Corrie Ten Boom fearlessly stood for helping Jews and people with disabilities when the Nazis were exterminating them, becoming one of the great civilian heroes of World War II. Here's what she did and why her life still has powerful lessons for us today.
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Corrie Ten Boom's Life According to Her Own Words
What would you do if your friends were being killed because of their faith in God or skin color? Would you take a stand to help them? What if you didn't even know the people being killed? Would you be willing to risk your own life to save theirs?
That is exactly what Corrie ten Boom's family did in Holland in 1943. Germany had invaded their country as the Nazis took control of most of Europe. Corrie and her family could have helped the Nazis and been rewarded, but they didn't. Instead, they took a huge risk to help the Jewish people and paid dearly for it. Here is Corrie's story based on her own writings, speeches, and interviews.
Not Now, Dear Lord
I had been sick for several days with a bad case of the flu. The high fever made me sleepy, so I stayed in bed, hoping to feel better in the morning. But I was awakened by screams and the sound of feet rushing toward my room. At first I thought it was one of the many drills we had practiced to hide the Jews who now lived with my family. But this time it was not a drill. German soldiers were raiding our home, looking for the Jewish people that they had heard we were hiding.
Instantly, I leaped from my bed to help our guests hurry into the secret space that had been built inside a wall in my room. Once they were inside, I quickly closed the hidden door to the safe place and slipped back into bed. I pretended to be fast asleep. As soon as my eyes were closed, the soldiers rushed into my room; they forced me to get out of bed and get dressed. They wanted to know where the Jews were. But neither my sister nor I would tell them. We were slapped and hit by the soldiers. Blood trickled down our swollen faces, but we were willing to die rather than tell where they were. The Nazi soldiers punched holes in the walls looking for the hiding place, but they couldnÃªt find it. My family, including my 84-year-old father, was handcuffed and forced to march into the dark night to the police station.
Our Peaceful Life Is Shattered
How different from when I was growing up in Haarlem, Holland. Life was so peaceful then. I helped out in my father's clock repair shop on the bottom floor of our home. Our family was well-liked in our neighborhood. I even taught a Bible class and started several girls' clubs that became popular in Holland. But the problems we heard about in other parts of Europe would soon affect our family and all of Holland.
The Nazis Make Life Miserable for Everyone
In Germany, Adolf Hitler and his followers (Nazis) began treating German Jews badly. They took away their jobs, their homes and most of their rights. They forced them to go to prisons, known as concentration camps. The Nazis also invaded other countries. They made Jewish people, and others they did not like, work like slaves in forced labor camps.
Most Dutch people thought our country would never be invaded, but they were wrong. The same night our president announced that our country was safe, bombs exploded over our cities. Within five days, the country was under German control.
Life began to change for the Jewish people in Holland first. Every week there was something new they couldn't do. They lost their jobs, or their businesses were taken away; they were banned from many public places, and they were denied food. Jewish men were sent away. Many were never heard from again. Some Dutch people became unkind to their Jewish neighbors. The Germans gave them special privileges for telling on Jewish people. But our family and many others knew we had to help those targeted. We had a safe room built in the wall of our house. Even though the Nazis searched hard, they never found it, so they never found the Jews who were hidden there. They did find enough written material to send us to prison, though.
A Prison Number Tattooed on My Arm
After that frightful night when our house was invaded, I was put in prison. We slept in beds filled with fleas, and ate stale bread and thin soup. We were not called by our names but by the numbers that were given to us. My number was 66730. It was tattooed on my arm.
One day a guard took me to a doctor to get medicine for the high fever and cough I had. I was surprised when a nurse asked if she could get anything for me. I asked for a Bible. The nurse returned with copies of the four Gospels. I would have been in serious trouble if I had been caught with them, but having a Bible was worth any possible punishment. I shared the Bibles with the other women and even held Bible studies when the guards were out of sight.
The night we were taken to jail was the last time our family was ever together. My father died of pneumonia ten days after being put in prison. My sister, Betsie, who was with me in prison, encouraged me to keep trusting in God and reminded me that "there is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper." Betsie, who forgave her captors, died in prison just three days before I was scheduled for release. The Lord allowed me to survive despite the horrible conditions. After ten long months in the forced labor camp, I was released. Some say I was let out because of an error, but I know God had a plan for my life.
After getting better, I started a home for people who needed help emotionally to recover from the war. I later traveled worldwide telling of God's love and forgiveness. Eventually, I could even forgive my captors for all they had done. The story of my life and my family's life has been seen worldwide in a movie called The Hiding Place.
Make It Real! Questions to make you dig a little deeper and think a little harder.
1. In what ways did God provide comfort for Corrie throughout her terrible ordeal?
2. Have you ever been made fun of because of your faith in Jesus? What should kids do if they find themselves in that situation?
3. Have you ever had to stand up for a friend who was being mistreated?
4. Have you heard of any places in the world today where people are being cruelly mistreated?
1. Corrie Ten Boom: Keeper of the Angel's Den by Janet & Geoff Benge (Christian Heroes Then and Now series, YWAM Publications)
2. Corrie Ten Boom by Kathleen White (Women of Faith series, Bethany House)
3. Corrie Ten Boom: Heroine of Haarlem by Sam Wellman (Heroes of the Faith series, Barbour)
(This article first published July 16, 2010)
Corrie Ten Boom Suffered More than Flu
Corrie woke on this morning, February 28, 1944, with the flu. For two days she had suffered with it. Every tiny sound shot through her throbbing head, making her miserable. She wanted to shout to everyone, "Get out." But she couldn't do that. The secret compartment in which she hid Jews opened through her room. For safety's sake, their bedding and belongings had to be stowed out of sight during the day. She would simply have to endure the jolting sounds which jabbed at her like daggers.
She fell back to sleep. Betsie woke her, a cup of tea in hand. There was a man to see Corrie, she said. He claimed to be from the underground. Betsie had never seen him before.
Corrie weakly struggled down the stairs, clinging to the rail so as not to fall. The caller made her uneasy. He would not meet her eyes. His wife had been arrested for hiding Jews, he said. He needed money to bribe the police for her release. Somehow Corrie wasn't sure about his story. But then, what if it was true? She arranged for the money and struggled back upstairs to bed.
Through the fog of feverish sleep she seemed to hear a buzzer ringing. People rushed past her, bolting for the secret room. Corrie came awake. It was the emergency buzzer and this was no drill. Her family was betrayed!
Leaping from bed, she slammed shut the sliding door behind the last of the Jews. Then with horror she saw her bag on the floor, the one with the addresses of her contacts. She opened the hidden door and flung that into the hiding place also. Desperately she shut the door again, hoping she was quicker than the Gestapo. She had just fallen back into bed when the secret police entered.
(Reprinted from "Corrie Ten Boom Suffered More than Flu" by Dan Graves, MSL. First published on Christianity.com on May 3, 2010)
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Photo credit: Flickr/tenboom.org
This article is part of our People of Christianity catalog that features the stories, meaning, and significance of well-known people from the Bible and history. Here are some of the most popular articles for knowing important figures in Christianity: