Fall of 1939 was the start of one of the deadliest conflicts in human history. Its’ massive death of both civilian and military personnel resulted in over 70 million fatalities.
On September 1, 1939 Germany invaded Poland and declarations of war were soon made by France and most of the countries of the British Empire and Commonwealth. World War II had begun and systematically was sweeping its way through Europe and sadly the Netherlands was in its path.
In Haarlem Netherland, an industrious city known for its beautiful tulips, silks, and beer, lived a devoted christian family of the surname ten Boom. Their ancestors had been settled for hundreds of years in the land of the Dutch and all that they knew, lived, and loved had been carefully handed down through the many generations of ten Booms before them. Little did they know that the approaching Nazi horde would violently attempt to unravel the fabric that held them together and attempt to destroy the world that they knew and loved.
Stepping Back 102 years – Willem ten Boom
In 1837, a man named Willem ten Boom, a devout Christian and a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, opened a clock shop in Haarlem Netherlands. Here he eked out a middle class lifestyle making and repairing clocks and watches of various types.
Little is recorded of Willem’s life except that his home resided over top of his shop and he raised his children in the belief of his strong christian faith and taught them in the way of his craft. What we do know is that in 1844, after listening to an inspiring worship service, Willem started a weekly prayer service to pray for the Jewish people and the peace of Jerusalem. It is said that he loved God and therefore loved God’s people.
His devotion and commitment to his prayer service became a normal function in his home so much so that when his son Casper grew to be an adult, he would adopt his father’s legacy and continue the tradition of praying for the Jewish people with his own family. These prayer meetings continued for 100 years until February 28, 1944 when the Nazi’s invaded the clock makers shop.
Stepping Forward – Casper ten Boom (Willem’s son)
Casper ten Boom was born in Haarlem in 1859 and was raised in a christian home where his father taught him the craft of watchmaking.
At the age of eighteen, Casper moved to Amsterdam and started a jewelry store but after some time he returned home to Haarlem and his father’s shop.
In 1884 he married Cornelia Luitingh and like his father, raised his four children, three girls, and a son (one of his son’s died in infancy) in the same clock shop that he grew up in.
In 1921 Cornelia suffered a massive stroke and died leaving Casper a widower at the age of 62.
Step into 1943 – German occupied Netherlands
Now in his 80’s, Casper ten Boom lived with his two unmarried daughters, Betsie and Corrie, and continued to work in his watch shop. His son Willem (named after Casper’s father) and daughter Nollie, had each married and now lived in homes of their own.
Even though Casper was in his 80’s he was still very much involved with his church and community work. His weekly prayer service for the Jewish people, the one that his father began almost 100 years ago, was still routine in his home. But the news of occupied Netherlands was a daily reality and Casper knew that it was just a matter of time before the Nazi would be inhabiting Haarlem.
In sensing the coming of the Nazi tide his devotion to “God’s people” caused him to put his faith into action in spite of possible persecution and imprisonment. He committed to turn his home into a refuge for the Jewish people and members of the Dutch underground who were being hunted by the Nazi. As the number of those seeking asylum increased, Casper decided to have a secret room built in case a Nazi raid took place. He chose Corrie’s bedroom because it was the highest part of the house which would give people time to hide and avoid detection.
A member of the Dutch resistance designed the hidden room which was concealed behind a false wall. Slowly, over a course of time, family and supporters brought bricks and other building supplies into the house by hiding them in briefcases and rolled-up newspapers.
When the secret room was finished it was about 30 inches deep and the size of a medium wardrobe. It had a ventilation system and an electric buzzer to sound a warning.
To enter the secret room a person had to open a sliding panel in the plastered brick wall located under a bottom bookshelf. Then they would crawl in on their hands and knees turn to their right and enter into the small room. Though it was small it provided a safe haven for those who needed to hide when Germans customers or soldiers would enter the shop.
From 1943 – 1944 Casper and his daughters, Betsie and Corrie, provided this hiding place which estimates saving the lives of 800 Jews. However, on February 28, 1944 Casper’s family was betrayed by what they thought to be a friend and the Gestapo raided their home.
After the Nazi’s entered and secured those who were present, the Nazi’s set a trap by waiting throughout the day to seize everyone who came to the house. By that evening over 20 people had been taken into custody including Casper, Corrie, Betsie, and his other children who had come to visit that day, Willem, Nollie, and grandson Peter.
In spite of the Gestapo’s thorough search that day, six people were safely hidden in the secret room and remained undetected. The house continued to be under guard for the remainder of that evening and through the next day. But those hiding stayed quiet in the small dark hiding place and fared well even though they had no water and little food. Two days later the Resistance was able to liberate the refugees and lead them to a new safe house.
Though the Nazi did not find any harbored Jews, the ten Boom family was imprisoned because the Nazi’s found underground materials and extra ration cards in their home.
Casper ten Boom was 84 when he was sent to Scheveningen Prison. When the Gestapo interrogated him they informed Casper that they would release him because of his age so that he could “die in his own bed.” Casper replied, “If I go home today, tomorrow I will open my door to anyone who knocks for help.” When the Gestapo asked him if he knew that he could die for helping Jews, he replied, “It would be an honor to give my life for God’s chosen people.”
On March 10, 1944, after ten days in Scheveningen prison, Casper died of tuberculous at the Hague Municipal Hospital. But his legacy of faith, deeply rooted into the lives of his daughters lived on. Their witness and testimony has become world renowned.
In my next post I will continue the story of the ten Booms and their incredible journey that left us an example of how to love and forgive our enemies.
A Father’s Legacy – is a mini-series highlighting the lives of the Ten Boom family. It consist of six post showcasing the sacrifice and bravery of this heroic family during the most inhumane history of modern time. Next post in series – Cords of Faith
- Grandmother, 90, finally reveals her astonishing past as Dutch resistance fighter who hid Jewish families from the Nazis (dailymail.co.uk)