A Continuance of – A Father’s Legacy
On February 28, 1944 the Nazi’s stormed the humble watchmakers shop. It marked the beginning of the end for several of the ten Boom family as they were forced to walk the road towards imprisonment and/or death.
At the prodding of gunpoint, six family members were marched through the streets on that dreadful day. Six were paraded into the local jail and subjected to hours of endless questioning. And six found a cold and sleepless night as they laid on thin mats lining the hard jail floor.
On February 29th, the six ten booms were loaded onto a bus and transported to Scheveningen prison and again subjected to hours of drilling interrogations. When all the tactics had been performed and the questioning finally came to an end, the six family members were divided and led in separate directions…some to never be seen again.
As Casper’s daughters, Betsie, Nollie and Corrie, were being led out of the detainment room, Corrie turned and gazed desperately at her nephew Peter, her brother Willem and father Casper. In her words she gives us a glimpse of the terror that the moment held for her. The moment where she began to realize that she may never see her loved ones again.
“Father!” I cried suddenly, “God be with you!” His head turned toward me. The harsh overhead light flashed from his glasses. “And with you… my daughters.”
I turned and followed the others.. behind me the door slammed closed. “And with you. And with you! Oh father, when will I see you next?” Corrie ten Boom
In former post of A Father’s Legacy we learned that Nollie, Willem and Peter were eventually released from Scheveningen Prison.
- We learned that Willem, while in prison, contracted spinal tuberculous which would claimed his life approximately a year and a half later.
- We sadly discovered that Casper ten Boom died from tuberculous only ten days into his imprisonment.
- After her release, Nollie became a life line to her imprisoned sisters by sending letters and approved supplies. However, in spite of the risk of imprisonment or the forfeit of her life, she would also smuggle them illegal contraband such as Bibles and medications.
- Little information has been recorded on Peter’s activity after his release, but we do know that he survived the war and went on to become a spokesman advocating that forgiveness is the only way to overcome hatred.
“Father!..God be with You!”….”And with you…my daughters.” Casper ten Boom
Elizabeth ten Boom, nicknamed Betsie, was born on August 19, 1885 and was the first born child of Casper and Cornelia ten Boom.
In early childhood Betsie was diagnose with pernicious anemia, a decrease in red blood cells that occurs when the body cannot properly absorb vitamin B12 (vitamin B12 is necessary for the proper development of red blood cells). This illness prevented Betsie from bearing children, so she chose at a young age not to marry. This condition also caused her to be frail and susceptible to illnesses.
Betsie served many roles in her father’s house. She was the book keeper for his watch business and cook for all of the family meals as well as organize and help manage their family home. It is said that she had a eye for decorating and could transform the most barest room into a cozy and homey refuge.
Betsie, like her father, was a devoted christian and was heavily involved in helping her sister Corrie with disable children.
On the day that she and her family were arrested, Betsie, along with other family members, was attending Prayer services being led by her brother Willem on the second floor over the family’s watch shop.
While being interrogated as to where they were hiding the Jews and ration cards, Betsie’s silence awarded her abusive blows across her face. Her response to the soldiers’ harsh treatment (told by her sister Corrie who had remarked to Betsie about how much he had hurt her) was that she dabbed the blood from her mouth and said, “I feel so sorry for him.”
Scheveningen Prison – Cell #312
On the day that Betsie, and her sisters were led down the narrow corridors of Scheveningen prison she soon found herself placed in a crowded cell without of the company of her younger sisters. It would be the first time that she and her youngest sister, Corrie, had ever been separated from each other.
Cell #312, as were all the cells, was deep and narrow, scarcely wider than the door. One cot with a straw mattress and several straw ticks (pallets) were provided for bedding. The straw used to fill the bedding was sour and the pungent odor permeated the small confines of the cell. One light bulb, hanging from a single wire, loomed overhead and there was no window provided. It was a cold and dismal environment, void of warmth and humane treatment.
In The Hiding Place Corrie shares that one day as she was being led down the prison corridor that she had the chance to briefly glimpse the inside of cell #312. This is what she observed.
- “Betsie’s back was to the corridor. I could see only the graceful up swept bun of her chestnut hair. The other women in the cell stared curiously into the corridor; but her head remained bent over something in her lap. But I had seen the home Betsie had made in Scheveningen. For unbelievably, against all logic, this cell was charming. My eyes seized only a few details as I inched reluctantly past. The straw pallets were rolled instead of piled in a heap, standing like little pillars along the walls, each with a lady’s hat atop it. A headscarf had somehow been hung along the wall. The contents of several food packages were arranged on a small shelf. Even the coats hanging on their hooks were part of the welcome of that room, each sleeve draped over the shoulder of the coat next to it like a row of dancing children.”
