People of Faith: Corrie ten Boom, Part 2

At the end of Part 1: Corrie, her sister Betsie, and their father are living in Holland in an oddly constructed house called the Beje, during World War II. As the persecution of Jews intensifies, they look for opportunities to help those in need.

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A year and a half after the occupation began, a need presented itself to them. The police raided the furrier shop across the street from the Beje, evicting the Jewish owner. Mr. Weil, whose wife was away visiting friends, stood alone in the street, unable to return to his home over his shop. The Ten Booms befriended him and slipped him out of town to Willem.

Six months later a Jewish woman was similarly evicted from her clothing store. Afraid to return to her apartment, she went to the Ten Booms, saying she heard they had helped someone like her before.

Two nights later an elderly couple in similar circumstances arrived. Corrie traveled to Hilversum, again seeking Willem’s help. He told her she would have to develop her own network—operatives and resources for things like food ration cards and identification papers.

As Jews in need continued to turn up at the Beje, Corrie found the connections she needed by God’s direction. Eventually Willem’s son Kik introduced her to the “professional” underground, and her number of contacts grew. One such person, a Mr. Smit (the name used by all those in their organization to protect their identity), volunteered to build a secret room in the Beje. In the event of a raid, any people passing through their station would have a place to hide.

He chose a room at the top of the three-tiered oddly constructed building—Corrie’s room—and there he and his workers surreptitiously built a two-and-a-half-foot-wide room accessed by a crawl space near her bed.

The underground activity continued throughout the next year and spread from helping Jews to hiding military-age boys to keep them from conscription. The network of workers grew to eighty elderly women and middle-aged men, with the Beje at the center of the web. Eventually, however, finding safe homes outside the city for the numbers of people moving through their underground station became harder and harder, particularly for those with distinct Semitic features. Thus four men and soon after, three women became borders in the Beje.

On February 28, 1944, because of information provided by a collaborator posing as someone in need, the dreaded raid occurred. While the guests boarding at the Beje were able to hide in the secret room, the family members and a number of others present for a Bible study were arrested. In addition, some underground workers came to the watch shop to warn of the impending raid, and they too were taken into custody.

In all, thirty-five of Corrie’s family and friends were transported and imprisoned in the federal penitentiary in Scheveningen outside The Hague. Within ten days, Corrie’s eighty-four-year-old father Casper ten Boom died, though she wouldn’t learn of his passing until April.

Two weeks into her imprisonment, Corrie was taken to solitary confinement. While the ensuing four months of isolation felt like punishment because she was not allowed to speak to anyone, including the prisoners who delivered her meals, she later learned she was separated from the other inmates because of her illness. Two days before the raid, she had started running a fever, and in prison her condition worsened to “severe pleurisy.”

Two months into her prison stay, she began receiving periodic letters and packages, in particular from her sister Nollie who, along with the other family members except Betsie and her father, had been released.

When Corrie recovered from her illness, she was summoned to appear before a German officer to determine her sentence. Led by God she seized the opportunity to ask this lieutenant if there was darkness in his life. When he admitted there was no light at all, she told him about Jesus, the Light of the world. This man, who years later Corrie led to Christ, arranged for the Ten Boom family to gather in his office for the reading of their father’s will. Nollie used the occasion to give both Corrie and Betsie small Bibles placed in pouches they could wear around their necks.

Early in June the inmates were moved to Vught, a concentration camp for political prisoners located in southern Holland. At last, Corrie’s isolation was over. By God’s providence she located Betsie as the guards herded the prisoners onto a train. The sisters stayed together for the next six months.

While in Vught, they continued to receive occasional encouragement and supplies from home, though these “privileges” were often revoked by the guards as punishment wielded against an entire barracks. Corrie and Betsie spent long days on work details and regularly battled hunger and illness.

Sundays altered the camp routine. Without assignment demands, the Ten Boom sisters took walks and sat outside in the sun, but most important, they began conducting worship services with other prisoners. By August they had a group of sixty in attendance.

In September, however, the Nazis committed mass executions on the men’s side of the camp and once again loaded the women on a train—this time packing them in freight cars for the journey to Ravensbruck, a concentration camp in Germany.

Life there, in such close proximity to a crematorium, was bleak and the conditions inhumane. Besides the humiliation of having to parade naked in front of the male guards for health inspections, the women were packed into lice and flea infested barracks.

Prompted by the Scripture the two sisters read that morning, Betsie insisted they thank God for their new environment. They thanked Him they were together, that they had His Word. They thanked Him for the overcrowding because many more people could hear God’s life-giving message of salvation. And Betsie said they should thank Him for the fleas.

Though Corrie could see no reason to thank God for an infestation that added to their misery, she joined Betsie out of obedience and trust in what God said in His Word. Later when the two conducted daily services in their barracks without interference from the Germans, they learned they enjoyed this freedom because the guards did not want to go where there were fleas.

To be continued.

See “People of Faith: Corrie ten Boom, Part 3.”

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