On May 5, 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, and for five days the might of the Wehrmacht unleashed its fury, forcing the Dutch to surrender. Drastic changes came to the Netherlands. Persecution came especially upon the Jews. Their houses and businesses were raided, and 100,000 Dutch Jews were eventually placed in concentration camps.

The ten Boom family in Harlem responded to the crisis with Christian compassion and courage. The home of Casper and Cornelia ten Boom had long been a haven of Christian mercy and love. As Casper and Cornelia raised their four children, daily Bible reading and prayer was as much a part of daily life as eating and sleeping. In addition to their own children, the ten Booms had cared for the children of missionaries serving in Indonesia, who were separated from their parents for years. Older relatives also lived with the family. The house the ten Booms lived in was a tall, narrow Dutch house built in the 1600s. The watch shop Casper and the family ran was on the ground floor, with the living quarters above. Caring for so many people required more space, so the family bought the older house next door (built in the 1400s) and combined the two into one large, commodious dwelling.

A Place of Refuge

The youngest of the ten Boom children, born in 1892 and named Cornelia after her mother, was called Corrie. Corrie followed her parents’ example of helping others and held Bible studies for local young people and even had special meetings for the mentally handicapped youth, bringing the love of Christ and the Bible to them as well. When a young man she had hoped to marry chose another for his wife, Corrie was deeply wounded, but she took her wounded heart to Jesus, basked in his love and surrendered her life to His purposes and plan. After Corrie’s mother died in 1921, Corrie began helping her father more in the watch shop. She went to Switzerland to take a course in watchmaking and became the first licensed woman watchmaker in Holland.

Under Nazi occupation, the ten Boom home became a place of refuge for many Jews as well as members of the Dutch Underground Resistance, even though the police station was nearby. Corrie’s bedroom in the house was at the top of a long flight of stairs and far away from the front door. The Dutch Resistance helped build a secret hiding place behind the wall of Corrie’s bedroom where up to six people could hide at a time. Buzzers were installed which could be used to alert the refugees of the need to go into hiding, and drills were held to practice the procedure. A secret code was developed. If someone called to say, “I have a watch needing repair,” the ten Booms knew there was someone arriving who needed a hiding place. Ration cards were issued for food, and the ten Boom household received three cards – for Casper, Corrie, and her sister Betsie. But with all the extra people to care for, more were needed. A father of one of the disabled children Corrie had worked with was a civil servant in charge of the ration cards. Corrie went to him and boldly asked for 100 ration cards – and received them!

The Concentration Camps

A Dutch informant turned the ten Booms in to the Gestapo as members of the Dutch Resistance, and the Gestapo raided the home on February 28, 1944, while a Bible study was meeting in the house. Casper ten Boom, Corrie, and her sister Betsie were arrested. As Casper was taken away, his last words to his daughters were from Psalm 91, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” The eighty-five year old Casper died ten days later. Betsie and Corrie were eventually taken to Ravensbrück concentration camp. Corrie had influenza at the time of her arrest and for the first months was in solitary confinement. During that time she received a letter from another sister saying, “all the watches are safe.” She then knew that the refugees hidden in the hiding place had not been captured by the Gestapo.

When Corrie was brought to testify in front of a judge, she boldly and clearly testified to her faith in Jesus. The judge had a stack of incriminating papers of witnesses who spoke against Corrie as a member of the Resistance. Corrie knew she would be condemned, but the judge took the papers and thrust them into the fire, destroying the evidence against her. To Corrie, this became a picture of Christ “cancelling the record of debt that stood against us…nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:14) During her time in solitary confinement, a nurse gave Corrie a small Bible which was easy to conceal. When she later was released from solitary and rejoined Betsie and the other prisoners, she was able to conceal the Bible and take it with her.

Ravensbrück was a training station for female S.S., and the guards were especially cruel. Corrie and Betsie were in Barracks 28, where 700 prisoners were kept in a room suitable for 200. It was a dirty, filthy room filled with fleas. However, when they learned that the guards didn’t come into the room because of the fleas, the prisoners thanked God for the fleas! Twice a day Corrie and Betsie had a time of Bible study with the prisoners. The crematorium was near the barracks, and often when a prisoner was “taken to the showers, they were taken to the gas chambers.

Betsie was not able to keep up with all the work required by the guards. Her health deteriorated, and she died after ten months in prison. Before she died, she told Corrie “there is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.” She told Corrie she knew both would be released before the year was out. Betsie’s release came when she died and exchanged prison for Paradise. Fifteen days later, Corrie’s number was called by the guards. Stepping forward, she half expected to be “taken to the showers,” but, she was given a hat, coat, shoes, and her release papers! Later she discovered that her release had been due to a “clerical error” and that the next week, all the women of her age (over 50) were sent to the gas chambers. Her freedom was clearly a miracle of God. While in prison, Betsie and Corrie had discussed that whenever they were released, they must help others and tell what they had learned in prison.  In the following decades, Corrie did just that. Though she had great bitterness against the man who had turned them in to the Gestapo, when she heard he was in prison and sentenced to death, she wrote him a letter of forgiveness and sent him a New Testament with salvation passages underlined. He wrote back, thanking her, and said there was hope for him in Christ.

Returning to Holland

Returning to her home in Holland, Corrie established a home for the disabled and hurting from the war. She traveled to Germany and was able to rent a former concentration camp near Darmstadt and transform it into a lovely home for refugees. The drab building was cleaned and painted and flowers placed in window boxes. The home shared the love of Christ with those suffering from the effects of war. One time when speaking in Germany, Corrie saw in the audience a guard from Ravensbrück who had been especially cruel to Betsie. He came and spoke to her, asked her forgiveness, and said he had become a Christian. When he held out his hand, Corrie prayed and, thinking of the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5), took his hand in forgiveness.

Corrie traveled the world speaking in over 60 countries, sharing her story and the lessons she had learned at Ravensbrück: God’s love is stronger that the deepest darkness; God’s love is victorious over hatred. From Psalm 31:5, she knew that our times are in God’s hands, and whatever happens is allowed by God for a purpose. Central to all of Corrie’s talks was that Jesus died on the cross for all, and through Him we can have forgiveness. We should look at the world around us from God’s point of view as we find in the Scriptures.  As Corrie often said,

Look around and be distressed;

Look within and be depressed;

Look at Jesus, and be at rest.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared at the blog for Credo Magazine and is used with permission.

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