The Hiding Place

by

Corrie Ten Boom

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The Hiding Place: Vught Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One morning, the order comes to gather all possessions and get ready to evacuate. Corrie knows that the Allies must be getting closer to Holland and feels cheered up. She gathers her toothbrush and hides her Bible inside her clothes. However, she has to wait several more hours before she’s finally allowed out of the cell. All the women are sure that the invasion is imminent.
Throughout the chapters that follow, Corrie will be completely unaware of what’s going on in the outside world or even what will happen to her over the course of a day. Although this is obviously a function of imprisonment, it also reflects the general ignorance in which humans live, and the extent to which they must trust their fates to God.
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As they march out of the prison, Corrie looks everywhere for Betsie, but doesn’t see her. She’s loaded onto a bus that stops at a freight yard outside the city. Eventually, she spots Betsie in another group of prisoners; by the time they get the order to board a train, it’s already pitch dark and Corrie is able to fight her way into Betsie’s group and grab her hand. Finding seats on the train, they weep in gratitude to be reunited. The months in Scheveningen have been their first separation in their entire lives.
Corrie sees her reunion with Betsie as the best possible compensation for her imprisonment. This emphasizes how important it is for her to be in a family environment, and how much more important proximity to her family is than almost any other consideration.
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At some point, the train starts moving; Corrie sees by the signs that they are moving towards southern Holland, rather than Germany, and is relieved. When they finally stop, the train seems to be in the middle of the woods. The women are forced off the train into soggy, muddy forest through which they march for a mile, eventually reaching a row of barracks. Betsie and Corrie fall onto a hard bench and fall asleep together.
The bewildering hardships to which the women are exposed, like this march through the forest, emphasize the fundamental inexplicability of Nazi persecution. While Corrie knows she can’t rationalize this with religious arguments, it doesn’t weaken her faith.
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When they wake up, they and the other prisoners are hungry and thirsty, but no guards arrive with food or news until the evening. Eventually, they learn that they are in a German-constructed camp called Vught. These barracks are part of the quarantine compound outside the camp proper. The women must wait to be processed in idleness and discomfort. The guards, anxious at the large number of women and lack of strong cells, constantly shout obscenities and threaten extra punishments.
Even though they are still within Holland’s borders, the women have been moved from prewar Dutch prisons to an entirely German camp. This isn’t just a physical transition, but also means that none of the normal procedures and rules for treatment of civilian prisoners will apply here.
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After two weeks Betsie, Corrie, and some other women are separated from the group during morning roll call. They are given pink forms and a worker from the food crew tells them that these forms indicate release. Thinking that they’ll be going soon, Betsie and Corrie distribute their few possessions among the women left behind.
Remarkably, even when they are looking forward to going home, the sisters’ first impulse is to care for others less fortunate than they are.
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All day, Betsie and Corrie wait in various lines in the administrative buildings, anticipating imminent freedom. Corrie’s watch and ring, which she surrendered at Scheveningen, are returned to her. However, at the end of the day her goods are confiscated again, and the women are marched through the gates of the camp proper. Apparently, they’re not getting released at all.
The constant waiting in pointless lines—a process that’s repeated every time Corrie is transferred from one prison to another—emphasizes the fundamental absurdity of the Nazi bureaucracy, and the regime it represents.
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On their way in, the guard stops and shows them the punishment cells, where prisoners who misbehave are trapped in rooms the size of gym lockers. One prisoner is removed as they watch, alive but unconscious and unable to move. Corrie feels that this cruelty is impossible to understand, and she prays that God will “carry it for me.”
Even when Corrie feels she can’t explain the cruelty around her through religion, she’s not disillusioned with her faith but reminded of the disparity between her understanding and God’s.
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Inside Vught, they again have to wait in long lines to be processed again. Corrie wails impatiently to Betsie, but her sister placidly replies that this is the best possible way to spend their lives. She says that if the cruel guards, most of them young women, “can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love” as well. It’s their responsibility to figure out how to do this. Corrie is astounded that while she sees the guards as a threat, Betsie sees them as “wounded” humans.
Throughout their time in concentration camps, Betsie displays worry over the spiritual state of even the most abusive guards. Just as Corrie shows that people prove themselves good or bad through the choices they make, she emphasizes that hatred and cruelty aren’t inherent vices but products of one’s education and environment.
