Cornelia Johanna Arnalda ten Boom, is known to the world as Corrie ten Boom. Ten Boom was a Dutch Christian Holocaust survivor who helped an estimated 800 Jews escape the Nazis during World War II. Born in Haarlem, North Holland, she was one of the leaders of the Dutch resistance during the Nazi occupation in the Netherlands. She helped many Jews escape and was eventually imprisoned in a concentration camp with her father and her sister, Betsie. Both her father and her sister died. Ten Boom was released due to a clerical error one week before all the women her age were sent to the gas chamber.
In December of 1967, Corrie ten Boom received recognition from the state of Israel's Yad Vashem Remembrance Authority as one of the "Righteous Among the Nations." Ten Boom authored the book The Hiding Place, (1971) an account of the secret sanctuary her family provided Jews. She would go on to author many more books and dedicated her life to speaking about God's love and forgiveness in over 60 countries.
Casper and Cor ten Boom married in 1884 and had four children: Betsie, Willem, Nollie, and Corrie. The ten Boom family were members of the Dutch Reformed Church which held a strong belief in the equality of all human beings before God. Corrie recorded her memories from part of her childhood, that was spent in Amsterdam before the family made a permanent move to Haarlem (a neighboring town).
"My (parents) … had opened a small jewelry store in a narrow house in the heart of the Jewish section of Amsterdam. There, in Amsterdam in that narrow street in the ghetto they met many wonderful Jewish people. They were allowed to participate in their Sabbaths and in their feasts. They studied the Old Testament together …" 
The ten Boom family had a history of personal connections to the Jewish community that went back to Corrie's grandfather, who had supported efforts to improve Christian-Jewish relations in the nineteenth century. Her brother Willem, a Dutch Reformed minister assigned to convert Jews, studied anti-semitism and ran a nursing home for elderly of all faiths. In the late 1930s the nursing home became a refuge for Jews fleeing from Germany.
Ten Boom began working with several disabled children in her area when she was in her twenties and thirties. She describes her family and their lives in detail in her famous novel, The Hiding Place (1971). Her mother, Cor, was an example of generosity, kindness, and selfless service to her family. She was often seen carrying baskets full of homemade bread and other foods to people in need. Her mother died of a stroke in 1921 when Corrie was 29 years old.
The Ten Boom house in Haarlem, North Holland, was a place of refuge even before the Nazis invaded in 1940. In 1918 the ten Boom family took in the first of many children they would unofficially adopt. Casper ten Boom had taken over his father's watch shop, which had been opened in 1834. He was a well-loved and well-respected watch repairman, but as Corrie observed, not a very good businessman. He often did much of his work for free when people were unable to pay. Because his generous nature the family struggled with money, until Corrie came to work at the shop. In 1920, Corrie began training as a watchmaker and two years later she became the very first female watchmaker to gain her license in the Netherlands. When Corrie's father found her to be an astute businesswoman, he gladly let her take over the financial side of the business. With Corrie's involvement the business began to flourish. It never made a large sum of money, but it provided enough to care for the ten Boom family and allowed them to help others.
The ten Boom family remained close, even after Nollie and Willem were married. Betsie, who was often sick due to being born with pernicious anemia, never married. Corrie always looked to Betsie for strength as she kept Corrie focused on forgiveness. Willem had four children, one of them, Kik, was arrested for his work in the resistance. He was sent to Bergen Belsen Concentration camp, which was later overrun by the Russian army. Prisoners in the camp were then sent to a labor camp in Russia, where he died at the age of 24. Nollie had six children and also worked with Corrie and Willem in the Dutch underground. Corrie Ten Boom never married.
Corrie led Bible classes in public schools and taught Sunday school and organized and ran a network of clubs, first for girls and then for both girls and boys under the sponsorship of the Union des Amies de la Jeune Fille. The girls’ clubs became Girl Guide clubs, with Corrie as one of the leaders of the movement in Holland. Later, because she felt the clubs were losing their Christian emphasis, she formed De Nederlandse Meisjesclubs (The Dutch Girls Club) and continued to lead these until the occupation, when the Germans forbid group meetings.
