The Conclusion of – A Father’s Legacy
Under the boot of German occupation the Netherlands quickly changed. The carefree and peaceful life of each Hollander had been drastically effected.
Their freedoms, country, peaceful existence, and common humanities had been replaced with oppression, harsh restrictions, cruelties, and unrelenting persecution.
Horror’s stood in common place as the Dutch were forced to bend to the will of Hitler’s reign. Fear governed as disbelief became the mindset and all too soon choices became few. And the choices that were before the Dutch, were hard and disheartening.
As persecution towards the Jewish Dutchman increased the non-Jewish Dutch were forced to make decisions. For some the choice was not to become involved. Others chose to profit from the plight of the Jewish people. And yet others chose to risk freedom and death to provide protection for their fellow man who just happened to be Jewish. The Ten Boom’s choose the latter.
Four years after Germany’s invasion of the Netherlands the ten Boom’s had been arrested and imprisoned for their involvement in aiding the Jewish people. Casper ten Boom died within ten days of his imprisonment. Two of his daughter were sent to several prisons before they ended up in Ravensbruck, the notorious women execution camp known for its torturous medical experiments, hangings, starvation, beatings, shootings, lethal injections, sadism, gas chambers and crematoriums.
In the last post, Separated But Not Broken, we learned about the courageous life of Betsie ten Boom. We briefly walked through the last ten months of her life which ended at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp.
Betsie was the epitome of exemplified faith, mercy, compassion, forgiveness and unconditional love. In her death she forever sealed her legacy of unfaltering love, steadfast commitment, and undaunting faith in God. Her christian witness is one that few will join but all should aspire to, and that is exactly what her sister Corrie endeavored to do.
Corrie ten Boom
Cornelia Arnolda Johanna ten Boom was born in Amsterdam Netherlands on April 15, 1892. She was the youngest of the four children born to Casper and
Like her sister Betsie, Corrie never married. She lived and worked tirelessly along side her father in his watch shop and assisted her sister Betsie in maintaining the family’s home.
Corrie did not live an idle life. In 1924 she became the first licensed woman watchmaker in the Netherlands and from 1920-1940 she led Bible classes in the public schools, taught Sunday school in her church, and organized a network clubs for disabled children. Her tireless work in these endeavors only came to a halt when the German occupation of Holland decreed that it was unlawful for groups to meet.
Being grounded in charitable causes came second nature to Corrie. It was to no surprise that when Germany invaded Holland that Corrie would not question if she would lend aid to the Jewish community. She did as she always had and offered help in anyway that she could.
Arrested: February, 1944
Within months after the German occupation Corrie found herself quickly becoming part of the Dutch underground. Her father’s home soon became a safe house for those fleeing persecution, and Corrie’s bedroom was chosen to be the location for the small closet size hiding place.
The ten Boom’s operation of sheltering and moving the Jewish people in and out of Haarlem continued for four successful years until one ill fated day in February, 1944 when an informant, posed as a friend, betrayed them.
It was on that day, February 28 that Corrie, at the age of 52 and severely ill with the flu, found herself arrested and being led to jail. A Nazi raid had invaded her father’s shop and after hours of enduring Gestapo style interrogations, the family was arrested, not for harboring Jews (which six were hiding away in Corrie’s bedroom) but for possessing an excess of ration cards.
From the city jail Corrie, along with the rest of her family, was transported to Scheveningen prison where she would be interned for four months before being transferred to Herzogenbusch concentration camp in Vught. Then after another four months of internment, she would experience a final transfer to Ravensbruck in Germany. All along the way her treatment and health would journey deeper and deeper into darkness where decline, neglect, misery, abuse and cruelty awaited.
Scheveningen Prison: February – June, 1944
“You brought it on yourselves!”
During her imprisonment at Scheveningen Corrie learned of her father’s death through a letter that she received from her sister Nollie. Stricken with grief, Corrie cried out through the confines of her prison bars in search for comfort. But the only emotional response given was from a callous guard’s harsh and unkind words, “You brought it on yourselves by breaking the law!”
Corrie grieved alone and uncomforted. The only tribute that she could make towards her father’s memorial was to scrawl the date of his passing on the wall of her prison cell, March 9, 1944, Father, Released.
Corrie’s four month interment at Scheveningen was spent entirely in solitary confinement. Though she did not understand why at the time, it was due to the preexisting influenza she possessed prior to her arrest. Left to fair for herself without medication and care, Corrie spent many feverish and cough induced days and nights in the lonely confines of her prison cell. And due to the lack of attention and proper nutrition her health was slow to recover.
In The Hiding Place Corrie shares that her isolation was so unbearable that when a solitary ant entered her cell that she was overjoyed with its visitation. She took great care not to step on her visitor and would purposely offer bread crumbs to encourage its return. Corrie also stated that it was through her solitary confinement that she learned what true riches really were.
“How rich is anyone who can see a human face.” Corrie ten Boom
Transport to Vught: June, 1944
Corrie was reunited with her sister Betsie during the evacuation of Scheveningen prison. The two, by happenstance, found each other as they were being boarded onto a camp transport train. As they moved into a crowded compartment they quickly found a seat and shed tears of joy for their reunion. Hours later, as the train began to move, fear gripped their hearts as they pondered their next destination. “Dear Jesus, not Germany.”