Betsie’s homemaking of a small prison cell may seem frivolous to mention but it proves to expose her ability to see beyond her circumstances and find a way to make the best of a dreadful situation. To bring order and care to an environment void of both no doubt brought a sense of stability and dignity to all of those who were housed inside. Against all odds and little means she created a home for the homeless.
June 1944, after spending four months in prison, Betsie, along with the rest of the prisoners of Scheveningen, were evacuated to Herzogenbusch concentration camp in Vught. This camp was referred to by the Dutch as Camp Vught and was the only concentration camp in the Netherlands run directly by the SS.
Crematories, gallows, severe acts of cruelty, hunger, lack of clothing and polluted water was no stranger to Camp Vught. Prisoners were to work and those that couldn’t were disposed.
During the evacuation of Scheveningen, Betsie was reunited with her sister Corrie as they were herded onto the train heading to Camp Vught. Once inside, the ride lasted a couple of hours before they disembarked and were marched down a mile of muddy road ending at a barbed wire fence that lead into the camp.
Work details were assigned and due to Betsie’s infirmities, she was delegated, along with the other sick or elderly, the task of sewing prison uniforms.
Barrack living was the staple at Herzongenbusch and overcrowded conditions was an understatement. Regardless of the terrible conditions Betsie endeavored to bring the Light into a dark place and every night she would hold prayer meetings and read the Bible to her fellow captives. This was of great risk for it was a crime that would meet swift execution if she was to be caught.
While in Camp Vught, Betsie learned from fellow prisoners the identity of the informant who turned her family over to the Gestapo. His name was Jan Vogel, a man that they had trusted. When she relayed the information to her sister, Corrie reacted with internal rage and brooded for several days. Then one night, when her thoughts could not be contained any longer, Corrie asked her sister if she felt anything about Jan Vogel and if knowing that he had betrayed them bother her? Betsie replied, “Oh Yes Corrie, terribly! I’ve felt for him ever since I knew…and pray for him whenever his name comes to mind. How dreadfully he must be suffering!”
Betsie had been interned at Camp Vught for ten weeks when yet another evacuation occurred. She, along with her sister, were once again herded onto a train but this time in a freight car packed with 80 women inside. The train ride lasted for four days and during that time little food and water was offered and no sanitation was provided. The conditions of the freight car had become unbearable and many had grown sick and weak, Betsie was one of them.
When the train finally came to a halt most of the occupants inside the car had to crawl to disembark. After buckets of water had been issued and the majority were able to stand, the march began, Betsie was aided by her sister.
One mile they walked with the final lap going up hill. When they crested the top they saw a square city of gray barracks surrounded by concrete walls, guard towers and electrified fence. In the center was a square smokestack busily puffing out a gray vapor into the air. They had arrived at Ravensbruck….the notorious women’s extermination camp.
Shortly after arrival the large hoard of prisoners were led to a tent-like enclosure (no walls) with straw strewn underneath on the ground. As Betsie and her sister sat to rest, they quickly realized that the straw was infested with lice. It was here that scissors were passed out and each woman began the task of cutting their hair. Betsie’s bun was to be no more.
Before nightfall the soldiers drove the women out from underneath the tent and forced them to spend the night outside, unprotected from the elements and to lay on the bare and damp ground.
Betsie and her sister huddled together underneath a blanket and as they settled in for the night the sound of thunder began to roll across the sky. Betsie’s response was to sing the hymn, Lead Kindly Light, and before long others joined in.
Lead, kindly Light, amid the circling gloom– Lead Thou me on. The night is dark, and I am far from home–Lead Thou me on. Keep Thou my feet, I do not ask to see– the distant scene one step enough for me.–O lux aeterna, Lead thou me on — O lux beata, Lead, Kindly light, lead me on– So Long Thy power has blessed me, sure it still will lead me on. Over moor and fen, over crag and torrent, till the night is gone. And with the morn those angel faces smile, which I have loved long since, and lost awhile. O lux aeterna, Lead thou me on–O lux beata, Lead, Kindly light, lead me on. The night is dark and I am far from home–O lux aeterna, Lead thou me on (O light everlasting) O lux beata, Lead, Kindly light, lead me on. Lead Thou me home.
