In The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom tells the story of her family’s participation in an underground movement to shelter Jews during the Nazi occupation of Holland in World War II. Although the memoir is centered around Corrie’s experiences, it also emphasizes the extent to which she is grounded in a strong family network. As she comes of age, Corrie’s family provides a firm moral and religious framework, while also liberating her from some of the social pressures attendant upon women of her era. When the occupation begins, Corrie is able to turn her house into a shelter due to her preexisting family connections. Finally, during her long imprisonment, Corrie is sustained and encouraged by the presence of her sister Betsie. Their close relationship, which culminates in their time at Ravensbruck, allows Corrie to view imprisonment as a tale not just of suffering but of the triumph of love between siblings, and a general testament to the value of family relationships.
In some ways, Corrie’s family functions according to traditional gender roles, but it also allows Corrie to pursue a life that contravenes expectations for women. Father is the undisputed moral and intellectual head of the family; while Mama and Corrie’s aunts take care of all the housework, she always looks to Father to explain philosophical questions and resolve moral difficulties. Similarly, it’s only Willem who receives a college education; with no chance at a professional career, the daughters must remain at home, as Corrie and Betsie do, or get married, like Nollie.
Although Corrie never leaves her childhood home, through her family she’s liberated from some gender norms. Father encourages Corrie’s interest in watchmaking and values her ability to handle the bookkeeping side of the business better than he can. Eventually, Betsie takes over the housekeeping while Corrie becomes Holland’s first certified female watchmaker, as well as the only person ensuring that the watch shop remains profitable. As Father grows older and Betsie begins to defer to Corrie, she becomes the unofficial head of the family—a position that’s reflected in the fact that she makes all the decisions once they begin to shelter Jews. Helping support her family, she’s able to defy expectations for women while still living a life that is comfortable and grounded in her strong family network.
This family network not only gives Corrie personal satisfaction but also facilitates her underground work during the war. Corrie gets her first contacts and advice from Willem, who is already starting to shelter Jews in his nursing home by the time people have turned to Corrie for help. Moreover, it’s Father’s moral support and Betsie’s able management of housekeeping logistics that allow the operation to become so successful.
As she starts sheltering more people and needs more help, Corrie develops a network of teenagers working as runners, in which her nephews Kik and Peter are prominent members, as are some of the foster children Father has raised over the years. She also turns to her network of family friends for things like information about the police and fake ration cards. Her family’s wide network and long tradition of helping others means that Corrie has many trusted friends who become resources when she needs them.
The importance of family relationships as a coping mechanism is thrown into relief by Corrie’s long imprisonment. Throughout her solitary confinement in Scheveningen prison, Corrie’s greatest distress is her separation from Betsie, from whom she’s never been apart. It’s the occasional glimpse of Betsie’s cell that gives her the moral strength to persevere. Similarly, after Corrie befriends Lieutenant Rahms, who works in the prison, he facilitates a brief family reunion on the pretext of reading Father’s will. This poignant moment emphasizes the purity and essential value of family bonds, even in the midst of so much cruelty and injustice.
When Corrie is sent to the German concentration camps of Vught and Ravensbruck, she’s separated from everyone but Betsie. While these chapters describe the harshness of concentration camp life, they strongly emphasize the strength of Corrie and Betsie’s sibling relationship and the extent to which it enables them to keep fighting. Corrie is able to withstand the concentration camp because of Betsie’s calm and tranquility, as well as her feeling of responsibility for her older and weaker sister. Although Betsie dies at Ravensbruck, Corrie believes that her sister’s presence has enabled her to survive.
Throughout Corrie’s life, her family is a source of personal satisfaction and fulfillment. Moreover, it’s her strong family network that facilitates her fight against Nazi oppression. Ultimately, the novel provides a vision of social justice activism that is grounded in strong, selfless personal bonds such as those that bind the ten Booms together.
Family Quotes in The Hiding Place
Young and old, poor and rich, scholarly gentlemen and illiterate servant girls—only to Father did it seem that they were all alike. That was Father’s secret: not that he overlooked the differences in people; that he didn’t know they were there.
The knitters of Barracks 28 became the praying heart of the vast diseased body that was Ravensbruck, interceding for all the camp—guards, under Betsie’s prodding, as well as prisoners. We prayed beyond the concrete walls for the healing of Germany, of Europe, of the world—as Mama had once done from the prison of a crippled body.
And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.