The Hiding Place

by

Corrie Ten Boom

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The Hiding Place: The Secret Room Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It’s 1942, two years after the fall of Holland. Every month a new restriction appears—the latest is a prohibition on singing the Wilhelmus, the Dutch national anthem. One Sunday, the family visits a church where Peter has been hired as organist. At the end of the service, Peter proudly and suddenly plays the Wilhelmus. Led by Father, everyone stands, and people spontaneously begin singing the words.
It’s important that the Wilhelmus, while a symbol of Dutch national pride, represents an inclusive and moderate society to Peter and the ten Booms. By contrast, Nazi slogans like the ones Otto spouts are indicators of pernicious, all-consuming nationalism.
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Corrie is caught up in the emotion, but afterwards she’s angry with Peter for risking his safety and that of his family. Already, Nollie and Flip are hiding two Jewish women in their house, and Peter’s actions increase the likelihood of Gestapo scrutiny. Two days later, just as Corrie begins to stop worrying about him, one of Peter’s siblings bursts into the Beje and announces that the Gestapo has taken Peter to the federal prison in Amsterdam.
Corrie is already emerging as one of her family’s strongest minds. While she always turns to Father for moral guidance, it’s she who can put his principles into action most efficiently and safely.
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A few weeks later, a stranger arrives at the Beje in the evening. She introduces herself as Mrs. Kleermaker, a Jew. Her husband was arrested some time ago, the Gestapo has just ordered her to close her clothing store, and she’s afraid to go home to her apartment. Betsie eagerly offers her one of the Beje’s spare rooms and even invites her to help in the kitchen, over which she’s normally extremely protective.
The elderly woman’s arrival and Corrie’s humble offer of help frame her activism in a surprisingly quotidian way, emphasizing the universality of her actions.
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A few nights later, the same thing happens again: an elderly couple arrives at the house, clutching their few possessions and seeking sanctuary. Corrie knows she needs to find a permanent place for these people, somewhere safer than the Beje, which is a block away from the police headquarters.
Even though she’s currently the youngest resident at the Beje, Corrie immediately emerges as the family’s decision-maker. Becoming an activist allows her to take on the leadership role to which she seems very suited.
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Corrie visits Willem to ask for advice. He seems stressed and tired, and his beard is turning white. He says that it’s harder and harder to place people because most safe houses won’t accept anyone who doesn’t have a ration card, and Jews are not issued ration cards. Corrie asks how he solves this dilemma, and Willem astounds her by casually saying that one has to steal them.
Given Corrie’s initial hesitance to associate herself with the underground due to its dubious reputation, Willem’s offhand admission that he’s been stealing is astonishing. However, her older brother’s example shows her that it’s acceptable to bend earthly rules in order to fulfill God’s greater will.
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Corrie asks Willem if he can help her get three ration cards, but he says he’s already being watched. Anyway, it’s best if she develops her own connections. Corrie decides to visit a family friend, Fred Koornstra, who works at the Food Office. Corrie knows the man because for many years she’s conducted church services for mentally disabled children, of whom Fred’s daughter is one.
The wealth of family contacts on which Corrie can draw is already becoming apparent. She’s able to do her wartime work because of her family’s long history not just of generosity and friendliness but its specific acts of tolerance, like Corrie’s program for disabled and probably marginalized children.
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Praying that Fred won’t turn her in, Corrie visits him one night and tells him gravely that there are three Jews staying at her house and she needs to find them ration cards. Fred says that he can’t give away ration cards, as they are closely watched, but then he comes up with a scheme: he and a friend will fake a break-in, arranging to have themselves tied up in the office to avoid suspicion. Fred asks Corrie how many ration cards she needs, and she astonishes herself by replying, “one hundred.”
Even though Corrie doesn’t explicitly think of herself as an activist or a member of the underground, in high-pressure situations she always acts as if she is. Corrie will interpret her new capability as a sign of God’s approval and intervention, but it also reflects the latent character traits she hasn’t cultivated until now.
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A week later, Fred arrives at the Beje. He has two black eyes from the “burglary.” He brings with him the hundred cards, as well as a “continuing coupon” from each one that will allow him to legally issue Corrie replacements. They arrange that he will make this delivery every month, dressed up as a meterman. Corrie hides the ration cards under a stair, reflecting that Peter did the same thing with the radio and feeling that he would be proud of her.
