The Hiding Place

by

Corrie Ten Boom

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The Hiding Place: The One Hundredth Birthday Party Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Corrie wakes up eagerly, wondering if it’s sunny or foggy outside her house, which she nicknames the Beje. She puts on her new maroon dress; she feels that she looks nice in the new outfit, even though she’s forty-five and losing her figure. It’s her sister Betsie who always looks graceful, no matter what she wears, but Corrie admires her, rather than envying her.
Corrie’s ability to admire others’ good qualities, rather than feeling jealous, reflects the deep humility that is inspired by her faith. For Corrie, Christianity isn’t restricted to the church but permeates every aspect of daily life.
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Corrie hears the doorbell ring, although it’s still early in the morning. She carefully descends the steep stairs which link the many floors in her narrow, typically Dutch house. However, Betsie gets there before her and answers the door to find a young boy delivering flowers. Looking for the card, the sisters see the gift is from Pickwick, a wealthy customer who often visits the family. Pickwick is “the ugliest man in Haarlem,” but he endears himself to everyone with his kindness and generosity.
Both Corrie’s personal life and her future resistance work is centered around her house. This reflects her deep devotion to and reliance on her family. It also emphasizes the extent to which Corrie’s fight against injustice takes place on an individual level. Her resistance work is the fruit of personal principles, not government or group action.
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Betsie and Corrie carry the flowers into the shop, where Father displays his wares and performs complicated watch repairs. In the center of the room is Corrie’s own bench, flanked by the workspaces of the two employees, Hans and Christoffels. At this moment, all the clocks are striking seven o’clock. Ever since she was a child, Corrie has loved to enter the room and hear their mingled chimes on the hour. And today is a special occasion, as the family is hosting a party to mark the one hundredth birthday of the watch shop.
By beginning at a moment of family celebration, the narrative emphasizes the strong cohesion that exists among the ten Booms, as well as their rootedness in the local community which will later prove invaluable as they rely on neighbors and acquaintances for resources, services, and contacts.
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More and more flower deliveries arrive at the house. People throughout the city are eager to offer their respects to Father, sometimes known as “Haarlem’s Grand Old Man.” Betsie is especially happy to receive them; because the house is so narrow and dark, it’s hard for her to cultivate a garden or even a window box of flowers.
While the ten Booms are eager to help others and generally content with their own circumstances, their old-fashioned and cramped home is a reminder that they themselves are not well off.
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Soon the apprentice Hans arrives, followed by the shop saleslady, Toos. Toos has such a harsh and negative demeanor that she’s almost unemployable, but Father has not only given her a job but charmed her completely.
Father’s insistence on valuing each person, regardless of their flaws, will inspire his children’s lifesaving work during World War II.
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Corrie goes upstairs to set out plates for breakfast. For her, the dining room is the “heart of the home.” She’s eaten all her meals here since childhood, and as a girl used to do her homework on the table and sometimes convert it into a fort. Once the table used to be crowded at every meal, but now only Father, Corrie, and Betsie use it. Her older siblings, Willem and Nollie, have married and left home, and Mama and her aunts are dead. Father has welcomed a stream of foster children into the Beje, but they too have grown up and moved away.
This passage emphasizes Corrie’s close relationship with her family, but it also shows that, with no one left to care for except Father, she’s facing a moment of uncertainty and purposelessness in her life. Her work during the war isn’t just invaluable to the people she helps, it’s something that brings out Corrie’s latent leadership abilities and gives her a sense of fulfillment in her own life.
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As Betsie brings in coffee and breakfast, Father carefully descends the stairs. He prays over the meal and then compliments Betsie and Corrie on the “new styles” they are wearing, saying their mother would have loved to see them. The sisters laugh, knowing that their dresses are very conservative and, in fact, the embarrassment of their young nieces.
Father’s rootedness in outdated conventions is funny; however, his refusal to adapt his principles to suit the times, especially when doing so involves condoning injustice, will be an inspiration to his daughters.
