Artist's depiction of Corrie and Betsie ten Boom reading God's Word to fellow prisoners

Artist’s depiction of Corrie and Betsie ten Boom reading God’s Word to fellow prisoners

(Parental advisory: Some of the content of this Perspective is unsuitable for young children.)

Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie were imprisoned in Ravensbruck, the notorious Nazi women’s concentration camp, during World War 2. Of over 130,000 prisoners incarcerated at Ravensbruck, only 40,000 survived. But the ministry of Corrie and Betsie while there shows the incredible power of God’s Word to bring light and life to the darkest, most-desperate human situations.

At the Ravensbruck processing center for new arrivals each woman had to surrender whatever possessions she had brought to the camp, strip off every scrap of clothes and walk naked past a dozen watchful guards into the shower room. After showering she was given nothing more than a thin prison dress and a pair of shoes to wear. Corrie and Betsie begged a guard to show them the toilets and were tersely ordered to use the drain holes in the shower room. There, behind a stack of old wooden benches piled in a far corner, they hid a compact Bible, a vitamin bottle and a blue sweater they had brought to the prison.

Ravensbruck female prisoners at roll call, in The Hiding Place movie

Ravensbruck female prisoners at roll call, in The Hiding Place movie

After showering and selecting their prison clothes from heaps on the floor just inside the shower room door, Corrie sought to hide their little bundle of precious possessions under her prison dress. She afterward related: “I flattened it out as best I could … but there was no real concealing it beneath the thin cotton dress. And all the while I had the incredible feeling that it didn’t matter, that this was not my business, but God’s. That all I had to do was walk straight ahead.

“As we trooped back out through the shower room door, the S.S. men ran their hands over every prisoner, front, back and sides. The woman ahead of me was searched three times. Behind me, Betsie was searched. No hand touched me. At the exit door to the building was a second ordeal, a line of women guards examining each prisoner again. I slowed down as I reached them but the officer in charge shoved me roughly by the shoulder. ‘Move along! You’re holding up the line!’ And so Betsie and I arrived at Barracks 8 in the small hours of that morning, bringing not only the Bible, but a new knowledge of the power of Him whose story it was.”

Roll call began promptly at 4:30 each morning, was held out in the predawn chill and sometimes lasted for hours. Throughout that time the prisoners were required to stand at parade attention. Immediately next to them were located the punishment barracks. Of the overwhelming nightmarish suffering they observed in those days, Corrie later wrote: “From there [the punishment barracks], all day long and often into the night, came the sounds of hell itself. They were not the sounds of anger, or of any human emotion, but of a cruelty altogether detached: blows landing in regular rhythm, screams keeping pace. We would stand [at role call] in our ten-deep ranks with our hands trembling at our sides, longing to jam them against our ears, to make the sounds stop. …

Corrie ten Boom

Corrie ten Boom

“It grew harder and harder. Even within these four walls [of Barracks 8] there was too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering. Every day something else failed to make sense, something else grew too heavy. ‘Will You carry this too, Lord Jesus?’ ”

However, Corrie also testified of a redemptive spiritual reality that God brought about through their ministry of His Word in that blackest of settings: “But as the rest of the world grew stranger, one thing became increasingly clear – and that was the reason the two of us were here. Why others should suffer we were not shown. As for us, from morning until lights-out, whenever we were not in ranks for roll call, our Bible was the center of an ever-widening circle of help and hope. Like waifs clustered around a blazing fire, we gathered about it, holding out our hearts to its warmth and light. The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the Word of God. ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us’ [Romans 8:35, 37].

“I would look about us as Betsie read, watching the light leap from face to face. More than conquerors. … It was not a wish. It was a fact. We knew it, we experienced it minute by minute – poor, hated, hungry. We are more than conquerors. Not ‘we shall be’. We are! Life in Ravensbruck took place on two separate levels, mutually impossible. One, the observable, external life, grew every day more horrible. The other, the life we lived with God, grew daily better, truth upon truth, glory upon glory.”

Betsie gradually weakened and died at Ravensbruck. A short while later, due to a clerical error, Corrie was released. She went on to devote the remainder of her life to sharing and showing the light and hope of God’s Word to benighted, hopeless people around the world.

 

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Women of Faith and Courage by Vance Christie

A fuller account of Corrie ten Boom’s upbringing, early years of ministry, heroic endeavors during World War 2 and fruitful worldwide ministry in the closing decades of her life is provided in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). Corrie’s inimitable telling of the events of her life is found in her autobiographical works such as The Hiding Place, Tramp for the Lord, and Jesus Is Victor. Carole Carlson’s Corrie ten Boom: Her Life, Her Faith is an excellent one-volume account of Corrie’s life and ministry.

