One night, the family gathers around the radio, waiting to hear the prime minister address the nation on the possibility of war with Germany. The prime minister assures everyone that Germany will respect Holland’s neutrality, but Father shuts off the radio, saying that war will surely come and it’s wrong to give people false hope. Corrie is astonished to hear Father, always an optimist, say such a thing.
The prime minister’s political posturing turns out to be utterly false, while Father’s intuitions are sound. Throughout the novel Father is notably able to discern the truth in complicated situations—a reflection of his commitment to the Bible and the eternal truth which, in his eyes, it contains.
That night Corrie wakes up to the sound of explosions. She finds Betsie and they pray together for Holland and the Queen. Betsie even prays for the German soldiers, but Corrie feels that she “cannot pray for those men at all.”
As she’s praying, Corrie has a strange dream. She’s in the large market and sees an old cart roll across the square. She herself is inside it, alongside Father, Betsie, Willem, Peter, and family friends like Pickwick and Toos. She feels that they should get off the wagon, but she doesn’t know what to do. She wakes up unsettled, and Betsie makes her a pot of coffee. To comfort Corrie, she says that God shows people the bad things that are coming to “tell us that this too is in His hands.”
Corrie’s dream uncannily predicts the circumstances of her eventual arrest many chapters later. One of Corrie’s concerns is explaining how God allows misfortune to befall people like her, who are doing the right thing. Mediating this experience through the dream allows her to see it as part of a greater plan, rather than a random catastrophe.
Holland holds out against Germany for five days. Everyone tapes up their windows and helps neighbors do the same, forgetting about the petty disputes which seemed important before the war. People take to walking in the streets more than usual, even Father. One morning, Corrie and Father are in a large crowd on a bridge when word comes that Holland has surrendered. A teenage boy next to them bursts into tears, saying aloud that he wishes he could have fought. Father picks up a bruised flower from the pavement; placing in the boy’s buttonhole, he says that “Holland’s battle has just begun.”
While Father’s faith makes him resigned to personal suffering—for example, he never complains that his watch business isn’t very profitable or that his wife is ill—it also gives him courage to take action on greater moral issues. His declaration that the young boy must be ready for “battle” is a reflection of the importance of social action in practicing his faith.
In the first months of German occupation, little changes. The ten Booms have to get used to a curfew and ration cards, as well as the constant presence of German soldiers in the streets. More importantly, the newspapers only carry German propaganda and fake news. Everyone is ordered to turn in private radio sets, but the ten Booms decide to keep one of theirs, which Peter resourcefully hides under the staircase. When Corrie turns in the other set, the German clerk asks if any of her family members own radios, and she says they don’t. It’s the first lie she’s ever told. Because of Corrie’s deception, every night the family listens to English broadcasts, which tell the real news.
The newspapers, which are fallible and vulnerable to malevolent manipulation, contrast with the Bible, whose truths are eternal and unchanging. At the beginning of the novel Corrie makes a clear distinction between the moral advice provided by the Bible and practical information gleaned from modern news sources. However, during her imprisonment she will conclude that the Bible is of as much day-to-day relevance as a newspaper or radio.
Many nights, Corrie lies awake listening to German planes flying west or even exchanging fire right over the city. Unable to sleep one night, she goes downstairs to have a cup of tea with Betsie. After an hour of chatting, she returns upstairs. On her pillow is a large piece of shrapnel which has broken her window. Corrie is horrified by the knowledge that, had she been asleep, she would have died. Betsie, bandaging her hand, reminds her that “there are no ‘ifs’ in God’s world,” and starts praying aloud.
Corrie is tempted to think of this episode as a random and terrifying piece of luck, but Betsie reminds her that God is involved in each individual occurrence. Conceiving of every such incident as the work of God, and therefore a good thing, allows them to remain stoic in the face of great personal misfortune.
Slowly, the family realizes that the “true horror” of the occupation is the persecution of Jews, which is slowly increasing. For the first year, this is demonstrated only through some anti-Semitic graffiti and isolated vandalism of Jewish stores. However, more and more people are starting to join the NSB, the Dutch Nazi organization. Some just want the privileges and increased rations that come with the membership, but some want to act on their latent anti-Semitism. On their walks, Corrie and Father see more and more signs barring Jews from restaurants and public places. They see people wearing the yellow star—including their long acquaintance, the man they call the Bulldog.
Corrie always took for granted that she lived in a fairly tolerant and diverse society, but now she sees how fragile that tolerance really is. It’s important that she frames the decline of tolerance as a series of small personal choices. Rather than blaming it on Nazi commanders or abstract ideology, she points out that every Dutch person who chooses increased rations over principle weakens the social fabric and incurs responsibility for the ensuing catastrophe.