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Betsie reminisces that Mama could make every day into a special occasion. Since she was friends with almost everyone in Haarlem, “especially the poor, sick, and neglected,” there was always an excuse for a birthday party or celebratory meal. Caught up in memories himself, Father reminds his daughters that he was born right here, in the dining room. Since his mother had tuberculosis and communicated it to many of her babies, he was the first of his siblings to survive infancy.
While Father provides his daughters with an important moral grounding, it’s Mama who shows them how to make a practical difference in the lives of others. In their teachings to their daughters, Father and Mama reinforce traditional gender norms, but these won’t bind Corrie as she becomes an activist.
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Stepping back from the narrative, Corrie remarks that she could never have guessed, on that happy day, what lay in store for her family. It would have been impossible to imagine Father dead and buried in an unmarked grave, or Betsie “standing naked before a roomful of men.”
Corrie’s remark here reflects that she’s telling her story from the distance of years, and her feelings are thus colored by hindsight. However, she also creates sense of inevitability by refusing to say that there was anything she could or would have done to save Father or Betsie from their fates.
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At eight-thirty, Hans and Toos come upstairs for the daily Bible reading. However, Father doesn’t begin as Christoffels is still absent. Christoffels is an old and “wizened” man, who looked like a beggar when Corrie first met him. He’d been an itinerant clock mender for his whole life, but since that trade was going out of fashion, he offered his services to Father, who immediately hired him.
The constant presence of the Bible in family routine shows the extent to which the ten Booms’ lives are centered around Christianity. To them, the Bible is not a set of abstract principles but an immediate and relevant guide to all life’s problems.
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Father has just begun to read when Christoffels arrives. Although he’s usually dressed in tattered clothes, today he’s wearing a new suit with a flashy tie. Tactfully, Father pretends not to notice anything different, greets him formally, and continues his reading.
Like Toos, Christoffels is an eccentric character whose sterling qualities are not always evident to the casual observer. Father’s gentleness and respect for this elderly man reflect his deep-seated belief in the importance of tolerance of all sorts of people.
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Betsie and Corrie are busy for the rest of the morning, finishing the cooking and greeting callers eager to congratulate Father. Running out of cups, Betsie sends Corrie to ask their sister Nollie for hers. She changes into an old dress and zips through the city on her bicycle. She asks herself how she could have foreseen, on that carefree morning, a day when she would stand outside Nollie’s house paralyzed with fear, desperate to know what was happening inside.
Again, Corrie juxtaposes the moment of celebration with the consequences of her family’s resistance work. While the comparison distresses her, the absence of regret suggests that she views both circumstances as part of God’s plan for the family, and therefore doesn’t have any desire to change the course of events.
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Nollie gives Corrie the cups, promising to come herself when she’s finished baking cookies and her children have arrived home. She reassures Corrie that she’s bringing Peter, her musically gifted son and Corrie’s unofficial favorite nephew. When Corrie returns, the Beje is even more crowded—the mayor of Haarlem is there, as well as the postman and several policemen from the station near the house.
The hundredth birthday party emphasizes the extent to which the family has fostered connections among the community, largely due to their religious principles. Many of these minor characters will reemerge later in the narrative, willing to provide crucial help because of a deep sense of goodwill towards the family.
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After lunch, neighborhood children begin to arrive, making a beeline for Father. Children love him because he’s always kind and always wearing many interesting watches. Pickwick himself arrives and sinks down into a chair. He amuses the surrounding children by pretending his enormous stomach is a table for his coffee cup.
The children’s love for Father emphasizes his unbiased kindness. He takes the time to entertain them, even though they can’t give him anything in return. Similarly, Father will risk himself to help Jewish refugees even though he knows they can’t repay him.
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Soon, Peter looks up from the piano to announce that “the competition” is here. He means Mr. Kan and Mrs. Kan, who own the watch shop across the street. More adept at business than Father, they have cheaper prices and always sell more. But Father admonishes Peter, telling him that the Kans are “colleagues.” Father is so oblivious to practical concerns that he often forgets to send bills to his clients. It’s Corrie who keeps the business running, managing the books and creating window displays that attract customers.