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

Corrie ten Boom

Corrie ten Boom

Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983) is best known through the book and movie The Hiding Place for the courage, faith and love she and her family members manifested by harboring Jews from Nazis during World War 2 and while being imprisoned in a German concentration camp. But most people know little or nothing about the first half century of Corrie’s life – formative decades filled with active, fruitful service of the Lord and others.

Corrie’s parents, Casper and Cor ten Boom, were devout Dutch Reformed Christians with hearts of warm devotion for the Lord and compassionate concern for the people around them. In addition to raising their four children, Casper and Cor invited three of Cor’s sisters, two spinsters and a widow, to live in their modest home in Haarlem, Holland. Casper struggled to support so many people on his limited income as a watchmaker, but the family was rich in many other ways.

Corrie ten Boom (standing) with her family

Corrie ten Boom (standing) with her family

Every morning and evening without fail, regardless of whatever else was on the family schedule, Casper gathered the entire household for the reading of a chapter of Scripture and prayer. Casper and Cor saw to it that their three daughters received a secondary education while their son achieved both university and seminary degrees. The children were also taught an appreciation for hymns and classical music, with each child learning to sing and play one or more musical instruments. Guests were frequently at the family dinner table, and Mrs. ten Boom was constantly baking a loaf of bread or cooking a pot of porridge to be delivered to some pale young mother or lonesome old man.

In addition to graduating from secondary school, Corrie completed a course of studies at a Bible school in Haarlem. She played a major role in helping to care for family members at home and in assisting her father with his watchmaking business. In an era and a country where young women were not involved in the business world, she went to school in Basel, Switzerland, for two years to learn the watchmaking trade. She eventually became the first licensed woman watchmaker in Holland.

Ten Boom Home and Watchshop in Haarlem, Holland

Ten Boom Home and Watchshop in Haarlem, Holland

As the years passed, Corrie’s mother and three maternal aunts passed away. Corrie’s brother Willem and sister Nollie were both married and established households of their own, while Corrie continued to live in her girlhood home with her father Casper and her sister Betsie. For several months following World War 1, Casper, Corrie and Betsie took into their home a small group of frightened and undernourished German boys and girls. In 1925 the ten Booms took in the son and two daughters of a missionary couple serving in Indonesia. In the years that followed, eleven different foster children stayed in their home, with as many as seven living there at the same time.

Besides working at the watch shop and helping care for the children, Corrie taught Sunday school and Bible classes in the public schools. At the encouragement of a friend, she started a ministry to teen girls. Corrie’s exceptional organizational and leadership abilities were soon manifested. In a short time she recruited forty leaders to work with the large numbers of girls who flocked to her youth club. Club meetings consisted of games, music and a Bible study, while training activities included instrumental music, singing, sewing, handcrafts, folk dancing and gymnastics.

Corrie organized a number of such clubs. Before long a club meeting was being held every night. Girls who desired to learn more about spiritual matters were encouraged to join a confirmation class in one of the local Dutch Reformed congregations.

Corrie Ten Boom as a young lady

Corrie Ten Boom as a young lady

Another ministry that Corrie started up was a Sunday afternoon ‘church’ service for individuals with learning difficulties. If a disabled boy or girl wanted to join one of her clubs, or if a pastor approached her about such a person who was disrupting the normal Sunday service, she invited those individuals to her ‘special’ church. Corrie was burdened to share the Gospel with these people who could not understand a sermon but needed the Savior. She carried out this compassionate ministry for two decades.

A summer camp ministry for members of her various girls’ clubs was another of Corrie’s ventures. Early outings were done with tents while later ones were held at a plain log cabin that had room for about sixty girls. The highlight of each day was the evening campfire when the girls sat around the fire, wrapped in blankets, to sing and listen to Corrie’s meditation. They enjoyed her great sense of humor and her wonderful stories that always had a significant spiritual point.

Corrie’s girls clubs paved the way for the founding of the Girl Guide clubs of Holland, a European equivalent of the Girl Scouts of America. Corrie promoted a definite spiritual emphasis in the Girl Guide organization, believing that girls needed to be won to Christ rather than merely taught to be good citizens.

All too soon the events of World War 2 swirled down upon Holland, and the girls’ clubs were forced to close. The last time Corrie met with her club members, the girls struggled to sing the national anthem through their tears. “Girls, don’t cry,” she encouraged them. “We have had great fun in our clubs, but that wasn’t why we came together. Jesus makes us strong, even in times of war and disaster.”

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Women of Faith and Courage by Vance Christie

A fuller account of Corrie ten Boom’s upbringing, early years of ministry, heroic endeavors during World War 2 and fruitful worldwide ministry in the closing decades of her life is provided in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). Corrie’s inimitable telling of the events of her life is found in her autobiographical works such as The Hiding Place, Tramp for the Lord, and Jesus Is Victor. Carole Carlson’s Corrie ten Boom: Her Life, Her Faith is an excellent one-volume account of Corrie’s life and ministry.

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

Thanks everybody for the great response to my Thanksgiving perspectives article on what we can learn about giving thanks in all circumstances from the life of Corrie ten Boom. My friends over at Chosen Books saw the article and wanted to partner up for a special giveaway. Three winners will receive a Corrie ten Boom prize pack featuring the 35th anniversary edition of The Hiding Place, the young reader’s edition of The Hiding Place and Life Lessons from the Hiding Place.

Corrie ten Boom Prize pack

Win a Corrie ten Boom Prize Pack

Corrie ten Boom

Corrie ten Boom

Corrie and Betsie ten Boom were courageous, compassionate Dutch Christians who helped harbor Jews from the Nazis in Holland during World War 2. After the sisters were arrested for doing so, they were imprisoned at Ravensbruck, a German concentration camp.

In their barracks, they were shown to a series of massive square platforms, stacked three levels high and placed so close together that people had to walk single-file to pass between them. Rancid straw was scattered over the platforms, which served as communal beds for hundreds of women. Corrie and Betsie found they could not sit upright on their own platform without hitting their heads on the deck above them. They lay back, struggling against nausea that swept over them from the reeking straw.

Suddenly Corrie started up, striking her head on the cross-slats above. Something had bitten her leg. “Fleas!” she cried. “Betsie, the place is swarming with them!” Descending from the platform and edging down a narrow aisle, they made their way to a patch of light. “Here! And here another one!” Corrie wailed. “Betsie, how can we live in such a place?”

Womens' Barracks in a German Concentration Camp

Womens’ Barracks in a German Concentration Camp

“Show us. Show us how,” Betsie said matter-of-factly. It took Corrie a moment to realize that her sister was praying. “Corrie!” Betsie then exclaimed excitedly. “He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!”

Corrie checked to make sure no guards were nearby, then drew from a pouch a small Bible she had managed to smuggle into the concentration camp. “It was in First Thessalonians,” she said, finding the passage in the feeble light. “Here it is: ‘Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus …’ ” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-18).

Betsie ten Boom

Betsie ten Boom

“That’s it!” Betsie interrupted. “That’s His answer. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances!’ That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this barracks!”

Corrie stared at her incredulously, then around at the dark, foul-smelling room. “Such as?” she inquired.

“Such as being assigned here together.”

Corrie bit her lip. “Oh yes, Lord Jesus!”

“Such as what you’re holding in your hands.”

Corrie looked down at the Bible. “Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all the women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.”

“Yes,” agreed Betsie. “Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!” She looked at her sister expectantly and prodded, “Corrie!”

“Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed, suffocating crowds.”

“Thank you,” Betsie continued on serenely, “for the fleas and for …”

That was too much for Corrie. She cut in on her sister: “Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”

“ ‘Give thanks in all circumstances,” Betsie corrected. “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.” So they stood between the stacks of bunks and gave thanks for fleas, though on that occasion Corrie thought Betsie was surely wrong.

As the weeks passed, Betsie’s health weakened to the point that, rather than needing to go out on work duty each day, she was permitted to remain in the barracks and knit socks together with other seriously-ill prisoners. She was a lightning fast knitter and usually had her daily sock quota completed by noon. As a result, she had hours each day she could spend moving from platform to platform reading the Bible to fellow prisoners. She was able to do this undetected as the guards never seemed to venture far into the barracks.

One evening when Corrie arrived back at the barracks Betsie’s eyes were twinkling.   “You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,” Corrie told her.

“You know we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,” Betsie said, referring to the part of the barracks where the sleeping platforms were. “Well—I’ve found out. This afternoon there was confusion in my knitting group about sock sizes, so we asked the supervisor to come and settle it. But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?” Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice as she exclaimed, “Because of the fleas! That’s what she said: ‘That place is crawling with fleas!’ ”

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten BoomCorrie’s mind raced back to their first hour in the barracks. She remembered Betsie bowing her head and thanking God for creatures that Corrie could see no use for.

May our own hearts and lips overflow with gratitude this Thanksgiving season and throughout the year. Even when faced with deeply trying and discouraging circumstances, we can identify numerous blessings that the Lord continues to pour into our lives. Some of those blessings come as a result of the difficulties we’re facing. As we focus on the Lord’s blessings, we will be heartened and enabled to persevere through life’s discouragements. And we’ll never fail to appropriately honor God by thanking Him for His ever-present blessings.

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You will find this and many other inspiring incidents from the life of Corrie ten Boom in her own book, The Hiding Place, and in two of my works, Women of Faith and Courage and Timeless Stories.

Copyright 2016 by Vance E. Christie