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As we’ve seen in other posts, the members of the Ten Boom family lived out their convictions. Whether it was simply refusing to give up when faced with life-altering circumstances or refusing to abandon their Jewish neighbors and friends during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, they refused to take the easy way and just drift along — especially not the youngest, not even when no one would have thought less of her if she had.
Corrie ten Boom was born in Amsterdam in 1892 to Casper and Cor ten Boom. She was the youngest of five children – one of whom died in infancy. Shortly after her birth, Casper moved his family back to Harlaam where he had grown up and took over his father’s watch shop.
Unlike her sister Betsie who had decided from a young age that she would never marry, Corrie did have dreams of marrying one day and having a family of her own. When she was 24, she thought she’d found someone to share her life with, but it didn’t work out. After that, she was content to remain single and at home with her father and her sister Betsie.
As with her sister Betsie, remaining at home didn’t mean being an isolated old spinster for Corrie. While Betsie took care of the house, she went to work with her father in his watch shop and eventually became the first licensed female watchmaker in the Netherlands. Along with her father and sister, she was a foster parent to children of foreign missionaries who were sent back home by their families for education. Along with Betsie, she organized social clubs for teenage girls in the community. And of course, there were the Jews.
During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, Corrie – along with her father and sister – worked with the Dutch Underground. For two years, they helped Jews find hiding places, even keeping some in their own home. During this time it was Corrie who found most of the resources they needed to do this – different people to help them do different things. It was an activity that would eventually cost her dearly, but it was one she never regretted.
On February 28, 1944, life changed forever for the Ten Booms.
That day, Corrie was in bed with the flu. A man showed up demanding to speak only to her. Corrie dragged herself out of bed and went to see what he wanted. He claimed that he and his wife lived in another town and had been hiding Jews. He said that his wife had been arrested; however, there was a policeman who was willing to release her for 600 guilders. If he couldn’t come up with the money, she would be taken to Amsterdam and questioned. If that happened, she would probably reveal everything she knew. He had heard that the Ten Booms had resources. Could they help him come up with the money he needed?
In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie says that something about the man gave her pause, but she didn’t want to take the risk that her concerns might be unfounded. She told the man to come back later for the money. After he left, she sent someone to the bank then went back to bed.
Around 5 PM, the Germans came. As the raid began, six people fled to the secret space that the Ten Booms had built in Corrie’s room – four Jews who were living there at the time and two young men who worked with the Dutch Underground movement. The space was about eight feet long, two feet wide, and 10 feet high. It was accessed through a sliding panel in Corrie’s closet. After waiting for several hours in order to catch as many people as they could, the Ten Booms were arrested along with about 30 other people. The hiding place went undetected; and 47 hours later, the people in it were released by other underground workers.
Just before they were separated at the prison they were eventually taken to, Corrie yelled to her father, “God be with you!” “And with you, my daughters,” he replied. Ten days later, Casper passed away, never seeing his family again.
For two months, Betsie and Corrie were kept in separate prison cells, without contact (Corrie alone; Betsie with other women). They were reunited near the beginning of June when they were transferred to Vught, a German concentration camp in the Netherlands. Three months later, they were transferred to Ravensbruck, a concentration camp in Germany.
In Ravensbruck, Betsie’s health deteriorated quickly. She died in the hospital there a couple of weeks before Christmas. A few days after Christmas, Corrie was released and allowed to return home. (Corrie later found out that her release was due to a clerical error. The following week, all of the women in her age group were taken to the gas chambers.)
The following year, at the age of 54, Corrie began what she would do for the next 30 years of her life — traveling around the world, sharing both the Gospel and her own story. In 1967, she was honored at the Yad Vashem in Israel and recognized as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.
When she was 85, the self-described “tramp for the Lord” settled down in Placentia, CA, where, six years later — on her 91st birthday — she was finally reunited with the family she had spent so many years living without.
Corrie’s Faith in Action
In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie says:
Side by side, in the sanctuary of God’s fleas (they were in a flea-infested barracks in Ravensbruck at the time), Betsie and I ministered the Word of God to all in the room. We sat by deathbeds that became doorways of heaven. We watched women who had lost everything grow rich in hope. The knitters of Barracks 28 became the praying heart of the vast diseased body that was Ravensbruck, interceding for all in 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. (Corrie and Betsie’s mother suffered a severe stroke about 3 years before she died, leaving her unable to talk and barely able to move.)