When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands Corrie said that it was the example of her father that inspired her to help the Jews of Holland. She tells of an incident in which she asked a pastor who was visiting their home to help shield a mother and newborn infant. He replied, "No definitely not. We could lose our lives for that Jewish child." She went on to say, "Unseen by either of us, Father had appeared in the doorway. 'Give the child to me, Corrie,' he said. Father held the baby close, his white beard brushing its cheek, looking into the little face with eyes as blue and innocent as the baby's. 'You say we could lose our lives for this child. I would consider that the greatest honor that could come to my family'".
The ten Boom watch shop became a center of activity for underground work against the Nazis. She hid ration cards in a stairwell, a radio underneath a step, and had a secret hiding place built in her room. Members of the resistance carried in bricks and mortar in large grandfather clocks. They would carry them up the steep narrow stairwell to Corrie's room, and here they built a fake wall, two feet from the real wall. Then a closet was built with a crawl space at the bottom. Six to seven people were able to crawl into the space and stand in the hiding spot. Corrie made them practice drills that would enable them to get themselves and all their belongings into the hiding place in under a minute and a half. It was here that, after the ten Boom family's arrest, seven people she was hiding stayed for two days, without food or water, until the Gestapo finally stopped watching her house. Members of the resistance were able to enter the house and help those hiding escape. All but one survived the war.
The Germans arrested a total of 30 people, including the entire ten Boom family, on February 28, 1944 with the help of a Dutch informant. They were sent first to Scheveningen prison. It was here that a guard asked Casper Ten Boom if he knew that he could die for protecting the Jews. Casper replied, "It would be an honor to give my life for God's ancient people." He died in the prison ten days later. During that time in prison, Corrie received a letter from her sister. Under the stamp of the letter, in very small writing, she let Corrie know that all the Jews she had been protecting the night she was captured had escaped and survived.
Corrie and Betsie were then sent to the Vught political concentration camp (both in the Netherlands), and finally to the notorious Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany in September 1944. Through what Corrie describes as a miracle, she was the only one not checked for goods, thus she was able to bring in a small New Testament, carrying it between the folds of her dress. Corrie and Betsie began to witness every night to the women in the barracks. The two sisters held worship services which Corrie described in her book:
"At first Betsie and I called these meetings with great timidity. But as night after night went by and no guard ever came near us, we grew bolder. So many now wanted to join us that we held a second service after evening roll call … (These) were services like no others, these times in Barracks 28. A single meeting night might include a recital of the Magnificat in Latin by a group of Roman Catholics, a whispered hymn by some Lutherans, and a sotto-voce chant by Eastern Orthodox women. With each moment the crowd around us would swell, packing the nearby platforms, hanging over the edges, until the high structures groaned and swayed."
"At last either Betsie or I would open the Bible. Because only the Hollanders could understand the Dutch text we would translate aloud in German. And then we would hear the life-giving words passed back along the aisles in French, Polish, Russian, Czech, and back into Dutch. They were little previews of heaven, these evenings beneath the light bulb"
Betsie died on December 16, 1944. Some of her last words to Corrie were, "… (we) must tell them what we have learned here. We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still. They will listen to us, Corrie, because we have been here.".
Corrie was released from Ravensbrück in December 1944 through an apparent administrative error. One week after her release all the women her age were sent to the gas chamber.
After her release she went to Groningen in Holland, where she recovered for a while in a rest home. She was then taken by truck to Willem's home in Hilversum and from there back to her childhood home. In May 1945 she rented a house in Bloemendaal, the Netherlands, which was called "Schapendunien," and made it into a home for disabled people and ex-prisoners from the concentration camps. She continued to be associated with this work until 1966.
In June of 1945 her book Gevangene en toch… herrinneringen uit Scheveningen, Vught, en Ravensbruck was published. It was her first attempt to relate her wartime experiences. From this point on writing became a significant part of her ministry.
In 1946 ten Boom first traveled to the United States where she was invited to tell her story at churches, Bible study groups, and conferences. She was in North America for ten months. After she left the U.S. she became a well-known speaker and evangelist in Protestant circles in western Europe.
In 1947 A Prisoner—And Yet! was published. It was an expanded English version of Gevangene en toch…. That same year she attended the conference of European Youth for Christ delegates that helped lay the foundation for YFC work in western Europe. Corrie often spoke at YFC rallies in Europe and the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. During those years her travels were sponsored in part by the International Council of Christian Leadership.
