The Hiding Place

by

Corrie Ten Boom

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The Hiding Place: The Blue Sweater Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Corrie is not allowed to visit the hospital, but a few days later she sneaks in the back entrance. Hoisting herself through the window, she smells the rank toilets and sees, to her shock, a dozen naked bodies stacked against the wall. She dashes through the hospital until she finds Betsie sitting up in a cot—she’s still thin and hasn’t seen a doctor, but has regained some strength through rest.
The stark reality of the corpses, and the inhumanity with which they are treated, contrast with Betsie’s return to health and the spiritual tranquility which she emanates.
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Three days later—still without any medical attention—Betsie’s fever subsides and she returns to Barracks 28. Fortunately, she’s assigned to a crew of women who knit socks for German soldiers, meaning she can work inside. Every day she finishes her sock quota before noon and spends the rest of the day reading to the other women from the Bible and leading prayers.
Even though Betsie doesn’t have to do any of this work, she undertakes it willingly and without a second thought. Corrie presents her sister’s ministry much as she does her own activism—as a result of explicit and specific moral choices.
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One day, Betsie is waiting for Corrie when she returns home from her day’s shift, looking pleased and excited. She’s found out that the guards are so reluctant to enter the women’s dormitory because of the swarming fleas. These vermin, which Corrie reviles, are actually the reason they are able to lead prayer services in safety.
Corrie didn’t take her sister seriously when she thanked God for the fleas, but now they both feel that even these vermin—like many other seeming misfortunes—are really a divine gift, as they have allowed the women to worship in peace.
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One morning during role call, a mentally disabled girl suddenly soils herself, and a particularly vicious guard, nicknamed The Snake, starts beating her. Whispering to Betsie, Corrie wonders aloud if they can open a home after the war to help traumatized people like this. Betsie replies that she prays for this every day. It’s only later that Corrie realizes that while she was speaking of the prisoners, Betsie has been thinking about the guards.
It’s not Corrie’s first impulse to forgive the guards or think about their rehabilitation; yet, after the war, she strongly will go on to promote forgiveness and reconciliation. She embraces and works towards the teachings she gets from Betsie and considers morally correct, even when they don’t reflect her personal instincts.
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Soon after, Corrie is ordered to a medical inspection. She’s pronounced healthy enough for transfer to a munitions factory, which is considered a boon, as conditions are much better there. However, she doesn’t want to be separated from Betsie. She pleads with a doctor, who relents and gives her a pass to be fitted for eyeglasses the next morning, at exactly the same time that the transport convoy leaves.
Obviously, proximity to family is much more important to Corrie than physical conditions. Even though the doctor is an active participant in Nazi persecution, by helping Corrie she exhibits a sliver of common humanity—it’s this kind of experience that leads Corrie to advocate for former Nazis after the war.
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Since Corrie’s entire work crew has been disbanded, the guards assign her to the knitting crew. She’s thankful for this, as she gets to spend all day with Betsie, praying and studying the Bible. The women become “the praying heart of the vast diseased body that was Ravensbruck,” trying to “intercede” for prisoners and even the guards.
Already, Betsie is discussing her ideas of forgiveness with the other women. She is laying the groundwork for the reconciliation endeavors Corrie will lead after the war.
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Related Quotes
During this time, Corrie feels that God is speaking to her about her purpose after the war. Betsie wants to have a large house where concentration camp survivors can come for rest and rehabilitation. She imagines floors of inlaid wood, a broad staircase, and luxurious gardens. Corrie is amazed to hear Betsie describe these things as if they already exist and aren’t just a product of imagination and hope.
Betsie’s specific descriptions of the house she wants to set up will resurface later as evidence of her uncanny foresight, when Corrie actually visits a home that she will transform into a rehabilitation center.
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One morning during roll call, Corrie sees hospital nurses loading patients into a truck. She’s known for a long time that the sickest people are sent to “the brick building at the foot of the great square smoke stack,” but she’s never seen it happening with her own eyes, and now she’s finally forced to understand what’s happening. She can’t believe that the nurses, some of whom treat the patients very kindly, are coolly sending them to their deaths.