Two days and nights Betsie slept on the muddy ground underneath the night sky. Dismal food and hours of standing to attention lent its aid in the continuance of her declining health and by the time she was processed (striped naked and subjected to an ice water shower) she could barely walk and suffered from a deep cough and chronic diarrhea.
Betsie and her sister were assigned to Barrack 8, a quarantine compound that was located next to the “punishment” barracks where Corrie describes the sounds that came from there was from hell itself.
Those confined in Barracks 8 was subjected to stand at attention ten hours a day and for all of those ten hours they endured the sounds of excruciating agony and screams that came from the compound next to them. Little did they know that those sounds were actually the results of human suffering caused by sadistic medical experiments.
Inside the barracks overcrowded conditions abounded, six slept to a single bed and misery was abundant. Betsie in her frail state took what little energy she had and read the Bible diligently to those around her and soon the numbers that pressed in to listen increased and so did their hope.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”
The Nazi had stripped all that they could from each woman at Ravensbruck, freedom, health, dignity, comfort, human rights, food, water, sanitation, clothing, and the adornment of their hair. Now they took away even their names and Betsie would be known as Prisoner 66729. Her name from this point forward would only be heard on the whispers of her sister’s lips or from those who shared the small confounds in which she slept.
As they entered the barrack it quickly became apparent that it was the largest dormitory that they had seen yet and along with its size everything else was also magnified. Filth, soiled, rancid, misery and suffering. No individual beds but square piers stacked three tiers high, wedged side by side, end to end, with a single narrow isle through the center.
Betsie and her sister were assigned to a second tier bunk that, like the rest, was heavily infested with fleas. When her sister wailed that they could not possible live in such conditions for fear that the parasites would eat them alive, Betsie reminded her of the scripture that they had read that very morning, “Give thanks in all circumstances.”
Barrack 28 had been designed to house four hundred individuals but that number had far seen its day. The barracks now hosted fourteen hundred and the numbers were added to on a weekly basis. Nine per bed designed for four was intolerable but it provided an opportunity that Betsie saw to spread the Word of God and offer hope and salvation to the weak and dyeing.
Work or Parish
At the end of each day when they were allowed to return to the barracks, Betsie and her sister found the strength to hold worship services at the rear of the dormitory. As dangerous as it was both women were grateful to have this time to hold their services. However they could never understand why the guards gave so much liberty to this area of the Barracks, but for that they were thankful and continued to share the gospel and encourage those around them.
With the lack of proper nourishment and medical care, Betsie continued to grow weak. Her steps began to falter and one day while shoveling mud, she stumbled one too many times and became the object of her captors entertainment.
Mocked, ridiculed, and degraded brought a response from Betsie that the guards did not expect. Her response to join their laughter and agree that she must be a sight to behold earned her a slashing from a guards crop which left her welted and bloody. “Don’t look at it Corrie. Look at Jesus only.”
By November, Betsie’s cough brought up blood. She was taken to the camp hospital where she was found to be running at temperature of 102, not enough to be admitted. However, when her temperature rose to over 104 she was admitted to a hospital ward. Three days later she was returned to Barrack 28. She had not received an examination or medicine while in the hospital but her illness resulted her to be assigned to the Knitting Brigade, an assignment delegated to the weakest of prisoners.
Door to Freedom
On December 16th,1944 Betsie’s sick and emaciated body took her to deaths door. A door to freedom which the once healthy Dutch woman, who loved to cook, decorate, dote on family and loved humanity unconditionally, slipped through quietly and alone. She was 59 years old.
Betsie was not repelled by the conditions that she found herself in because she saw them as opportunities to talk about Jesus. Wherever she was, at work, in the food line or dormitory, she spoke to those around her about Christ’s nearness and his desire to come into their lives. Not only was she focused on her fellow prisoners, but her mercy extended towards her captors and she compelled those around her to pray for them – for they needed what only God could offer most of all.
Before Betsie left this world she implored her sister to provide a home not only for the survivors but also for the Germans. She knew that they would have a great need to be forgiven and set free from guilt. She understood that Jesus loved them too.
Betsie ten Boom – the enduring face of compassion, forgiveness, mercy, grace and unconditional love.
“…must tell people what we’ve learned here. We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still. They will listen to us, Corrie, because we have been here.”
Next post in series – Frayed But Not Torn