In 1949 she began raising money for the rental of Darmstadt, Germany concentration camp and led a group that turned it into another place for displaced persons and ex-prisoners to recover from the traumas suffered in the war. She continued to be associated with Darmstadt and to raise money for it until 1960, when the camp closed.
Starting in her mid-50s she would visit more than 60 countries over a 33 year period.
Corrie Ten Boom wrote many books after the war but her most successful was The Hiding Place completed in 1971. World Wide Pictures, the filmmaking arm of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, premiered the film of The Hiding Place in Houston, Texas in 1975. Both the film and book became immensely popular, especially among Protestant Evangelicals in the United States.
The same year the film was released the "Beje," her old home, was turned into a museum. Today, visitors can go to the Beje, see the actual hiding place and hear Corrie's story, along with the story of the other courageous Ten Boom family members, while sitting in her living room. The book and film also give historical context to the story of Anne Frank, whose story of hiding in Amsterdam during the war also became well known.
Putting her faith into action she set up a special home for war refugees and other ex-prisoners of the Germans and the Japanese in India. She even offered shelter to now-discredited German collaborators from the professional classes as long as they agreed to give medical and psychological support to the other residents. Helping the former oppressors was another aspect of her strong religious beliefs, based on forgiveness.
In 1947, ten Boom traveled to Germany to tell her story. After her speech she was approached by one of former Ravensbrück camp guards. Describing her experience in her book, Tramp for the Lord (1974) she recounted:
Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: "A fine message, fraulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!" It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze. "You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk," he was saying. "I was a guard there. But since that time," he went on, "I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein—" again the hand came out—"will you forgive me?"
And I stood there—and could not. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. "If you do not forgive men their trespasses," Jesus says, "neither will your Father in Heaven forgive your trespasses."
Still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. "Jesus, help me!" I prayed silently. "I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling. "And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. "I forgive you, brother!" I cried. "With all my heart!" For a long moment we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and former prisoner. I had never known God's love so intensely as I did then.
When speaking of her post-war experience she always related how she saw that the victims of the Nazi brutality who were able to forgive were the ones who were able to rebuild their lives.
Her own experience with the Nazis combined with what happened to Chinese Christians in 1949 as Mao Tse Tung was bringing China into communism led her to speak out about the Pre-Tribulation Rapture doctrine taught by some Christians.
In a letter she wrote in 1974 entitled "Prepared for the Coming Tribulation" she wrote:
There are some among us teaching there will be no tribulation, that the Christians will be able to escape all this. These are the false teachers that Jesus was warning us to expect in the latter days. Most of them have little knowledge of what is already going on across the world. I have been in countries where the saints are already suffering terrible persecution…
In America, the churches sing, "Let the congregation escape tribulation", but in China and Africa the tribulation has already arrived. This last year alone more than two hundred thousand Christians were martyred in Africa. Now things like that never get into the newspapers because they cause bad political relations. But I know. I have been there. We need to think about that when we sit down in our nice houses with our nice clothes to eat our steak dinners. Many, many members of the Body of Christ are being tortured to death at this very moment, yet we continue right on as though we are all going to escape the tribulation.
In 1977, Ten Boom, then 85 years old, decided to retire from public life. She rented a home in Placentia, California and in the same year received permanent status in the United States as a resident alien. By this time, she no longer did any extensive traveling because of her health. She had an operation the same year and received a pacemaker for her heart.
In 1978, she suffered from a series of strokes that took her powers of speech and communication and left her an invalid. On her ninety-first birthday, April 15, 1983, Corrie Ten Boom passed away. On her death it was noted that in Jewish tradition it is only very blessed people who are allowed the special privilege of dying on their birthday.
Ten Boom was honored by the State of Israel for her work in aid of the Jewish people by being invited to plant a tree in the Avenue of the Righteous Gentiles, at the Yad Vashem, near Jerusalem. Oskar Schindler is also honored there. Rabbi Daniel Lapin has commented with regret on how little Corrie ten Boom is known among American Jews.
In 1962 ten Boom was knighted by the Queen of The Netherlands in recognition of her work during the war.
Her childhood home in Haarlem is now a museum dedicated to the memory of her and her family.
All links retrieved July 7, 2016.
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