The two soon found themselves straining to looked out the train windows as it moved steadily down the tracks. Recognizable terrain came into view and to their relief they saw that their destination was headed south not east towards Germany. For the second time that night they once again shed tears of joy.
“I could bear whatever happened with Betsie beside me.” Corrie ten Boom
Herzogenbusch: June – October, 1944
For four months Corrie and her sister would be interned at Herzogenbusch concentration camp in Vught. During that time Corrie would be force labored into measuring small glass rods and assembling relay switches. She endured and witness many harsh, abusive, and inhumane acts at Herzogenbusch.
In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie shares of one dreadful evening when the loudspeakers sounded the signal for roll call in the men’s camp. They could hear names being read through the men’s speaker and sudden “insane fear” gripped the women and deathlike silence hung over both sides of the camp.
“The loudspeaker had fallen silent. We exchanged wordless looks, we almost feared to breathe. Then the riffle fire split the air. Around us women began to weep. A second volley. A third. For two hours the executions went on. Someone counted. More than seven hundred male prisoners were killed that day.”
In spite of the cruelties that Corrie was forced to endure her faith remained in tact. She and her sister had miraculously smuggled a Bible into the prison and both would read and hold whispered prayer services in the dark hours of the night. And though her physical and emotional suffering was great Corrie shared that bringing the hope of Christ to those who felt hopeless was a gift, one that she felt honored to be able to dispense it.
Herzogenbusch no doubt revealed the horrors of man but it also revealed another thing to Corrie, her sisters’ unflinching compassion for humanity. Corrie was amazed to observe her sister’s display of compassion, not only for the innocent but also for their perpetrators. Her example of unconditional love would serve to mold Corrie’s faith in more than one way.
“I glanced at the matron seated at the desk ahead of us. I saw a gray uniform and a visored hat, Betsie saw a wounded human being. And I wondered, not for the first time, what sort of a person she was, this sister of mine…what kind of road she followed while I trudged beside her on the all-too-solid earth.”
Ravensbruck – Prisoner 66730: October, 1944 – January, 1945
Torturous medical experiments, hangings, starvation, beatings, shootings, lethal injections, sadism, gas chambers and crematoriums. These were the things that welcomed Corrie and her sister to their stay at Ravensbruck.
Ravensbruck had a different “flair” then the other concentration camps that Corrie had been interned at. Here she would be forced to lose her hair, the right to cover her nakedness, and the losing of her name. She would now be known as prisoner 66730.
After spending weeks in a quarantine barracks, Corrie and her sister was finally assigned a permanent barrack where they would spend the rest of their time at Ravensbruck.
Upon entering the overcrowded barrack, filled with misery and despair, they found yet another affliction to overcome, an infestation of fleas. Here is where the bedding and the people had something in common.
“Fleas!” I cried. “Betsie, the place is swarming with them!” – “Betsie, how can we live in such a place!”
“Show us how, show us how.” It was said so matter of factly that it took me awhile to realize that she was praying. “Corrie!” she said excitedly. “He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!”
“It was in First Thessalonians, ” I said. “Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that you do not repay evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.”
“That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer, “Give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s what we can do thank God for every single thing about the new barracks!”
I stared at her, then around me at the dark, foul-aired room. “Such as?” I said.
“Such as being assigned here together.” – I bit my lip. “Oh yes, Lord Jesus!”
“Such as what you’re holding in your hands.” – I looked down at the Bible. “Yes! Thank You dear Lord that there was no inspection when we entered here!”
“Yes,” said Betsie. “thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!” She looked at me expectantly. “Corrie!” she prodded.
“Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed, suffocating crowds.”
“Thank You, ” Betsie went on serenely, “for the fleas and for…”
The fleas! this was too much. “Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”
“Give thanks in all circumstances,” she quoted. “It doesn’t say, in pleasant circumstances. Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”
And so we stood between piers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.
Work! – Work more!! – Work sick! – Work until you die!!
Life at Ravensbruck was hard at best. Inhumanity had a face and endurance was put to the test with each rising and setting of the sun.
Corrie was pressed labored to work eleven hard and grueling hours a day. Her job was to push large heavy handcarts to a rail road siding where she would unload metal plates from a boxcar and wheel them to a receiving gate at a factory. It was man’s work given to women and it appeared to be designed to break the body down.
Every night when the last siren blew for lights out, another type of labor would begin, a labor of love. Corrie and her sister would make their way to the rear of the dormitory and like they did in former prisons began worship services. Corrie shares that they were services like none they had ever experienced before. Different denominations such as the Roman Catholics would add their Latin, the Lutherans added their whispered hymns, and the Eastern Orthodox contributed their chants. Then Corrie or her sister would bring out their Bible and read the word of God to the large group of women that had gather near.