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The next day, Betsie is assigned to sew prison uniforms with the other elderly and sick women. Looking stronger, Corrie is assigned to the factory outside the camp grounds, which manufactures radios. Corrie sits obediently among hundreds of other prisoners, settling into her monotonous task while German officers stroll the aisles.
Although they are almost the same age, Corrie is much more physically able than Betsie. This gives her a feeling of responsibility for her sister and a sense of purpose that sustains her through difficult times.
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One of the officers tells the prisoner-foreman that “quality control” must improve, and the foreman says that the people can’t work well without adequate rations. The officer responds angrily, saying that “if the soldiers on the front can fight on half-rations,” than the prisoners can work on them too. A female officer gives him a warning look, and the officer amends his statement, saying he’s only giving a hypothetical example. Of course, he clarifies, there are plenty of rations for soldiers on the front.
The officer’s slip-up reveals that things aren’t going well for the German army. However, it also reveals how dependent Corrie is on untrustworthy sources for crucial information. This recalls earlier moments when the ten Booms realized that news sources on which they once depended like newspapers, were mechanisms of propaganda rather than truth.
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As soon as the officers leave the building, everyone stops working and pulls out knitting, books, paper, and biscuits. People visit their friends across the room and others pump Corrie for information about the world outside Vught. Eventually the foreman ushers them back to their benches to finish the daily quota.
Despite the harsh conditions of the concentration camp, the factory workers have formed a small and vibrant community. For Corrie, this represents the essential human need for companionship and connection to others.
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Corrie is very interested in the mechanics of radio construction; finding out that she’s a trained watchmaker, the foreman gives her a more exciting task—assembling the relay switches on the radios. The foreman is kind towards all the workers, finding simple jobs for people who are tired and harder ones for those who need more stimulation. Only later does Corrie find out that he’s still grieving for his son, who was shot in Vught before she arrived.
Corrie admires the man for his strength of character, but he’s actually a lot like her. Both are unsparing in their empathy and efforts on behalf of others, while remaining stoic and accepting of their own personal misfortunes.
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When Corrie works too diligently on her task, the foreman tells her to slow down, lest their quota be increased. Reminding her that the radios are being used for German fighter planes, he always tweaks the wiring so that the radios are imperceptibly flawed.
Sabotaging the radios is much like the lying to which Corrie resigned herself—technically, it’s an act of deception that goes against religious laws, but really it fulfills God’s will by hindering the Nazi state.
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After lunch, the workers are allowed to walk outside the factory for half an hour. Corrie usually sleeps on the warm ground, dreaming of happier summers at home. At the end of the work day, she stands through another roll call inside the camp and then returns to her barracks, where Betsie is always waiting at the doorway.
The fact that Corrie is reduced to napping on the ground—and relates this circumstance so casually—quietly demonstrates how dire her circumstances actually are. However, this picture is somewhat lightened by Betsie’s faithfulness and her ability to recreate family rituals even within the camp.
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One day, Betsie meets a woman from Ermelo, another Dutch city, who helps explain the circumstances of their arrest. Apparently, the man who asked Corrie for the bribe to free his wife is a Gestapo spy, Jan Vogel. Originally working in Ermelo, he became too well-known there and eventually moved to Haarlem.
Before this, Corrie had not thought much about her family’s betrayal. Now, seeing it as the result of a specific and malicious moral choice, it’s a lot more troubling to her.
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Knowing the identity of their betrayer makes Corrie furious. She imagines Father spending his last hours alone, and the life-saving work that has now ground to a halt. She feels that if Jan Vogel were to appear before her, she could kill him. That night she feels unable to lead the clandestine prayer meetings which she’s organized and hands the Bible to Betsie.
Corrie’s feelings are understandable and justified—yet, they also impede her ability to connect with God by praying. This shows that even though vengeful feelings are natural, one must overcome them for one’s own spiritual health.
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All week Corrie feels sick over Jan Vogel’s betrayal. However, when she discusses this with Betsie, she’s astonished to see that her sister has no feelings of rage at all. Rather, she prays for Jan Vogel every night, feeling that he must be suffering internally for his crimes.
Betsie’s impulse to forgive even the most egregious offenses is extremely remarkable. While Corrie often feels she can’t attain her sister’s mindset, trying to emulate her helps her spiritually improve herself.