Corrie has devised a system of deception and fraud, actions on which she would normally frown. However, because these “sins” help fulfill a greater good, she eventually concludes that they are acceptable to God. This will later put her in opposition to Nollie, who believes that religious law must be strictly obeyed even in times of crisis.
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By now, Mrs. Kleermaker and the elderly couple have moved on to safer locations, but other people continue to arrive, each with their own predicament. For example, pregnant women need to deliver their babies, and Jews who die in hiding must be buried. Willem encourages Corrie to find her own resources, but she realizes she already has them because she’s already “friends with half of Haarlem.” It’s easy to think of trustworthy people in every sector, from maternity nurses to strategically placed clerks. Corrie is sure that God is guiding her at every step.
Corrie attributes her initial good fortune directly to God, although it may actually seem due to her family’s generosity and the goodwill they’ve engendered over years. However, given that this behavior springs from their religious faith and that Corrie believes every event is inspired by God, it is logical for her to view their entire lives as part of God’s preparation for this situation.
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One night the doorbell rings and Corrie runs downstairs, expecting another refugee. Instead, it’s Willem’s son Kik; he tells her to get her bicycle and come with him, even though it’s after curfew. After a long ride, they stop at a large suburban house, where a maid opens the door. Inside, Corrie immediately sees Pickwick, who leads her into a room filled with distinguished people drinking real coffee, which is now a rarity.
This is Corrie’s first moment of connection with the real underground. The secrecy of its meetings and the presence of wealthy people with houses and money at their disposal contrasts with Corrie’s more humble operation, which functions despite her relative lack of resources or experience.
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As Pickwick takes her around the room making introductions, referring to each person as “Mr. or Mrs. Smit,” Corrie realizes that she’s at a meeting of the national underground. She learns that most of their work involves communicating with English and Free Dutch forces and rescuing downed Allied planes. However, they’re all sympathetic to Corrie’s local work and put their resources at her disposal: false identity papers, cars with official plates, forgers.
Moments like this make it seem as though all Dutch society, and especially the elite, mobilized against the Germans. In fact, this was not true—many government officials and the entire royal family fled before the Germans arrived, and despite the efforts of the resistance 75% of Dutch Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
Themes
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One man, a well-known architect, informs Corrie that he will pay her a visit and construct a secret room in her house, which will help minimize the danger to everyone in her work. Just as she and Kik are preparing to leave, Pickwick tells them he’s learned that Peter will soon be released. Indeed, three weeks later an emaciated and tired Peter returns home.
Peter’s early imprisonment, though short, is a reminder of the stakes looming over the family as they begin a coordinated effort to hide Jews.
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One morning, the architect arrives at the store and introduces himself as “Mr. Smit.” Father is eager to ascertain if this man is related to any of the other Smits he knows, and Corrie has to explain with difficulty that this isn’t the man’s real name. Mr. Smit approves of the hiding place for the ration cards; as he surveys the Beje’s oddly placed stairs and crooked walls, he laughs—its haphazard construction means that installing a secret room will be easy. He settles on Corrie’s bedroom for the room’s location.
Father is trying to place this man among his prewar family connections, but this Mr. Smit actually fits into a new network, that of Corrie’s underground contacts. This moment emphasizes how Corrie’s underground work mirrors and sometimes overlaps with Father’s charitable efforts in days gone by.
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Related Quotes
Over the next few days, workmen come to the Beje without warning, carrying hidden tools and materials. Six days later, Corrie finally gets to see the finished product—Mr. Smit has not only created a false wall, but he’s mimicked the stained and grimy paint of the existing wall so it’s impossible to tell that anything has been changed. Mr. Smit says that “unofficial” residents should keep everything they own inside, in case of sudden Gestapo visits. He claims that the Gestapo could search for a year without uncovering this secret room.
The installation of a physical hiding place recalls Father’s earlier reading of a psalm which says that God is “a hiding place” for people in need. The connections between the tangible room and the intangible text shows how Corrie’s worldly activism springs from her spiritual convictions.
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