Worst of all, some people are being deported or simply disappearing. Mr. Kan’s watch shop across the street simply stops opening one day and an NSB family takes over his apartment. Sometimes arrests even take place in public. One day Father and Corrie see German soldiers piling several Jewish families into trucks in the middle of the market. Corrie cries out in dismay for “the poor people,” and Father echoes her—but she realizes he’s actually looking at German soldiers who, he says, “have touched the apple of God’s eye.”
Like Betsie, Father is often as preoccupied with the German soldiers committing crimes as he is with their victims. This shows that to him, one’s fate on Earth is not as important as the judgment that awaits after death.
Father, Betsie, and Corrie begin to discuss what they can do to help Jewish friends. Already Willem is finding hiding places for the young Jews living at his house. She has to put her ideas into action one morning in 1941, when she sees a group of German soldiers march by the Beje and demolish Weil’s furriers, across the street. Corrie and Betsie rush outside to help Mr. Weil gather up his possessions and bustle him inside the Beje before the soldiers notice his absence. They need to contact Mrs. Weil, who is visiting her sister, and warn her not to come home, but all private telephones have been disconnected and public calls are monitored.
Corrie presents the first moment in which she’s called to action as a seemingly isolated incident, like an incident later in this chapter when she visits a Jewish doctor and suddenly understands the danger he is facing. Corrie describes the development of her activism not as a result of exceptional character but a series of moral choices, suggesting both that anyone can and that everyone should commit to fighting injustice as she does.
Corrie hurries out to Willem’s house, where she finds Tine and their adult son Kik and gives them the Amsterdam address of Mrs. Weil’s sister. That night, Kik comes to the Beje just before curfew and leads Mr. Weil away. Weeks later, when Corrie asks Kik what happened, he grins and says that “if you’re going to work with the underground, Tante Corrie,” she can’t ask any questions. Corrie has never considered herself as part of the “underground”—to her, the word is associated with sinful things, like stealing and killing people. Now, she wonders if such activities are what God wants right now. She doesn’t know how exactly to follow Christian tenets “when evil was in power.”
While the impulse to support vulnerable and needy people springs directly from her Christian principles, the tactics she will have to adopt seem to contrast with those principles. Corrie has to grapple with the fact that fulfilling God’s will involves doing things that she would normally regard as sinful in God’s eyes. Through dilemmas like these, Corrie comes to conceive of her faith as an adaptable guide to modern circumstances, rather than a set of rigid rules.
A month later, Father and Corrie are on their usual walk when they spot The Bulldog—except he’s no longer accompanied by his dogs. Intrigued, they follow him home to a small secondhand shop and, at the door, introduce themselves. The man turns out to be named Harry de Vries. When Father asks after the bulldogs, Harry sadly confesses that he has poisoned them, since he knows that the Germans could come for him at any time, and he can’t stand the thought of his dogs being left behind to die.
For Harry, the bulldogs are like family, and his decision to put them to sleep lest they face a worse fate reflects the ubiquity of hard choices that the ten Booms will face as they become more involved in the resistance but also try to keep their family intact—for example, Willem must reconcile his sons’ wish to work in the underground with his own desire for their personal safety.
Struck with sympathy, Father offers to accompany Harry on his daily walks. The other man refuses, saying that to do so would put the ten Boom family in danger, but he accepts an invitation to visit them after dark. Soon, Harry and his non-Jewish wife Cato are regular visitors at the Beje. Harry converted to Christianity years earlier, but he still embraces his Jewish identity, calling himself “a completed Jew” and “a follower of one perfect Jew.” He’s especially fascinated by the valuable Jewish theological tomes with which a rabbi entrusted Father shortly before his own deportation.
It’s clear that Father forms a special relationship with Harry because he’s an ethnic Jew who espouses Christian principles. Harry’s phrase “a completed Jew” is somewhat belittling to Judaism—after all, most Jews are not followers of Jesus, but this does not make them less whole or their religious beliefs less valid.
Corrie reflects that during this time it’s the “small, almost unconscious” episodes that mark “a turning point” in her life. She’s begun to pick up and drop off work for the shop’s Jewish customers, so that they don’t have to go out in the street. One evening, she’s visiting a customer and his family when a child runs downstairs, protesting that her father hasn’t tucked her in. The father cheerfully goes upstairs to play hide-and-seek, and Corrie suddenly reflects that these people could be forced onto a truck at any moment. She prays silently, telling Jesus that “I offer myself for Your people.” Once again, she remembers the waking dream in which she saw herself and her family passing through the market in a wagon, heading towards an uncertain destination.
In this moment, Corrie realizes the essential humanity in the Jewish family—to her, they represent the universal bonds of love that bind parents and children. This humanity, combined with her awareness of their particular danger, is what convinces her of the need to ensure religious tolerance at all costs. It’s also important that, just like when she helps Mr. Weil, she presents this declaration of commitment in the context of a specific moment and explicit choice—again, she implies that this is a situation anyone could face, and to which anyone must be ready to respond.