Here, Father and Corrie seem to represent opposite mindsets. Father’s faith causes him to tranquilly accept any of life’s developments—even the fact that his competitors are underselling him. On the other hand, Corrie’s energy and drive makes her want to alter circumstances for the better. During the war, Corrie’s active nature will put Father’s principles into practice, while Father’s imperturbable faith will provide the moral bedrock for Corrie’s dangerous work.
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All through the afternoon, people wander in and out of the house. The guests are rich and poor, educated and illiterate. However, to Father, everyone is alike. The secret of his universal popularity is “not that he overlooked the differences in people” but that “he didn’t know they were there.”
The wide variety of guests at the party reflects Father’s belief that all members of society are inherently valuable and deserve respectful treatment.
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Still, Corrie wonders when Willem will arrive. Although they’re both grown up now, Corrie feels “a great deal of little-sister worship” for her elder brother. She feels that he has true insight into what is going on in the world. Ten years ago, he wrote his doctoral thesis on the political evil “taking root” in Germany, and people laughed at him. Now, however, Germany is a source of unease to all of Europe. Indeed, many German watchmakers with whom the ten Booms have business relationships have gone out of business recently, and Willem says this is the result of aggression against Jews.
Willem is the family’s intellectual voice, and his astute grasp of events means that the family is ready to mobilize almost as soon as the Nazi threat to Dutch Jews becomes apparent. It’s also important that at this point Corrie is largely deferential to her brother as the man of the family and her sole college-educated sibling. Her work will lead her to develop independence and decision-making skills, allowing her to interact with Willem as an equal regardless of her gender or educational opportunities.
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Willem is a preacher of the Dutch Reformed Church, and his job is to reach out to Jews and draw them to Christianity. However, Corrie has never seen him convert a single person. Instead, he’s built a nursing home for elderly Jews. In the last few months, many younger Jews have arrived from Germany to seek shelter with him; at the moment, the nursing home is so crowded that he and his family are sleeping in the corridor.
It’s importance that Willem’s principles of tolerance, which he has been practicing before the war, enable him to do important work during the Nazi occupation. For the ten Booms, tolerance is not an abstract idea that comes to the fore in times of trouble, but a principle that affects the direction of their entire lives.
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As Corrie refills coffee cups, she asks some acquaintances if they think Germany will instigate a war. Someone suggests that the “big countries” will figure it out, and Holland doesn’t need to worry. After all, the country was neutral in the last war.
This comment represents an abnegation of personal responsibility for political events, a mindset which will allow the majority of Dutch society to stand by while their Jewish neighbors are deported and killed.
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Just then, Willem arrives, along with his wife Tine and their four children. He’s also leading a young Jewish man, whose traditional beard has been burned off his face, leaving a large wound. Willem introduces the man in German, then informs Corrie in Dutch that the man fled Munich yesterday after being attacked by a group of teenagers. Father rises to shake the man’s hand, and Corrie hurries to bring coffee and cookies.
The previous hope about Holland’s ability to weather the war unaffected is immediately contradicted by Willem’s guest. The man’s shocking injuries suggest that the Dutch cannot be passive bystanders in Nazi persecution—they must either condone it or fight against it.
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Everyone is murmuring about this man’s misfortune, and Corrie hears someone predict that people who do such things will be punished, as “Germany is a civilized country.” That afternoon, no one dreams that events in Germany will cast a huge shadow over Holland, and that everyone in Haarlem will be affected.
Perception of Germany as inherently “civilized” makes people blind to insidious Nazi ideology. The memoir will argue that people and countries aren’t essentially good or evil—their moral makeup depends on the choices they make.
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As Corrie goes to bed, she feels gripped by memory. Childhood scenes flash before her, each one urgent. Looking back on that night, she knows that memories are as important to the future as they are to the past: in fact, past experiences, “when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work He will give us to do.”
Corrie’s choice to interpret all of her experiences as lessons from God allows her to withstand all kinds of misfortune. However, while Corrie is able to rationalize her personal sufferings, she’s never able to explain how the larger disaster of the Holocaust fits into a divine plan.
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