The Hiding Place

by

Corrie Ten Boom

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The Hiding Place: The Three Visions Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
This miracle helps sustain Corrie through her grief over her sister. Several days later, she’s called aside during roll call. She wonders if someone has reported her clandestine Bible, but after roll call a guard takes her to the administrative building where an officer is giving release papers to a group of women. In a daze, Corrie receives her own certificate of discharge. However, at the release examination Corrie is diagnosed with edema and ordered to the hospital. Apparently, prisoners are only released if they are in good physical condition.
The fact that the camp won’t release Corrie if she looks maltreated suggests that its leaders feel some sense of shame—if not actual guilt—about what they are doing. It’s remarkable that the atrocities of Ravensbruck both defy social norms and absurdly seek to comply with them.
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Corrie is taken to a dismal ward of the hospital, crammed among sick and filthy women. She feels that this is the worst suffering she has seen in her time at Ravensbruck. Nurses mock suffering patients, and prisoners themselves have become indifferent to others around them. Corrie starts bringing bedpans around the ward, as no one else will do it, and is devastated to see the gratitude expressed by patients for these basic kindnesses. While she is waiting for her swollen legs to heal, Corrie finds a young Dutch woman to whom she bequeaths her Bible.
After her sister’s death, Corrie is starting to take on Betsie’s character, turning even the worst of situations into an opportunity to fulfill God’s will and minister to others. Again, the cruelty of the comparatively powerful nurses contrasts with the meek suffering of the hospital patients.
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Corrie becomes accustomed to distributing the bedpans, but one night two women hide them under their own beds. Corrie pleads with them to share, but one of them takes off a dirty bandage and throws it in Corrie’s face. Distraught, Corrie runs down the hall to wash herself, vowing that she’ll never try to help these people again. However, after she collects herself, she takes up the chore again, reflecting that Ravensbruck has taught her much “about what I could and could not bear.”
For Corrie, the hardest part of imprisonment is not enduring abuse from guards but seeing other prisoners succumb to the inhumanity around them. In this sense, her work at the camp isn’t so much about promoting religion as preserving the principles to which the women adhered in their lives before the concentration camp.
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The next morning, Corrie is pronounced fit to leave. She’s given an outfit of regular clothes and the valuables she surrendered on entrance, a few ration coupons, and ordered to sign a form swearing that she’s been treated well at Ravensbruck. With a group of other women, she leaves the camp gates and finds herself on a little hill overlooking a church and picturesque lake. At the train station, the guard escorts the group to the train to Berlin and leaves.
It’s shocking to think that the horrors of Ravensbruck are unfolding in the midst of such a bucolic landscape. It’s notable that Corrie mentions a church—this seems to suggest that the mere rituals of religion do not guarantee moral rectitude, if people aren’t practicing its principles in their everyday lives.
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After a long and confusing trip, Corrie arrives at a bombed-out station in Berlin. Just as Betsie said, it’s New Year’s Day. With the help of an elderly worker, Corrie finds the train to Holland and boards it. It leaves after several hours, but the trip is slow and seems like it will never end. Corrie is unable to buy any food, as she realizes she’s lost her ration coupons at some point during the journey.
This is the first of Betsie’s predictions to come true, causing Corrie to believe that, due to her exceptional character, her sister had some sort of divine insight into what was going to happen after her death.
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At Groningen, a Dutch city near the border, Corrie finally disembarks the train and stumbles to the nearest hospital. A kindly nurse takes her in and feeds her bread and tea, careful not to tax her stomach with rich foods like butter. She gives Corrie a staff room and runs a bath for her. Corrie starts crying at the woman’s kindness. After her bath, she gets into bed—the first time she’s slept on real sheets in several months.
The kindness of the nurse here contrasts with the blind cruelty of the nurses at Ravensbruck. Corrie isn’t crying about the physical amenities, like sheets or baths, but rather the return to human decency and respect that they represent.
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Corrie stays at the hospital for ten days, well taken care of by the nurses. The first time she joins them at dinner she feels bewildered by the formal table settings and cheerful atmosphere. It’s hard to remember that she used to eat like this as well, every day of her life.
Feeling unable to eat at a table, one of the basic activities of her entire life, is a stark reminder of how dehumanizing life at Ravensbruck really is.
