The Hiding Place


Corrie Ten Boom

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Corrie ten Boom begins her narrative by recalling a party she and her sister Betsie organize in honor of the hundredth anniversary of their Father’s watch shop. Corrie helps Betsie make breakfast and do last-minute cleaning. Soon, her sister Nollie arrives with her several children. As the day progresses, the ten Boom house (nicknamed the Beje) fills up with colleagues and family friends, including Pickwick, a wealthy customer and one of Father’s confidantes. All afternoon, Corrie keeps an eye out for her older brother Willem. When he arrives, he brings a Jewish man with him, announcing that he has just fled Germany after being attacked in the street. Willem operates a nursing home for elderly Jews, and lately he’s been sheltering many people trying to escape the Nazis. Father and Corrie bring the man coffee and make him feel welcome, while the other guests conclude that Germany, a “civilized” country, will soon put an end to the activities of such “hoodlums.”

Corrie then steps back to reminisce on her childhood and adolescence. She grew up in the Beje with her older siblings, Nollie, Betsie, and Willem. Also living in the house are Father and Mama, as well as Mama’s sisters: Tante Jans, who writes “flaming Christian tracts,” Tante Bep, a former governess, and Tante Anna, who takes care of most of the housework due to Mama’s recurring bouts of illness. One morning, Corrie has to go to school for the first time; nervous and shy, she decides that she will simply refuse . However, over breakfast Father reads a long psalm describing God’s ability to create a “hiding place” for the faithful. Father then walks Corrie to school himself.

Father often takes Corrie with him on business trips to Amsterdam. He sets his own watch, as well as all the clocks in the shop, by the precise naval clock in the capital. He also visits wholesalers who sell him parts, many of whom are Jews. After business discussions are concluded, the men bring out their Bibles and conduct lively discussions.

When Corrie graduates high school, she takes over the work of running the household. In particular, she cares for Tante Jans, who has developed diabetes. The disease makes the normally tough Tante Jans worried and nervous. Every week Corrie performs a complicated blood test on her aunt; one week the results are bad, and she knows that Jans has only a few weeks to live. The family gently delivers the news to the old woman, but she reacts with great calm and tranquility. To Corrie, this is confidence that God always endows people with moral strength at the moment they need it most.

As a teenager, Corrie meets Willem’s best friend at university, Karel, and falls in love. Corrie considers herself shy and plain, so she’s flattered that Karel notices of her. When Willem is finally ordained as a minister and hired by his first church, family and friends gather to listen to his first sermon. In these weeks of celebration, Corrie and Karel become close, discussing a shared future even though Karel has not yet proposed. One morning, Willem warns Corrie that Karel will never actually marry her; his parents are insistent that he marry a wealthy woman, and he is resigned to fulfill their expectations. Corrie doesn’t want to believe what Willem is saying, but after she returns home Karel writes her only sporadically. Months later, he arrives at the Beje bringing a woman he introduces as his fiancée. After they leave, Corrie runs upstairs sobbing. Trying to comfort her, Father says that she should ask God for help resolving the hurt and anger she now feels. Corrie prays that she will be able to love Karel selflessly, as God does.

Soon afterwards, Mama has a stroke. Now she’s confined permanently to her bed, and can’t speak or write. Still, she manages to correspond with family and friends by having Corrie write letters to them. Meanwhile, Nollie becomes engaged to Flip, another student at the teaching school she currently attends. On their wedding day, Corrie realizes that she will probably never get married or leave home. She recalls her previous hopes of a life with Karel, but finds that she’s able to think of him “without the slightest trace of hurt.” She knows that Jesus has helped her to forgive Karel and pray for him sincerely. Several weeks after the wedding, Mama dies.

Corrie has been running the house while Betsie acts as bookkeeper at the watch shop, but eventually the sisters switch roles, as Betsie proves a better housekeeper and Corrie has a sincere interest in the business. Learning more of Father’s trade, she becomes the first certified female watchmaker in Holland. Between running the shop, visiting her siblings and their children, and caring for the foster children that Father takes in, Corrie has a busy and satisfying life by the time of the shop’s hundredth anniversary.