It’s hard to reconcile the appearance—or even the unfeigned existence—of humanity, even tenderness, on the part of the nurses with their wholehearted commitment to Nazi ideology. Most people, Corrie comes to believes, are constantly making a series of good and bad choices, especially in times of crisis like this.
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As winter approaches, cold becomes a constant concern and Corrie feels “the temptation to think only of oneself” grow stronger. For example, she knows that if she wriggles into the middle of the group during roll call, she’ll be protected from the wind. To evade her guilt for forcing others to stand on the end, she comes up with many justifications, for example telling herself that she’s just acting on behalf of Betsie. She feels angry when other women take the yeast compound, which she wants to save for Betsie.
Corrie has always behaved charitably and selflessly towards others, but this is the first time she has to practice these principles when doing so actively disadvantages herself or Betsie. Her dread of what she sees as her own moral decline shows that losing one’s prewar principles is the ultimate defeat in the face of Nazi persecution.
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As a result, Corrie feels that her prayers have become less sincere and meaningless. However, one day she reads a story about Saint Paul, who was unable to overcome his own weaknesses until he learned to rely on God completely and realized that the “wonders and miracles that followed his ministry” all came from Christ’s personal intervention. That night, Corrie humbly confesses her feelings of self-centeredness to the prayer group, and “real joy” comes back to her prayers.
In confessing what she perceives as her sins—even though they’re no more than fairly understandable self-interest—she’s entrusting herself both to God and the women around her, thus reaffirming her place both in the religious order and the small community within her barracks.
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The cold is now affecting Betsie’s legs—sometimes she is too weak and stiff to walk. One day Betsie wakes up unable to move at all, and Corrie has to carry her to roll call. The next day, Corrie begs the Snake, the guard on duty, for help; after roll call, she finds that The Snake has summoned nurses to carry Corrie to the hospital, so that she doesn’t have to stand in the sick call line. In between coughs, Betsie reminds Corrie about the house they’re going to have after the war, and even tells her confusedly about a concentration camp where “we’re in charge.”
Corrie has last mentioned the Snake when she was viciously beating a disabled girl; however, now she’s performing an unexpected act of kindness. Just as seemingly perfect people have faults, seemingly irredeemable villains also have a conscious and are sometimes able to make good moral choices. Corrie doesn’t really understand what Betsie is saying now, but these phrases will make sense during her life after the war.
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Corrie walks with Betsie to the hospital. Betsie urgently says that Corrie must keep telling people what they have learned at Ravensbruck, “that there is no pit so deep that [God] is not deeper still.” Bewildered, Corrie asks when all of this will happen, and Betsie says that by the new year they will be out of prison.
Again, Betsie is choosing to interpret her awful experience at Ravensbruck as evidence of God’s power and his closeness to every human.
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At noon, Corrie asks the Snake for a pass and visits Betsie briefly. However, she can’t go again that day because other guards are on duty. After the evening meal, she sneaks to the hospital and looks in the window. In Betsie’s bed, she sees what looks like an ivory carving, its teeth visible through the cheeks. After a moment, she realizes that this is Betsie, already dead, and that the nurses are preparing to carry her away.
The fact that Corrie can’t initially recognize Betsie signifies the ultimate aim of Nazi intolerance—by treating people as less than human, they figuratively transform them into objects, like the “carving” that Corrie sees lying on the bed.
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In shock, Corrie walks aimlessly away from the hospital. After a while, the girl who once brought the yeast compound runs up to her urgently and brings her back to the hospital. She shows her Betsie’s body, and Corrie sees that her sister’s face is restored to its youthful health, with “the care lines, the grief lines, the deep hollows of hunger and illness” wiped away. The nurse and the girl stand by as Corrie surveys this miracle. On her way out, she stoops to pick up the old blue sweater Betsie had been wearing, but it’s full of lice and the girl warns her away from it.
To Corrie, the transfiguration of Betsie’s face from barely human to angelic and pure is nothing less than a miracle—just like the return of Mama’s voice during Nollie’s long-ago wedding. The miracle reminds her of her faith in God and her deep rootedness in her family; however, giving up the sweater is a poignant indicator that now she’s finally on her own.
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