The Hiding Place

by

Corrie Ten Boom

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The Hiding Place: Scheveningen Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In two hours, the bus reaches The Hague, and the prisoners are marched into the national Gestapo headquarters for another round of officers recording names and addresses. When the chief interrogator sees Father, he’s distressed that such an old man has been arrested and offers to send him home if he promises not to cause more trouble. However, Father says that if he goes home today, “tomorrow I will open my door again to any man in need.” He’s ordered back into line.
Here, the German officer has a moment of moral clarity when he sees how inhumane it is to subject the elderly to these kinds of conditions. However, his commitment to Nazi ideology trumps this firm impulse, especially when Father demonstrates his own moral clarity.
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Everyone stands in line for hours, waiting to be questioned. Corrie sees the police beating a Jewish man who is clinging to the bag he’s brought with him, until he’s kicked to the ground. Sick and exhausted, Corrie feels furious at the amount of noise this fight is generating; she feels a sense of hatred towards the man “for being so helpless and hurt.”
Throughout her time in prison, Corrie will have to fight against the tendency of harsh circumstances to erode empathy and moral clarity. This is the first such test of her principles.
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At night, they are again loaded onto buses and taken outside the city to a federal prison in Scheveningen. Soldiers prod them inside and line them up against the wall, and then the women prisoners are led away. Looking back towards her male relatives, Corrie cries out to Father, “God be with you!” He echoes her farewell calmly.
Even though this isn’t an explicitly political cry, given the explicit hostility of German officers to religious rhetoric, by bidding farewell to Father this way Corrie is reaffirming their mutual resistance to the Nazi state.
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The women are processed again by female guards and forced to give up all their valuables, then placed in different shared cells. Corrie is separated from Betsie and Nollie and put in a room with strangers. Because she is sick, they women give her the cot, but they also protest to the guard about the possibility of contagion.
The women in prison are also torn between kindness and the impulse to put themselves first—the kind of thinking that prison conditions encourage.
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Corrie doesn’t believe she can sleep, but the next thing she knows, it’s morning and guards are shoving gruel through the door. Corrie can’t stomach hers. All day the women are confined in the cramped cell, and Corrie has her first experience of “prison boredom.” She wonders what will happen to her cat, left behind at the Beje, but she tries not to think too hard about the people in the secret room, trusting them to God’s care.
It’s hard to have faith that God will save the fugitives when he’s allowed Corrie’s whole family to be imprisoned. Events like this force Corrie to admit that there’s some things she can’t explain through religion—but she’s able to experience this realization without wavering in her faith.
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Their only information about the outside world comes from one cellmate who has been here for three years, and is adept at interpreting the different footsteps of people passing through the corridor. It seems that she and the other prisoners avoid talking or even thinking about life outside prison, in order to keep themselves from going crazy. But Corrie can’t stop herself from worrying about her family and friends.
Prison causes the women to abandon their previous principles and interests—the very things that make them humans and individuals. This phenomenon mirrors the way that Nazi occupation encourages people stop thinking of themselves as individuals but rather as members of religious or ethnic groups.
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For days Corrie tosses with fever and coughs up blood. Two weeks after her arrival, the warden summons her outside, where she gets her first glimpse of the sky, and puts her in a car headed for the hospital. After hours in the waiting room, a crisp nurse escorts Corrie to the lavatory, where she kindly and surreptitiously asks if there’s anything she can get for her. Corrie asks for a Bible, needle and thread, and a toothbrush. She’s cheered up for the rest of the day.
It’s important that Corrie asks for a Bible alongside basic hygienic supplies. For her, the Bible is as important as her physical health—indeed, having access to it helps restore her health and gives her strength to confront the challenges that await.
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When Corrie finally sees the doctor, he diagnoses her with pre-tubercular pleurisy, saying that he hopes he’s doing her a favor. On her way out, the kind nurse presses a small package in her hand. When she gets back to her cell, she unwraps it to find two bars of soap and the Gospels in booklet form. She offers to share everything, but while her cellmates eagerly accept the soap, they won’t touch the Bible—being caught with this contraband leads to a double sentence.
Corrie’s reaction to the Bible is exactly opposite that of her roommates. She’s much more concerned with her spiritual comfort than her physical well-being, while they don’t want to risk the physical consequences of being caught with this contraband. While their position is understandable, as a prisoner Corrie will work to keep spirituality at the forefront of people’s minds, regardless of their physical circumstances.
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Two days later, a guard appears suddenly and snaps at Corrie to collect her things, warning her not to talk or ask questions. She thinks she’s being released, but she’s actually placed in a solitary cell. Contemplating the idea of imprisonment in this dark cell by herself, Corrie feels panicky and retches in the bucket. For several days Corrie’s illness becomes worse—she’s hardly able to walk or get out of her cot, much less eat food. Every morning a prisoner or guard delivers gruel, but each one refuses to speak to her. If she tries to ask questions, a guard shouts from outside that solitary prisoners aren’t allowed to talk.