The ten Booms have been hearing about Germany’s ominous transformation on the radio, but they only realize how serious the situation is when Otto, a young watchmaking apprentice and avowed Nazi, comes to work at the shop. Otto makes a habit of taunting Christoffels, an elderly employee at the shop, even kicking and hitting him in the street. Willem explains that Nazi philosophy encourages disrespect for the elderly because they are “useless” to society. Trying and failing to remonstrate with the young man, Father eventually fires him.

Soon afterward, Germany declares war against Holland, overcoming its army in five short days. The ten Booms then must adjust to life in an occupied city: Germany soldiers and tanks are everywhere, a curfew is set, groceries are bought with ration coupons, and the newspapers only carry Germany propaganda. More frightening, Allied bombings are often audible at night, sometimes breaking the windows. However, the most sinister aspect of the occupation is the growing persecution of Jews. Many shops stop serving Jews, and eventually they are forced to wear yellow stars on their clothes. Some families are taken away without warning. Corrie is horrified to see that many Dutch people don’t object to this injustice or even participate in it, joining the NSB (Dutch Nazi party), taking over the shops and residences of deported Jews.

One afternoon, German soldiers ransack a Jewish shop across from the Beje. Corrie and Betsie quickly bring the owner inside their house. After making contact with his wife, they arrange for him to be transported to Willem’s house. Due to his previous connections to the Jewish community, Willem is already sheltering some Dutch Jews. Coming at night to pick up the couple, Willem’s son Kik informs Corrie that she’s part of the “underground” now. Corrie knows that a resistance has formed in Holland, but she always associates these movements with sinful things like stealing and lying. She finds it hard to think of herself as part of it.

As the weeks go by, the ten Booms begin to help Jewish neighbors in any way they can. Corrie picks up and delivers watches so Jewish customers don’t have to brave the streets; a rabbi stores his books in the Beje; Father befriends a man he and Corrie have seen for years during their evening walks, Harry de Vries. Jews whose houses or shops have been targeted by the Gestapo begin sleeping at the Beje, fearing deportation. Corrie asks Willem to find these people safer and more permanent places in the countryside, but it’s hard to place fugitives without ration cards, which are not issued to Jews. Corrie turns to Fred Koornstra, a family acquaintance who works in the Food Office, and they come up with a scheme to manufacture fake ration cards. This makes it possible for Corrie to shelter more people and to provide them with resources when they move on. Kik brings Corrie to a clandestine underground meeting; to her surprise, it’s headed by Pickwick, an old family friend. Pickwick sends an architect to the Beje, who builds a secret room in which fugitives can hide, should the Gestapo raid the house.

Every day new problems occur, but with help Corrie always solves them. Pickwick introduces Corrie to a man who sets up a secret telephone in her house, she finds more sources of fake ration cards, and a policeman named Rolf turns out to be sympathetic and provides her with information about Gestapo movements. However, not everything goes well. Once Corrie is struggling to find a hiding place for a mother and a young baby; she asks a pastor and family acquaintance to take them in, but he’s too scared and refuses. Corrie has to place the pair in a less secure house, and they are later deported.

Some people also begin to stay permanently at the Beje. The ten Booms take in one man, Meyer, because his features are so stereotypically Semitic that other safe houses consider him too risky. Meyer is very religious and knowledgeable about scriptures, and he and Father become close friends. Corrie also takes in two young men, Henk and Leendert, as well as some Jewish women. They run drills on a regular basis in which the fugitives gather their belongings and hide in the secret room as fast as possible. Corrie’s nephews prepare her for possible interrogation by waking her up at night and questioning her. This part is especially hard for Corrie, as she’s not used to lying.

One night, an unknown man arrives at the Beje, asking Corrie how he can help his wife, who has been imprisoned for helping Jews. Corrie gives him instructions and some money; she has the flu, and is too sick and tired to think much about it. That night, the Gestapo raid the house. For hours they interrogate Corrie and the other members of the family, but they refuse to admit that Jews are hidden there, and the Germans don’t uncover the secret room. In the end, they arrest the entire family, including Peter, Willem, Nollie, and her husband.

The family is taken to a prison in the Hague. Corrie is separated from her sisters and placed in a cell with many other women, where she’s sick, worried, and bored. Because of her illness, she’s eventually placed in an individual cell where she languishes until her health improves. She spends four months in the cell. Eventually, a letter arrives from Nollie informing her that Father died in a hospital ten days after their arrest.

