In The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom relates her family’s mission to save Jews during the World War II Nazi occupation of Holland. In order to procure safe houses and facilitate these people’s escape from the country, Corrie develops a wide network of sympathetic and trustworthy people who provide resources, information, and even money. Her experience as a member of the underground shows her the capacity of ordinary people to be brave and selfless, even when helping strangers puts them and their families at risk. At the same time, she shows some moments in which people fail to live up to their highest potential, instead succumbing to cowardice or greed. Ultimately, the novel argues that people are not totally good or bad by nature; instead, they play out different possibilities of their character through important moments of moral choice.
As she becomes more involved in the underground resistance, Corrie comes to appreciate the bravery displayed by ordinary people, even some she didn’t expect to be sympathetic to her cause. In her first days of hiding people, she has to procure ration cards in order to feed them. To do so, she consults an acquaintance, Fred Koornstra. She knows that he could turn her in for sheltering Jews, but instead he develops a scheme to manufacture fake ration cards and ends up providing her hundreds per month. He shows how an ordinary bureaucrat can make the choice to take on a lifesaving role.
Corrie is also surprised when Rolf van Vliet, a policeman and vague acquaintance, learns of her operation and begins to provide inside information of police movements. Similarly, she’s touched when a neighbor deduces that she’s hiding people in her house but, instead of turning them in, simply warns them to be quieter. Even though Corrie’s work is made necessary by the injustice and cruelty of Nazi Germany and Dutch collaborators, it makes her aware of the hidden bravery that people can display in times of crisis.
At the same time, Corrie shows disappointing moments in which people who could have saved lives turn away from bravery or demonstrate cowardice. Once, while Corrie is struggling to find a hiding place for a young Jewish mother and baby, a clergyman and friend of the family comes into the shop looking for a spare watch part. Corrie decides to trust the man and asks him to help; she even places the baby in his arms. She sees “compassion and fear struggle in his face,” but eventually he says he won’t take the risk. Corrie has to send the woman and baby to a safe house that the Gestapo is already suspicious of, and soon afterward the two are discovered and taken.
While Corrie is in Scheveningen, she’s interrogated by Lieutenant Rahms, who is unexpectedly kind to her and says explicitly that he “cannot bear the work” he does at the prison. Seeing an opportunity, Corrie speaks to him about the Bible and asks him to reunite her with Betsie. However, while he clearly perceives some of the wrongs of Nazi Germany, he’s too scared to act directly against his country. He tells her that he’s powerless against the prison and refuses to help her. He also parrots many elements of Nazi philosophy, telling Corrie that it’s silly to work with the mentally disabled because “half-wits” are useless. Through Lieutenant Rahms, Corrie shows how the ability to perceive injustice can fight with and eventually succumb to the convenience and safety of ignoring it.
Ultimately, Corrie’s depiction of the people who help or hurt her cause evinces a great belief in human agency: people can either act directly to help others, as Fred Koornstra does, or to harm them, like the nameless clergyman. In some sense, this is an optimistic vision, showing the power of flawed people to do good things and effect positive change in the world. However, it also highlights the possibility for cowardice that exists within everyone, warning that people must always cultivate the worthier aspects of their character rather than becoming complacent.
Moral Choices ThemeTracker
Moral Choices Quotes in The Hiding Place
Some joined the NSB simply for the benefits: more food, more clothing coupons, the best jobs and housing. But others became NSBers out of conviction. Nazism was a disease to which the Dutch, too, were susceptible, and those with an anti-Semitic bias fell sick of it first.
The man bent forward, his hand in spite of himself reaching for the tiny fist curled around the blanket. For a moment I saw compassion and fear struggle in his face. Then he straightened. “No. Definitely not. We could lose our lives for that Jewish child.”