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Related Quotes
Corrie lies awake in her bunk, feeling admiration for Betsie’s extraordinary compassion. Eventually, she realizes that she, like Jan Vogel, is guilty before God, having “murdered him with my heart and with my tongue.” She prays to be able to forgive Jane Vogel, and for the safety of his family.
This comparison is somewhat troubling—after all, it’s hard to believe that Corrie’s feelings of anger are equal to Vogel’s betrayal of dozens of people. Perhaps Corrie’s thoughts can be interpreted as the impulse to seek connections with people rather than emphasizing differences.
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Each day at Vught brings both good and bad things. For example, morning roll call is “cruelly long” and gets pushed earlier for each minor infraction. However, while standing outside with aching legs, Corrie sees the beautiful dawn break over the wide sky, holding Betsie’s hand in “awe.”
Appreciating the sunrise, which is part of nature and thus connected to the divine, helps Corrie retain her link with God even though nothing about the camp seems connected with Him.
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Corrie is also thankful to be reunited with other women, but she realizes that she takes on the worries and griefs of the others, especially those who have male relatives in another section of the camp. Executions there are frequent, and every time a shot is heard everyone is filled with anguish.
Even though all this worry is stressful for Corrie, it’s emblematic of her deep empathy and the value with which she imbues other people’s lives—the impulses that have led to her lifesaving work.
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At the same time, the factory workers laugh and entertain themselves, often by imitating the guards. They have coordinated signals to announce the imminent arrival of an officer so that everyone can get back to their bench in time.
The high morale among the workers emblematizes human resilience, especially within strong and supportive communities.
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Corrie hopes that she and Betsie might be released in September, as six months is the usual term for ration card stealing (their official charge). Betsie warns her not to get her hopes up, but Corrie thinks that her sister truly doesn’t mind the circumstances at the camp. Every day she prays and reads the Bible with the other women in her work crew, and this work is as satisfying to her as anything else.
As they spend more and more time at camp, Corrie begins to truly value Betsie as a spiritual role model, both because she’s so able to forgive those who guide her and because her faith in God is so strong that she can function with extreme tranquility within the camp.
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Soon, rumors fly that a Dutch brigade is moving through France, soon to reclaim the country. The guards are tense and angry, beating people for minor infractions. Executions in the men’s section are more and more common. One night the prisoners wake up to explosions in the sky. Corrie and Betsie are already planning to return to the Beje and clean it up, but the foreman at the factory says that the noises are mostly likely Germans blowing up bridges. They must be anticipating an attack, but it probably won’t come for weeks.
This sequence of events, especially the nighttime bombings, is reminiscent of the unrest and unease when Germany first attacked Holland. This contributes to the sense that Corrie and Betsie’s lives follow a pattern, and that the things they’ve endured before were part of a deliberate preparation for what they are enduring now.
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That afternoon, everyone is ordered to return to the dormitories early. No orders are given to the women, and they stand about in groups speculating. However, on the men’s section of the camp rifle fire starts up and goes on for hours; more than seven hundred men are killed. All the women begin to weep, wondering if their relatives have made it out alive.
The women’s agony, and their ability to hear their husbands’ executions even as they are separated, throws into stark relief the horror of familial separation, one of the hallmarks of Nazi persecution.
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The next morning, the women are ordered to pack up their possessions. Corrie and Betsie gather their toothbrushes, needles, a small bottle of vitamin oil, Nollie’s sweater, and the Bible. They’re given blankets and marched away from the camp at a fast pace; Betsie, thin and physically weakened, can barely keep up. At the train tracks, they are packed into a cattle car with eighty other women, all sobbing and confused. Betsie says she is thankful that Father is dead and spared this experience.
Even though this new development seems worse than anything that’s come before, Betsie manages to see it in the most positive light. In her view, the circumstances are a benevolent act of God rather than evidence against God’s existence.
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After hours of waiting, the train begins to move slowly and jerkily. Corrie sits with Betsie’s head in her lap; her sister’s forehead feels feverish. At one point a hail of machine gun fire strikes the train and they hope for rescue, but at dawn the train crosses the border into Germany.
This hellish journey mirrors the family’s departure from Haarlem, which Corrie saw in her vision—in both cases their fates are out of their hands, and they have no idea what is coming next.
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