jews. After a quick business discussion Father brings out his Bible and the wholesaler produces his prayer cap and scroll; the two men spend the rest of the morning arguing and studying together, sharing their mutual love of the Scriptures. At the end of the discussion, their host always produces a delicious and exotic dessert for Corrie.
This memory emphasizes Father’s longstanding belief in religious tolerance and his recognition of inherent commonalities, rather than difference, between religious groups. Although Father is intensely Christian, he doesn’t use religion as a mechanism for discrimination or oppression. This passage also emphasizes the role of Biblical texts as a link between Jews and Christians, rather than something that sets them apart.
Afterwards, Father and Corrie watch the naval clock strike twelve; Father records the time on his pocket watch, so that he can make sure all the clocks at home are accurate to the second. On the way home, they talk about all different things. Once, Corrie asks Father the meaning of the word “sexsin,” a word she’s encountered in a poem at school. Father tells her that, just as he wouldn’t ask her to carry his heavy briefcase home, he wouldn’t ask her to carry knowledge that is too “heavy” for her. Corrie is satisfied with this answer, content to leave all hard questions for Father’s contemplation.
Corrie will frequently return to the idea that God personally intervenes in people’s lives to provide strength in difficult moments. In this light, she can view misfortune or suffering not as arguments against the existence of God but as proof of His essential goodness, and opportunities to feel close to the divine through moments of personal connection.
In the evenings, guests frequently visit the Beje, bringing instruments and performing impromptu concerts. When there’s an official concert, the family, too poor to afford tickets, stands in the alley outside the stage door, where they can hear everything. The best nights come when there’s a concert at the cathedral. The friendly sexton always lets them sit inside his private entrance, where they can hear the beautiful organ.
Although their relative poverty prevents them from going to the theater, in another sense they allow the ten Booms to make more connections within the community. Lack of financial resources leads to a wealth of interpersonal resources.
Corrie remembers an expedition to see one of the poor families to whom Mama regularly provides food and aid. The night before, one of their babies has died, and Mama is bringing them fresh bread, even though her chronic illness means that she can barely climb the stairs without help. While Mama consoles the young mother, Corrie stares at the dead baby, laid out in its crib. She’s surprised to find that its hand is cold to the touch, and it strikes her that death could happen to anyone, even someone in her family.
With her charitable visits to the city’s poor, Mama models the active Christianity that will characterize the rest of Corrie’s life. Clearly, Mama considers it more important for Corrie to develop a sense of responsibility towards others than to shield her from unpleasant realities, like the dead child.
That night, Corrie starts sobbing as soon as it’s time to go to bed, wailing that she doesn’t want Father to die. Father hugs Corrie and tells her that, just as he gives her a train ticket right before she gets on the train, God gives people strength to handle misfortune right when they need it. Until then, he says, she shouldn’t worry.
Father’s moral analogies often concern the ability of God to intervene in individual lives at exactly the right moment. Corrie’s belief in this principle will sustain her though many of the misfortunes she endures as an adult.