A few weeks later, Betsie was dead; and Corrie was back in the Netherlands, ready to see where God would lead her next.
At first, she tried to get back into the resistance work, but she soon realized that that wasn’t what God wanted her to do anymore.
I stood thankfully on the sidewalk until my knees stopped knocking. If I had ever needed proof that I had no boldness or cleverness of my own, I had it now. Whatever bravery or skill I had ever shown were gifts of God – sheer loans from Him of the talent needed to do a job. And it was clear, from the absence of such skills now, that this was no longer His work for me.
I crept meekly back to the Beje. (The name of her family’s house.) And it was at that moment, as I stepped into the alley, that I knew what it was I was looking for.
It was Betsie.
It was Betsie I had missed every moment of every day since I ran to the hospital window and found that she had left Ravensbruck forever. It was Betsie I had thought to find back here in Haarlem, here in the watch shop and in the home she loved.
But she was not here. And now for the first time since her death, I remembered. “We must tell people, Corrie. We must tell them what we learned ….”
That very week I began to speak. If this was God’s new work for me, then He would provide the courage and the words. Through the streets and suburbs of Haarlem, I bumped on my bicycle rims (the tires had been confiscated years before), bringing the message that joy runs deeper than despair. …. In churches and club rooms and private homes in those desperate days, I told the truths Betsie and I had learned in Ravensbruck.
Corrie had found what God was calling her to do.
In June of that year, Corrie wrote a letter to the man who had betrayed her family to the Gestapo. He had been arrested and sentenced to death for what he had done. (Corrie’s family was only one of many he had betrayed.) In the letter, she both forgave him for what he had done to her family and shared the Gospel with him, telling him to: “Remember that the Lord Jesus bore your sins, too, on the cross. If you accept that and want to be His child, you will be saved for eternity.”
The following year, forgiveness came a little harder. She had just finished giving a talk at a church service in Germany when she saw him — not the man who had betrayed her family, but another one. He came up to her and wanted to shake her hand. In her book, Tramp for the Lord, Corrie says:
The man … had been a guard — one of the most cruel guards.
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! You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk. I was a guard there. But since that time, 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, will you forgive me?”
And I stood there — I whose sins had again and again been forgiven — could not forgive. 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. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more?
She tried to shake the man’s hand and forgive him, but found that she couldn’t.
Forgiveness is not an emotion — I knew that too. 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 she raised her hand — “woodenly” and “mechanically” is the way she described it. But she raised it.
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 the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then. But even so, I realized it was not my love. I had tried, and did not have the power. It was the power of the Holy Spirit.
For the next 30 years, Corrie traveled the globe, telling her story and sharing the Gospel. She called herself “a tramp for the Lord.” And when I say talked and traveled, I don’t mean a little here and a little there. I mean a schedule that would leave most people begging for relief. For example:
- In June of 1946, Corrie was 54 years old. She recorded in some notes at the time: “In the last 14 days, I have held 24 talks, four newspaper interviews, and a radio interview.”
- In 1950, she went to Bermuda where she spoke 20 times in one week.
- On her 60th birthday, Corrie made her first visit to Japan. On her way there, she spent four days in Honolulu where she spoke 16 times. She stayed in Japan for nine months before traveling elsewhere.
- At 64, she spoke 85 times in Hawaii alone over the course of a month.
- At 65, she joined up with a group that was doing revival meetings in Australia. She wrote someone at the time saying, “[We] hold campaigns of one or two weeks’ duration… Our schedule is full. Three meetings a day is the regular program, and often there is no free day between the campaigns.” She stayed with the group for a little over a year.
- At 71, she spent six weeks in an apartment — the first time in 16 years she had stayed in the same home that long.
- Her 75th birthday found her working with a missionary in war-torn Vietnam.
- At 81 she spent time working in the United States and the Netherlands Antilles. She also spoke at the Billy Graham Crusade in Atlanta, GA.
- At 84, she spent seven months working in Switzerland, Canada, and the United States — 16 cities in the US alone, from Honolulu to New York and several places in between.
Shortly before she turned 85, Corrie settled in a house in Placentia, CA. Her international traveling days were over, but her work was not.