Now it becomes clear that by “doing her a favor,” the doctor was trying to get her assigned to a cell of her own. Although this change provides greater physical comfort, it’s an emotionally alien situation for Corrie, who’s accustomed to being surrounded by other people. Used to thinking of herself as a member of a family, however large or unconventional, she doesn’t know how to function here.
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This same guard often taunts Corrie from outside the cell, criticizing her for lying in bed all day and mockingly calling her a “great lady.” Corrie finds this puzzling, as she couldn’t accomplish anything by getting out of bed even if she wanted to.
The guard’s lack of empathy is extraordinary here—she’s not just doing her job but exulting in it and the cruelty she’s permitted.
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As Corrie’s health returns, she becomes a little calmer and less despairing. She spends hours looking out of the tiny window in her cell and reads her Gospels again and again. She wonders if the entire war, with all its needless suffering, was in fact “part of the pattern first revealed in the Gospels.” After all, even Jesus had “been defeated as utterly and unarguably as our little group and our small plans had been.” To avoid losing track of time, she records the days with a sharpened corset stay. One day she realizes it’s her birthday and tries to sing a song, but the guard yells at her to be quiet.
Corrie has been accustomed to reading the Bible for abstract spiritual advice, not in order to understand the exact events around her. Paradoxically, as her circumstances worsen they become more and more reminiscent of the ancient catastrophes described in the Bible, especially the Roman persecution leading to Christ’s crucifixion. Even though she’s approaching the worst time in her life, this comparison allows her to feel close to God.
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Two days later, Corrie gets her first shower. Even though the women are still prohibited from talking, it’s incredible just to see other people again. She resolves to take her Gospels with her the next time and distribute them among the women; she’s learned from solitary confinement that “it was not possible to be rich alone.” Back in her cell, she notices ants coming in and out and starts sharing crumbs with them, to entice them to visit more often and entertain her.
Corrie’s conception of herself as “rich,” is remarkable, considering the dire state of affairs right now. In describing herself thus she’s emphasizing the ability of the Bible to provide spiritual tranquility, a kind of wealth in and of itself, regardless of one’s earthly situation. It’s also important that Corrie has the immediate impulse to share with others—her principles of tolerance and inclusion have not been eroded by solitary confinement.
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One afternoon, Corrie suddenly hears all the prisoners shouting to each other through the walls. She wonders how this is happening, as the guards normally punish talking. As it turns out, they are all away at a party for Hitler’s birthday. Corrie shouts out her name to be relayed down the hall and hopes for news to return to her. Eventually, she finds that while Betsie is still in prison, Nollie, Toos, Peter, Pickwick, Willem, and everyone else from the raid has been released. Only about Father is there no information.
The efficient exchange of information while the guards are away is a remarkable display of cohesion, despite the efforts of prison rules to discourage such communal feelings among the women. This reflects Corrie’s feeling that solidarity is natural and inspired by God, whereas intolerance is an aberrance contrary to His will.
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A week later Nollie manages to get a package to Corrie. Inside is her blue sweater, cookies, vitamins, a needle, and a red towel. She immediately sets up these items around her cell, making it more cheerful. Remembering that messages sometimes came to the Beje under a stamp, she works off the stamp on Nollie’s package and finds a tiny note saying, “all the watches in your closet are safe.” This means that all the people in the secret room have escaped. Corrie bursts out sobbing.
Nollie sends Corrie the same sweater that she wore during her own imprisonment, creating a link between their two experiences even though they are now physically severed. For Corrie, the revelation that all the Jews are safe means that she has been right in her stoicism and decision to “trust them” to God—God has finally rewarded her faith.
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Now that she has the needle, Corrie has been entertaining herself by pulling threads from the red towel and embroidering on her pajamas. Suddenly, a letter is thrust under the door. It’s from Nollie and it delivers the news that Father is dead, having survived his arrest only ten days. The family still doesn’t know how it happened or where he was buried.
Father has always been at the epicenter of the family. The fact that he has died separated from his children and without their knowledge represents the possibility of the war to dissolve family bonds, one of it’s worst threats.
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Corrie starts sobbing and begs for a passing guard to talk to her. The guard, barely more than a girl, gives her a sedative when Corrie explains that she’s just heard terrible news about her father. Still, she admonishes Corrie that whatever happens to her, “you brought it on yourself by breaking the laws.”
Like the guard who shouts at Corrie, this young girl is striking in her inability to empathize. Whereas Corrie searches for the humanity even in people she doesn’t like, these people distance themselves from their prisoners by denying the validity of their emotions, even of serious grief.
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Corrie takes comfort from her faith that Father is now with Jesus. She scratches down the date of his “release” in her improvised calendar on the wall.
Reinterpreting the tragedy of Father’s death this way, Corrie uses faith to soothe her grief and preserve her emotional strength.
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