Born on April 15, 1892, Cornelia Arnolda Johanna “Corrie” ten Boom grew up in the city of Haarlem, North Holland, where her grandfather, Willem, started and operated a well-known watch shop. Her father, Casper, later inherited the watch shop, and Corrie and her three siblings grew up in the living quarters just upstairs. The living quarters were small, but they were just big enough to house the family of six, along with Corrie’s three aunts.
Corrie’s family were devoted Christians, active in the Dutch Reformed Church and in their local religious community. Hymns and classical music were commonly sung or played throughout the house. Corrie’s father would prioritize a family Bible reading and prayer each morning and evening. Faith was extremely important to the Ten Boom family, and it shaped every facet of the way they lived their lives.
It was important to Corrie’s parents that their daughters received a secondary education and their son completed both university and seminary degrees. After Corrie graduated from secondary education, she continued her education with courses at a Bible school and spent two years following in her father’s footsteps learning the watchmaking trade. She soon became Holland’s first licensed female watchmaker.
Corrie went on to create a ministry for teen girls where meetings consisted of Bible studies, games, music, singing, sewing, handcrafts, folk dancing, and gymnastics. This eventually led to the founding of the Girl Guide clubs of Holland in which Corrie emphasized the need for the young girls to not only become moral, upright citizens of Holland but to also be spiritually grounded in Christ.
As the Second World War loomed, the girls’ clubs were forced to close.
The German Blitzkrieg stormed through the Netherlands in May 1940, and the quiet, humble lives the Dutch people once lived were forever disrupted. Out of faith in Christ and love for others, the ten Boom family offered their home, known as the “Beje,” as a refuge for Jews, students, and others being hunted down by the Nazis. A secret room was built into Corrie’s bedroom behind a faux wall. The tiny space, no larger than a closet, could hold up to six people; the “hiding place” would effectively shield the Jews when the Gestapo barged in for routine security sweeps.
It was typical during these years that five to six people at a time lived with the Ten Booms. Anyone else who came to seek refuge would stay anywhere between a few hours or a few days until they could safely be moved to another of the network’s “safe houses.” Due to the willingness of Corrie, her family, and others to endanger themselves for the sake of others, the “Beje” movement saved the lives of over 800 Jews.
In 1944, the Ten Boom family was betrayed. A Dutch informant reported to the Nazis that the family was housing fugitives just above the watch shop. It wasn’t long before the Gestapo surveilled and raided the home, arresting 35 people, including Corrie.
Ironically, despite thoroughly searching the house, the eager German soldiers never found the six Jews who were safely hidden behind the wall in Corrie’s room. They stayed there nearly 47 hours before being rescued by the Dutch underground. Unfortunately, the Ten Boom family were all taken away.
Corrie’s father fell ill and died in the Scheveningen prison just ten days later, and Corrie and her sister Betsie were sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp near Berlin. Corrie and her sister knew that God was their only true “hiding place” and strength in time of need.
Fully reliant on Him, the two sisters were able to sneak a Bible past guards into their barracks and share God’s Word and the love of Christ with fellow prisoners. The lice-infested bunks were the only thing keeping guards from doing regular sweeps, and the Bible was never discovered. Corrie later wrote, “We praise God for the lice!” As a result, by God’s grace, many women there came to know the Lord.
Betsie died there on December 16, 1944, and two days later, Corrie was handed a certificate of discharge as a result of a clerical error.
Upon Corrie’s return to the Netherlands, she was able to open a rehabilitation home for survivors of the concentration camps. She even took in those who had cooperated with the Germans during the war. Her experience in Ravensbrück spurred her on to tell others of her experience and the saving Gospel message. She told as many people as she could of the love and provision of the Lord, of obedience, of forgiveness, and of the faith that carried her through those difficult years.
Later in life, Corrie wrote The Hiding Place and Tramp for the Lord to detail her experiences and the favor God showed her. She had been utterly dependent on Christ, and He had sustained her throughout the dark times.
Corrie traveled around the world to more than 60 countries, spreading the Gospel wherever she went. On one trip to Munich, in particular, Corrie was speaking at a church where a Ravensbrück guard was present. He had since become a born-again believer and approached Corrie afterwards to ask her forgiveness. For a moment, Corrie recoiled at the prospect, as she later explained in The Hiding Place:
“I thought of how my dying sister had suffered through his cruelties, but I knew from the Bible that Jesus had said if we do not forgive, the Heavenly Father will not forgive us our sins. I know from the Bible that hatred means murder in God’s eyes, but I also know from the Bible what to do with my murder. I said, ‘Oh, Father, forgive me in Jesus’ name my hatred.’
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’ For a long moment, we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”
Corrie died on her birthday at age 91.
Corrie’s legacy lives on today as Christians around the world reflect on her faith, her courage, her faithfulness, and her willingness to forgive others. She is an example to young women of the faith of how in the most dire of circumstances, all we have is Christ, and still, He is enough to sustain us.
Psalm 73:25-26 says this:
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
May we all be like Corrie Ten Boom: Quick to forgive, gracious to love others, and faithful to rely on the Lord as our portion and strength, even when all is lost. After all, whom have we on earth, as in heaven, but Him?
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