People of Faith: Corrie ten Boom, Part 1

One of my non-fiction ideas is a book profiling twenty Christian women of faith. I’ve decided to post, in four parts, the chapter about Corrie ten Boom, the Dutch woman known for hiding Jews during World War II. Following a year of incarceration, during which her father and sister died, she began a speaking and writing ministry to proclaim God’s forgiveness and love. Late in life she moved to Southern California where she lived until her death at age 91.

Corrie ten Boom

Corrie ten Boom sat gazing out the window, alone with her thoughts, unable to verbalize her needs or even her love for those most dear. Solitary confinement was not a new experience for this eighty-seven-year-old woman, but this imprisonment during the last years of her life was far different from the one she endured thirty-five years earlier in a Dutch prison cell. In both instances, however, and during horrifying experiences in two Nazi concentration camps, Corrie put her faith in Jesus who she knew to be the Victor. In the face of inhuman conditions, mistreatment, sickness and death, she lived that faith day by day.

Corrie spent her first fifty-two years caring for her family and working in their watch shop in the Beje—the patch-work Dutch home of her birth, where the words “Jesus is Victor” were transcribed on the kitchen hearthstones.

Although she never married, her life was anything but solitary. She was one of four children in a close family, headed by godly parents. When she was a child, her mother’s three sisters moved in with the Ten Booms, adding to the activity swirling about the house.

As each of Corrie’s aunts declined over the years, she took on the necessary caregiving responsibilities until one by one they passed away. Eventually she nursed her own mother when a stroke partially paralyzed her and robbed her of the ability to speak more than three words—yes, no, and Corrie. Three years later, Mrs. Ten Boom died, leaving Corrie and her oldest sister Betsie to manage the house for their father and to work with him in the watch repair business.

Corrie’s next two decades in the family home were fulfilling. Through a providential sequence of events, she and Betsie switched roles which put Corrie next to her father in their watch shop keeping the accounts and waiting on customers, rather than in the kitchen tending to domestic duties. When Corrie was ready to move to more challenging responsibilities, her father patiently taught her the particulars of watch repair. Eventually she went to school to specialize in work with wristwatches and became Holland’s first licensed woman watchmaker.

Besides her involvement in the shop and with her family—including a happy assortment of nieces and nephews—Corrie developed a ministry with the mentally disabled and founded a Christian girls scout movement known as the Triangle Club. She and her family also welcomed into their home a succession of foster children over a period of ten years. Still they found time for a steam of visitors, whether policemen or derelicts coming for a bowl of Betsie’s soup or a cup of her coffee, or laborers and business professionals asking their father for counsel and prayer.

As far as Corrie knew, her life would continue as peacefully to its end as it had progressed to this point, but God had something considerably bigger in store for her.

When she was forty-eight, Adolf Hitler and an ever-broadening war disrupted Europe. Eventually German troops marched into Holland and after a five-day campaign, the Nazi war machine added another conquered nation to the list succumbing to its blitzkrieg.

During the first year of Nazi occupation, persecution targeting Jews began to creep into Holland, and Corrie’s town of Haarlem was no exception. Minor sporadic attacks occurred—a broken window in a business owned by Jews, offensive words graffitied on a synagogue wall. Gradually the symptoms worsened. Signs appeared in shop windows denying Jews service. Others forbade admittance to public parks, restaurants, theaters, the concert hall. A synagogue was burned down, but the fire trucks that answered the alarm worked only to keep the flames from spreading to other buildings.

Then an edict came singling Jews out by requiring them to wear bright yellow Stars of David sewn onto their coats and jackets with the word Jood (Dutch for “Jew”) prominently placed in the center. Disappearances began. No one knew for sure if the missing people had gone into hiding or were secretly arrested by the Gestapo. At any rate, public arrests became more frequent.

Eventually the Ten Booms discussed what they should do to help these persecuted people. Willem, the only boy of the family, had already successfully found hiding places for a number of Dutch Jews living in the nursing home he ran in nearby Hilversum. Should an opportunity arise, Corrie, Betsie and their father wanted to be ready to help as well.

To be continued.

See “People of Faith: Corrie ten Boom, Part 2.”

Published in: on May 15, 2012 at 5:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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