© 1971 Corrie ten Boom, John and Elizabeth Sherrill
When Corrie ten Boom turned in her family radio to the Nazi officials who had taken control of her town and her country and was asked if anyone else in the home had another set, she looked him square in the face and said "No". As she departed, she shuddered -- not from the fear of encountering an agent of tyranny, but from how easy it was to lie. The ten Booms were a deeply religious family whose watchmaking business opened and closed it day with the reading of Scripture, and even lying for the good did not come easy to the ten Boom sisters. But it would have to, because as the Nazi consolidation of power in the Netherlands began, and their Jewish friends fell under duress, the tiny watchmaking-shop became the hiding place for a group of resistance fighters and Jewish citizens seeking refuge from the government. It was last until late 1944, but even when the family had been seized by the SS and imprisoned in camps, there still remained one hiding place more. The Hiding Place is both a wartime memoir and a work of Christian testimony, declaring and demonstrating that light can shine in the darkness.
From the beginning, the hiding place was not a great secret. The hidden compartment was physically well-concealed, but no one could miss the sheer amount of people entering and exiting the building, and the neighbors had to ask (very quietly) if they couldn't keep the Hanukkah singing down just a little bit. The local police also knew, but had no interest in helping their grey-uniformed bosses in persecuting the innocents. Someone did want to help the Germans, however, as the family was betrayed and imprisoned. (Their wards, however, escaped notice!) Eventually Corrie herself would travel to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp. But that's where the memoir comes something else altogether, as the ten Boom sisters are isolated from one another and forced to rely on nothing but their faith to keep them sane -- and not just sane, but human. The Gospel stories kept hope alive in the face of brutality -- and kept them from sinking into despair and deadened souls. The camps destroyed many who survived, inflicting long-lasting psychological trauma, but ten Boom emerged from the war as a more fervent Christian missionary. Remarkably, she and her sister refused to hate those who abused and humiliated them, and killed their father; they constantly expressed thanks for whatever small mercies they can see, and even when Corrie is being interrogated by an SS official, his skull-and-crossbones staring her down, she urges him to turn away from the darkness and look to the light.
In their darkest hours, the ten Boom sisters shared hope for the future -- dreams of what they would do when they were released. They wanted to turn their home into a refuge for those who had been crippled by it. This was not new to the ten Booms: even during the war they sought to shelter and teach the mentally infirm, who were left without resources by the Nazis and threatened with euthanasia. ten Boom shared a vision of having a place where former collaborators could redeem themselves by serving those whom they'd previously oppressed. This, she admits, did not work out well: there were too many fights between both sides, each holding the other in resentment. Even so, her shelter was one of the few places open to homeless former collaborators. The ten Booms' refusal to give in to hate is utterly inspiring in a day when spite and contempt saturate every political argument, when old hatreds are constantly given new life and the bleeding sores of politics never allowed to heal.
"It was a day for memories. A day for calling up the past. How could have guessed as we sat there -- to middle-aged spinsters and an old man -- that in place of memories we were about to be given adventure such as we had never dreamed of. Adventure and anguish, horror and heaven were just around the corner, and we did not know.
Oh Father! Betsie! If I had known would I have gone ahead? Could I have done the things I did?