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There’s a ban on travel within Holland, but the hospital arranges for Corrie to get a ride south on a food truck. She arrives at Willem’s house at dawn, to be enveloped in embraces by her brother, Tine, and their children. They are saddened to hear of Betsie’s death, and share another piece of bad news—there’s been no news of Kik since his deportation, and Willem has no idea if he’s even alive.
Even though Corrie is relieved to be reunited by her family, it’s terrible to hear of her nephew’s deportation. Even though the war may be drawing to an end, the family structure will never return to its prewar state.
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Corrie spends several days in Willem’s house, which is full of elderly people and young men hiding from conscription. Still, she’s anxious to get home to the Beje, and Willem asks Pickwick to drive her there. Corrie’s old friend waves aside her recollections of the terrible wounds he received in prison and updates her on the Dutch underground—Corrie’s group is still in operation, although many of its young men are now in hiding. He warns her to be prepared when she gets to the Beje; while Toos has bravely kept the watch shop going, several homeless families have been housed there as well and it’s in bad repair.
It’s cheering to Corrie that the underground is still operating—even though her own work was disrupted, the survival of the operation she built makes all her trials seem worthwhile. The physical disrepair of the Beje is a physical indicator of the tragic changes that have occurred in the family since their original imprisonment.
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When Corrie finally arrives at the Beje, she finds Nollie and her daughters cleaning it thoroughly. With her sister and Toos she walks through the house, remembering all the meals and fond evenings they shared with Betsie and Father there.
Nollie’s helpfulness and Toos’s stolid loyalty are a reminder of the values to which her family and network have always adhered, and which will survive the war intact.
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In some ways, Corrie slips back into her old life—she repairs watches in the morning and bicycles to Nollie’s house in the afternoon. At the same time, she feels that something is missing, and the Beje has never seemed so empty. She decides to open it up to mentally disabled children, most of whom have been sequestered at home since the beginning of occupation, for fear of Nazi persecution. She gives them the run of the house and devises an instructional program.
Here, Corrie is actively refuting Lieutenant Rahms’s remark about the unworthiness of the mentally disabled. She’s also pointing out, again, that intolerance of specific groups always leads to general intolerance, and thus threatens the entire body of society.
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Still, Corrie is often restless. She feels that Betsie’s presence is necessary for the Beje to truly feel like home. When the national underground asks Corrie to take a set of false release papers to the Haarlem jail she assents eagerly, grasping at the sense of purpose. However, when she gets to the jail and sees Rolf, she starts to greet him as an old friend before realizing that doing so puts them both in danger. After that afternoon, she realizes that her time in the underground is done, and that “whatever bravery or skill” she’s ever had are “loans” from God rather than innate virtues.
Throughout the memoir Corrie has honed her skills as an activist and underground leader, but now she finds they have abandoned her. Whether or not this is a result of God collecting his “loans,” it’s a sign of how much she has changed since her imprisonment, and that her purpose in life must accordingly change.
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That afternoon, Corrie remembers Betsie’s final injunction to “tell people…what we learned.” She decides that this is God’s new purpose for her. She travels among churches and clubs, speaking about her experiences in Ravensbruck and the religious truths she learned there. She also speaks of Betsie’s vision of founding a rehabilitation center here in Holland. After one such talk, a wealthy widow approaches Corrie and offers a large house outside the city for the project.
After Betsie’s death, Corrie is trying to live out not just Biblical principles but her sister’s own dreams. In some sense, Betsie is Corrie’s conduit to the divine—she interprets her sister’s remarkable behavior as stemming from divine inspiration, and thus a divine guide as to what she should do with her life.
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Two weeks later, Corrie goes to visit the house. It seems just like the place that Betsie described, down to the inlaid floors. The widow is surprised to hear Corrie describe these features of the house even before entering and asks if she’s visited before. Corrie says that she’s just heard about it, “from someone who’s been here.”
The house’s uncanny similarity to the place that Betsie described is evidence, to Corrie, that her sister had some sort of premonition of this event, and thus that their experiences at the concentration camps were part of God’s plan.
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In May, the Allies recapture Holland. Hundreds of people start making their way to the home Corrie has organized. Some of them, like Mrs. Kan (whose husband has died) are former acquaintances. Others are “scarred body and soul by bombing raids or loss of family.” The home proves the perfect setting for recovery, as people are able to care for each other and spend time in a tranquil environment.
Just as Corrie provides one kind of refuge after the war, she provides another kind afterwards. In her rehabilitation home she not only promotes tolerance but tries to undo the dehumanization effected by the Nazis. A large communal home with a positive purpose, her center is the moral opposite of the concentration camp.
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One of the most important aspects of recovery is forgiving those who have hurt them. Most survivors are less angry at the German soldiers than at Dutch collaborators. These people, many of them former members of the NSB, are now shunned and reviled by the general society.
Although Betsie was ready forgive anyone that offended her, the majority of society—unsurprisingly—is not. It seems near impossible to put aside the betrayals and humiliations that occurred during the war.
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Corrie wants to invite these people to the home as well, but doing so always causes fights with the survivors. Instead, she makes the Beje into a home for former NSB members. During the years after the war, Corrie superintends these two projects, experimenting with new treatments and coordinating the doctors and psychiatrists that treat patients free of charge. She’s reluctant to impose any rules or constraints on her patients, not wanting to recall the conditions of concentration camp life.
Corrie quickly realizes that she can’t pursue the task of reconciliation in such a straightforward way—rather, she must allow people to forgive their enemies at their own pace. Giving up the Beje to NSB members, she shows her willingness to help anyone that society doesn’t tolerate, whatever their moral value.
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Corrie feels rewarded to see people gradually overcoming their trauma. As Betsie had imagined, they often resolve their grief by working in the garden. As they become mentally and physically stronger, Corrie always tells the patients about the NSB-ers living in the Beje, who never have visitors or mail. When the residents no longer express hostility towards these people—and sometimes even offer them produce from the garden—Corrie knows that “the miracle has taken place.”
Corrie encourages the people at her home to recognize their advantages—the sense of community, their journey towards healing—and compare them to the wretched situation of the NSB-ers. This is similar to the mindset that she practices herself, especially when she’s called upon to help people that she doesn’t particularly like.
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Corrie also works as a public speaker, partly to generate funds for the home and partly to share Betsie’s story with more people. She travels all over the world, but finds that her work is most meaningful in Germany itself, where poverty and destruction are rampant and people are desperate for any hope.
Even though Corrie says that her bravery and ingenuity were just wartime “loans” from God, it’s clear that she’s cultivating those attributes again—just in a slightly different sphere.
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At a church service in Munich, Corrie recognizes a former guard from Ravensbruck. Seeing him makes her remember all the indignity and suffering that she and Betsie endured during her imprisonment. The man comes up to express his gratitude to Corrie, saying that God has “washed my sins away.” He wants to shake her hand, but even though she has been preaching about the importance of forgiveness, Corrie doesn’t know if she can.
Although Corrie’s dilemma concerns her own ability to forgive, the most troubling aspect of this episode is the guard’s assertion that his sins have vanished. While Corrie promotes reconciliation, she doesn’t say that forgiveness absolves people from moral responsibility. This conclusion is a wishful and wrongheaded one on the guard’s part.
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Corrie prays to Jesus for help forgiving the guard. Still, she can’t raise her hand. Again praying silently, she asks Jesus to “give Your forgiveness” to the man instead. Suddenly, warmth flows through her arm, which rises to meet the guard’s; she feels overcome by “a love for this stranger.” She realizes that forgiveness comes not from her, but from the help that Jesus provides people.
By trying to forgive even when it seems impossible, Corrie feels that she has connected directly with Christ. Forgiveness is not just an act of mercy to the guard, but also a moment in which Corrie herself feels connected to the divine.
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Corrie is particularly compelled by families living in abandoned factories, due to the housing shortage. During the months she spends working with them, a relief organization asks her to supervise a new rehabilitation center in Germany, much like the one she opened in Holland. They’ve acquired a former concentration camp which they plan to convert into a group home. Corrie visits the enclosure, which is still surrounded by barbed wire. Looking around the desolate scene, she briskly announces that there will have to be window boxes, and that they will paint each building a cheerful spring color.
This new development fulfills Betsie’s last prediction, that there will one day be “a concentration camp where we are in charge.” The act of taking over a former camp represents what Corrie sees as the transformation from intolerance and persecution to inclusivity and nurturing—a moment when people can overcome human flaws and work together towards God’s will.
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