For the next couple of years, she continued to speak in various places in the States. She also wrote books and made teaching/witnessing films with Billy Graham’s organization. She was even given a headdress by CHIEF (an acronym for Christian Hope Indian Eskimo Fellowship) and welcomed into their tribes. Corrie may have put down roots of a sort, but she wasn’t spending her time just sitting in a rocking chair.
At 86, Corrie suffered a stroke and lost most of her ability to communicate. The following year, she suffered a second stroke and lost the use of her right arm and leg. The year after that, a third stroke left her bedridden.
In her book, The Five Silent Years of Corrie ten Boom, Pam Rosewell Moore (who was Corrie’s companion at the time) wrote:
There had been a tremendous change in her way of life, one that could crush the spirit – but that had not happened. She was living for God. I could see no difference in the attitude of this weak and silent Tante Corrie (Tante is the Dutch word for “aunt”) to that of the strong speaker whom I had joined nearly three years earlier. She served Him then; she was serving Him now. Her attitude said to me, “Since this suffering has come my way, I will go through it with the Lord with the same resolution I needed when I was well.”
She had served Him in her youth; now she was serving Him in her old age. She had served Him in strength; now she was serving Him in weakness…. A new awe and respect for the preciousness of human life came into our thinking. God had made mankind in His own image…. Whether young, old, strong, weak, well, ill, she [Corrie] was equally precious in His sight. His view of her had not changed although in the eyes of an achievement-oriented society, she may have lost her usefulness.
For three years, Corrie lay bed-ridden. Throughout that time, whenever people came to visit her, they left with a sense of being loved and cherished.
Finally, on the night of her 91st birthday, the Lord called Corrie home. Her journey was finally complete.
In my earlier post about Betsie, I said that Corrie probably considered her sister’s faith to be stronger than her own. So why have I called Corrie’s faith the strongest? Because she’s the one who had to continue living.
Her father’s faith was strong and would have undoubtedly survived being tested in a concentration camp had that been asked of him. But it wasn’t. Betsie’s faith was perhaps a bit stronger than her father’s, having been refined by the trials of living in both Vught and Ravensbruck. It would have undoubtedly survived what came next had she been released and given time to live. But she wasn’t. Corrie, though, was asked to do both. She was asked to experience life in a concentration camp, and she was asked to continue living afterward. For the next 40 years, she was asked to walk the road of faith – alone in a way, since those she had been closest to were dead.
There were plenty of fears and frustrations during the years she tramped for the Lord. There were even times of health concerns and hospital stays. At one point, she even considered calling it quits and settling down quietly back home in the Netherlands. But she didn’t. She never gave up. In one way or another, Corrie kept on tramping for the Lord until He called her home. That’s why I call her faith the strongest of the three.
My Sources and Further Information
The Countries Corrie Visited – (she visited many of these more than once over the years – some of them several times)
Argentina, Australia, Bermuda, Borneo, Brazil, Burundi, Canada, Congo, Cuba, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, England, Ethiopia, Finland, Formosa, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, New Zealand, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Rwanda, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Uganda, United States, Uzbekistan, Vietnam
- “About the Ten Booms” (the Ten Boom Museum website)
- “Corrie ten Boom” (Wikipedia article)
- Here’s a partial timeline of Corrie’s life. (Scroll down through it to see the countries she visited each year. The bracketed number beside the year is Corrie’s age.)
- Tramp for the Lord by Corrie ten Boom and Jamie Buckingham
- The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom and John and Elizabeth Sherrill
- Life Lessons from the Hiding Place and The Five Silent Years of Corrie ten Boom — both by Pam Rosewell Moore (Pam was Corrie’s live-in companion/helper/nurse for the last few years of her life.)
- Return to the Hiding Place by Hans Poley. (Hans was one of the young men who worked with Corrie in the Dutch Underground. I have not read this one.)
- /em>In the Secret Place by Peter Van Woerden. (Peter was one of Corrie’s nephews. I have not read this one.)
- A list of videos of Corrie on YouTube
- A virtual tour of the Corrie ten Boom Museum (the Ten Booms’ former home in Harlaam, Netherlands)
- Corrie ten Boom: A Faith Undefeated (a documentary about the Ten Booms)
- The Hiding Place (A movie based on Corrie ten Boom’s book, The Hiding Place.)