Today Corrie Ten Boom is known as an evangelist who survived after being imprisoned in a concentration camp. Before that, she was a young lady involved in the family business: watchmaking. It was their decision to take in people including Jews who were fleeing for lives from the Nazis that began the journey of the Ten Booms we know today.
Corrie Ten Boom, the Jews, And The War
The Ten Booms were a family of watchmakers and for about 100 years had been keeping a prayer group for Israel and Jewish people. This line started from Wilhelm Ten Boom who passed it down to Casper Ten Boom, Corrie’s father. The family was also active in social work.
At the start of World War II, the Nazis began to target people including mentally disabled people and Jews. To provide aid, the Ten Booms family started an underground work of providing safe passage for those in danger. The family included Casper Ten Boom, Corrie’s widowed father, her siblings, Nollie, Bestie, Wilhelm and her nephew, Peter.
As Corrie and Betsie continued their work, they caught the attention of the Dutch Resistance. The Resistance sent someone who helped the Ten Booms build a hidden chamber in Corrie’s room for the people to live in. Surprisingly, the Ten Booms did not try to convert the Jews to Christianity but instead respected their Sabbaths and customs.
Through this work, Corrie and her family risked their lives and were able to save about 800 people from being killed. Sadly, an informant informed the German Police about the Ten Booms and a search was conducted in their house. When resistance materials and ration cards were found in their house, about 30 people were arrested and sent to Scheveningen Prison. What the police missed were the six people hidden in the secret compartment in Corrie’s bedroom.
The Ten Booms in Prison
After a few days in prison, Corrie received a secret note that those hidden in the chamber had been successfully extracted and safe. Although most of the people who were arrested were released, the Ten Booms were kept in prison. Casper Ten Boom who was 84 at the time of the arrest died 10 days after the arrest. After being kept in solitary confinement for some time, Corrie was finally arraigned for the first trial where she defended her work with mentally challenged people, knowing the eugenics beliefs that the Nazis held. She insisted that in God’s eyes, they were also important.
After the trial, Corrie and her sister, Betsie were sent to Herzogenbusch, a political concentration camp and finally to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, a women’s labor camp in Germany. There, Betsie and Corrie started their Evangelical work, holding services after the hard and long day’s work at the camp. They would use a Bible which they had smuggled in and through those services, converted many people to Christianity. The Ten Boom sisters spent years in the camp and were making plans to open a healing center for people after the war.
Wilhelm, Corrie’s brother contracted spinal meningitis in prison and died a short while after his release. Christiaan (Corrie’s nephew) was sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and did not return.
On December 16, 1944, at the age of 59, Betsie Ten Boom died in Ravensbrück twelve days before Corrie was released due to a ‘clerical error.’ A week after Corrie’s release, all the women in her age group were sent to the gas Chambers.
Corrie Ten Boom returned home to continue the work of helping those who were mentally disabled find safety.
Corrie And The Gestapo Officer
After her release, she began speaking at different places, sharing the Word of God and her experiences.
After speaking in a meeting in 1947 in Munich, where people would listen silently and leave in the same manner, Corrie was surprised to see a bald man in a gray overcoat walking towards her. She recognized him instantly. He was one of the most wicked guards at Ravensbrück. She remembered walking naked past him in the line and hearing him mock the women as they showered.
He did not recognize her but noticed she mentioned Ravensbrück while speaking.
“I was a guard there… but since then, I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, will you forgive me?” he asked, stretching out his hand to her.
Corrie stood in front of the former SS officer, struggling to forgive the man who had worked in the Ravensbrück, the place where her sister had died. As the man stood there waiting for her to take his hand, Corrie—a woman who advocated for forgiveness—struggled to extend forgiveness and her hand to her former captor.
She then remembered that forgiveness is an act of the will — not an emotion. “Jesus, help me!” she prayed. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
Corrie reached out her hand and took the officer’s own.
“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. With all my heart” she cried. They stood there a long while, holding hands and both experiencing the power of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is important if we want to heal. Corrie’s story serves to remind us of that truth.
Ruth Torty loves writing on different topics.