This may be our last post in this series, so I want to tell about a particularly remarkable person. In homeschool our family just finished studying the second World War, a chapter that rarely fails to leave me feeling depressed. Even in such a dark time in history, though, we found little spots of God’s light. One of these lights came in the person of a woman named Corrie ten Boom.
Corrie was born in Holland in 1892 to Casper and Cornelia ten Boom. From the beginning her family was close-knit; she lived with her parents, elder sisters Betsie and Nollie and brother Willem, and several aunts in a huge house called the Beje. By the time the 1930s rolled around, though, only Casper, Betsie, and Corrie were left to run the clockshop downstairs. Willem and Nollie had both moved away with their own families, and Mama and the aunts had died. The three of them still led a comfortable life. The clockshop’s one hundredth birthday came in 1937, bringing in friends from all over the city, and Corrie could only have expected a happy life forever.
By 1939, the ten Boom family had noticed some ominous signs in Haarlem. Indeed, all the smaller countries surrounding Germany were changing for the worse. Strange men in black uniforms were asking people to spy on their neighbors. Jewish families lost their businesses and had to wear yellow stars on their clothing, and a few were even disappearing without a trace. Sometimes Casper would hear on the radio a wild voice belonging to someone called Adolf Hitler.
Though they did not yet know it, Corrie and her family were seeing the rise of the Third Reich. What they did know was that all these happenings were evil. Convicted that they were to help God’s chosen people in this persecution, the ten Booms built a secret room in their awkward old house and began hiding Jewish men and women. Corrie herself became the leader of a secret group in Haarlem, a resistance that stole ration cards and got the persecuted to safety in the country.
Corrie knew what would happen if she or any of her group was caught. They had heard of terrible “death camps” in Germany where troublemakers were imprisoned and usually killed. Why in the world would she disobey such dangerous people as the Nazis? What if she was caught?
These thoughts did indeed run in Corrie’s mind. Yet Corrie knew that God’s will was for her to help His children, and that was enough for her. She says in her book, The Hiding Place, “There are no ‘ifs’ in God’s Kingdom. His timing is perfect. His will is our hiding place. Lord Jesus, keep me in Your will! Don’t let me go mad by poking about outside it.”
Then, in early 1944, the Gestapo raided the Beje. An informant had told the secret. Corrie, Betsie, Casper, and several other resistance workers were all arrested and dragged to the police station, then loaded onto wagons and driven to a prison called Scheveningen. Casper died ten days into his imprisonment, but Corrie and Betsie were not to hear about his death until they had been at the second prison, Vught, for some time.
It was at Vught, in solitary confinement, that Corrie received one of the most amazing messages of her life. “All the watches in your closet are safe.” It was underground code, and it meant that all the Jewish families had escaped safely from the Beje. It gave Corrie hope in the dark lonely cell. God had not forgotten about the “watches”, and Corrie knew God would not forget about them either.
From Vught the sisters were whisked away to Ravensbruck, a notorious concentration camp for women. The conditions were terrible. Stenches pervaded the large common cell and snaked from the cots. Biting fleas scratched around in the rough straw. The women prisoners were nearly as spiteful as their cruel guards, fighting and yelling at one another.
From the beginning, Corrie says, Betsie was a light to the people struggling to survive in Ravensbruck. The sisters had smuggled in a Bible and a bottle of medicine, two treasures in a dark place. Betsie began holding prayer meetings and teaching from the Bible. To the amazement of the guards and other prisoners, God’s hope and love began to fill the “crazy” barracks.
As for the medicine, to Corrie’s dismay, Betsie shared the tiny bottle of medicine pills with the many sick prisoners. Corrie always feared that one day she would find that the pills had run out and her weakening sister would be left with no help. Mysteriously, this fear was never realized. Each time Corrie shook the bottle, the precious medicine would fall into her hand.
The first night they arrived at the camp, Corrie and Betsie discovered a hideous number of fleas in their beds. Saintly Betsie, as always, thanked God for everything- including the the fleas. She insisted that God always had a cause for everything. Corrie, understandably, could not think of one good reason to repeat such a prayer.
She soon found it. The sisters were afraid that the guards would search their cell. Their Bible was hidden there in Corrie’s mat; if the guards found it, the Book would be confiscated forever and the women severely punished. But they never did search the cell. Corrie later learned that the guards feared to poke so much as a nose in that cell because of the biting fleas. The little insects had kept the Bible safe.
Betsie fell very ill during the winter of 1944, her temperature shooting so high that she was transferred to the prison hospital. In all this her faith never wavered. Her dreams were still beautiful, and she told Corrie of a place where people could come to be healed from their scars. She also promised that they would both be out of prison by New Years’ Day 1945. Betsie died on December 16, and Corrie marked on her cell wall that Betsie had been released.
Even though it seemed that she was alone in a cell without family or friends, Corrie did not stop believing now. God was with her. As Betsie had used to say, “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” Corrie had seen God’s love with her own eyes, even in the dark pit of Ravensbruck. She carried on with Betsie’s Bible studies and watched God work more miracles in the prison.
Corrie was released on December 28, 1944. Betsie’s promise that they would be free by the New Year had come true, and more than that, God had kept each and every one of His promises. Corrie herself went on to open a house for concentration camp survivors, just as Betsie had imagined. On her speaking tours she often met old Nazi guards from the camps, and with God’s love she forgave each and every one of them.
“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God,” she asserted later. Corrie had so much to say about faith, and she is one to be trusted on that subject. Few people today have lived through the trials that she faced with faith in God during the second Great War. Corrie’s experience is a perfect illustration of James 1:2-4. Trials do come, bu if we have faith in the one God who can truly be trusted, those trials will cause our faith to grow.