“I would open the Bible, and because the Hollanders only understood Dutch text, we would translate aloud into German. And then we would hear the life-giving words passed back through the aisles in French, Polish, Russian, Czech, then back into Dutch. Then I would know again that in the darkness God’s truth shines most clear.”
At first Corrie would call these meeting with great trepidation but as night after night passed with no guards to come around, Corrie’s boldness grew. It was always perplexing as to why the guards never came. They could see dozens of them marching up and down just outside their Barrack walls but they would never enter the barracks. She could not understand it until one night when Betsie told her what she had found out.
“You know we’ve never understood why there was so much freedom in the big room, we’ll I found out. This afternoon there had been confusion in our knitting group about sock sizes. When we asked the supervisor to come and settle it, she wouldn’t step through the door and neither did the guards. And you want to know why? It was because of the fleas, that’s what she said, that place was crawling with fleas!”
“My mind rushed back to the first hour in this place. I remembered Betsies’ bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for a creature I could see no use for.”
“Packed so close, yet utterly miserably alone” December, 1944
Corrie’s sister’s declining health inevitably separated them. Winter had come and a difficult life increased in misery and pain. In the last weeks of Betsies’ life she was taken to the camp infirmity several times with the only result to be returned to her barracks left untreated.
Betsie had spoken often of her vision to open a house for those damaged by the concentration camp. A home where they would be able to come until they felt ready to live in the world again. She had described it often as she laid ill and dieing.
Due to medical neglect Betsies’ last visit to the camps infirmity granted her a foul and rotting cot in which she succumbed to her afflictions. December 16, 1944, Betsie released.
“There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.” Betsie ten Boom
A Clerical Error: January 1945
Three days after the death of her sister, roll call came as it always had and Corrie stood at rigid attention stamping her feet upon the frozen ground. Then came the words, ten Boom Cornelia over the loud speakers and she was commanded to stand to the side. After roll call concluded, Corrie was led to the administration barracks where she received the word, entlassen, which means released.
A Certificate of Discharge was handed to Corrie but due to the edema in her legs, she was detained for additional weeks. Prisoner’s were not permitted to be released unless they appeared “well.”
Her time spent in the camp hospital was grueling. It was a place that revealed the handiwork of her captors and misery, agony, and suffering was at it’s finest hour. Indifference was prevalent and became a disease most fatal to those who embraced it and Corrie fought hard to keep it from spreading to her.
The sounds of moaning, and cries of agony was unbearable and Corrie found that there was no way to shut it out. She describes it as a “savage place.”
On January 1, 1945 Corrie received medical approval and was taken to a dressing shed near the outer gate of the camp where she was given clothes and an overcoat. She was also given a form to sign which stated that she had never been ill, never suffered an accident, and had been treated good while at Ravensbruck. Corrie signed.
Some time later Corrie learned that her released had been a clerical error and that the women prisoners her age in the camp were killed the week following her release.
Once Corrie returned home and recovered from her afflictions, she opened her home to the displaced people in Haarlem. Since the start of the German occupation the disabled had been sequestered with their schools and training centers shut down. Corrie open her home to them and though they could not go out in the streets she started programs of all sorts and offered them care.
Joy Runs Deeper Than Despair
In the spring of 1945 Corrie began to speak in churches, club rooms, and private home about the truths that she and Betsie had learned while in Ravensbruck. She always would mention Betsie’s dream of opening a home in Holland where those who had been hurt could learn to live again unafraid. At the end of that Spring a wealthy widow approached Corrie and offered her mansion to be the home of Betsie’s dream. To Corries’ amazement it match Betsies’ vision perfectly, right down to the wood inlaid floors, and she then realized that her sister had experience that which only God can give, a true vision from the Lord Himself.
Holland was liberated in the second week of May of 1945 and by June, Corrie received the first of many hundreds of people damaged by the war and concentration camps. In 1947 they began to receive the Dutch who had been prisoners of the Japanese in Indonesia.
“And sure enough, in their own time and their own way, they began to work out the deep pain within them.”
Corrie traveled throughout Holland and Germany bringing the message that God’s forgiveness is the only way to overcome hatred and at one particular meeting she would be tested on the validity of her own message.
“It was at church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door at Ravensbruck. And suddenly it was all there the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s plain-blaunched face. He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “how grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!” His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I who had preached so often to the people the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.
Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord, forgive me and help me forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathes a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.
As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not our forgiveness but His.”
“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’s Labor of Love
Corrie authored 25 books and was knighted by the Queen of the Netherlands in recognition of her work during the war. Corrie also was honored by Israel in naming her Righteous Among the Nations.
In 1977, Corrie at the age of 85 moved to California where a year later suffered from two strokes, the first rendered her unable to speak, and the second resulted in paralysis. She lived as an invalid for the remaining five years of her life, dying on her 91st birthday (April 15, 1983).
“We must tell people, Corrie. We must tell them what we’ve learned…” Betsie ten Boom
And so she did.
Take the Corrie ten Boom Virtual Museum Tour (a must see)
Corrie’s own narrative of her arrest and time she spent in prison.
- ten Boom – Corrie ten Boom’s prison letters (celclibrary.wordpress.com)