Corrie is interrogated several times by Lieutenant Rahms, a German army officer. Instead of giving him any information, Corrie speaks to him about the Bible, which seems to strike a chord in the officer. He tells her that he hates the work he does at the prison and only wants to go home to his family. At the same time, he feels that there’s no way to change conditions in the prison or alter the circumstances of his job. After some time, Lieutenant Rahms allows the whole family to convene at the prison, on the pretext of reading Father’s will. It’s the first time Corrie sees her family in months; by now, everyone has been released except her and Betsie. Willem tells her that all the Jews hiding in the Beje managed to escape, though police watched the house for several days.

Some time later, the women in the prison are transported to Vught, a concentration camp in Holland. Corrie is grateful to be reunited with Betsie, even though they are housed in dismal barracks. Corrie is assigned to work in a factory assembling German radios. The atmosphere is congenial, as the prisoner-foreman encourages people to work slowly. In the evenings, Corrie talks with Betsie, who’s been assigned to knitting socks. Betsie learns that the spy who exposed them, Jan Vogel, is a collaborator notorious throughout Holland. Corrie feels furious every time she thinks about him, but Betsie says that he must be “suffering dreadfully” and encourages Corrie to pray for him.

As rumors circulate that Germany is losing the war and the Allies are approaching Holland, the female prisoners are transported to Ravensbruck, a concentration camp in Germany. Waiting to be processed, they have to sleep outside in the rain for several days, after which Betsie contracts a chronic cough. Still, Corrie manages to smuggle a sweater for her sister and a small Bible through inspection. She’s horrified to find that the barracks are crawling with fleas, and that several women have to share each bed. Still, Betsie reminds her that the Bible instructs people to thank God in “all circumstances.” There’s a lot of complaining and fighting in the barracks, but Betsie improves the circumstances and creates cohesion by praying and eventually leading prayer services for women of all Christian denominations. Eventually, they realize that the guards haven’t discovered their illicit activities because they are too scared of fleas to inspect the barracks. Corrie realizes that even the fleas are part of God’s plan.

Betsie gets sicker and has to spend days at a time in the hospital; otherwise, she knits socks with other women too weak for outdoor labor. Eventually, Corrie joins this group as well, and the women spend the day praying and envisioning their lives after the war. Betsie says that she and Corrie will open a house for people who need to recover from concentration-camp life. However, one day Betsie is too ill to get out of bed for the morning roll call. She’s taken to the hospital, and by the time Corrie escapes from work to go see her, she’s already died.

One day, Corrie is released for seemingly no reason. She and several other prisoners are dropped at a train station, to make their own way home. Once she reaches Holland, she limps to a hospital where kindly nurses take care of her for several days and then arrange for her transport to Willem’s home. Her siblings are overjoyed to see her, though devastated to hear of Betsie’s death. In turn, Corrie is shocked to hear that Kik has been deported to Germany, and no one knows where he is.

After some days, Corrie returns to the Beje, which she now inhabits alone. The house feels empty and haunted by the memory of its former occupants. In order to fill her time and give herself a sense of purpose, she turns the house into a school and meeting place for mentally disabled children, who can’t go outside due to constant harassment from Nazi soldiers.

Even before the end of the war, Corrie meets a wealthy widow who agrees to let Corrie turn her country house into the recovery center Betsie dreamed of in Ravensbruck. Almost as soon as the Allies take Holland, droves of people start arriving at the house, coming from concentration camps or hiding places within Holland. At the home, they relearn all the tasks of normal life, and try to overcome their resentment of both the Germans and the Dutch collaborators. Corrie always encourages her residents to forgive those who have harmed them, though she knows it’s difficult to do so.

As time goes on, Corrie becomes well-known as a public speaker, relating Betsie’s teachings about the importance of forgiveness to large audiences. She even starts to speak in Germany. At one church service, she recognizes a former S.S. guard from Ravensbruck. When the man comes up to shake her hand, she remembers all the suffering Betsie experienced there and feels that she’s unable to forgive him. Still, as she prays for help, she feels her arm become warm and lift, seemingly of its own accord. She knows that God has assisted her in her own personal task of forgiveness. Eventually, in cooperation with a German relief organization inspired by her work, Corrie helps transform a former concentration camp into a shelter for displaced Germans, the very people who once imprisoned her.