Monday, April 24, was this year’s Yom HaShoah–Holocaust Remembrance Day. There are a great many books on the subject, from The Diary of Anne Frank to MAUS and beyond. But one of my long-time favorites is the story of a family recognized by Yad Vashem as “Righteous among the Nations” for their work in saving Dutch Jews: The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, with John and Elizabeth Sherrill.
Taking seriously the Biblical command to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6a), Corrie’s grandfather Willem had started the practice of holding a daily family Bible study that, beginning in 1844, included prayers for Jerusalem and the Jewish people. Many of the suppliers from whom he bought watch parts were Jewish, and his friendships with them strongly influenced his love for the Jewish people as a whole, an attitude he passed on to his children and grandchildren. His son Casper not only inherited the rickety old house and watch shop, Barteljorisstraat 19 (affectionately known as “the Beje”) in Haarlem, but also continued the Bible studies long after two of his four children had married and left the house. Daughters Betsie and Corrie, both of whom never married, still lived at home; chronically-ill Betsie managed the house, and Corrie, who had become Holland’s first female licensed watchmaker in 1922, worked with Casper in the shop.
The main action of the story begins with a party celebrating the one-hundredth anniversary of the watch shop in 1937. Though most of the guests focus on the celebration at hand, the spectre of Nazi Germany is never far off, especially when Corrie’s brother Willem, a Dutch Reformed minister, arrives with a Jewish refugee whose beard has been burned by Hitler Youth. Flashbacks present important lessons revisited throughout the story, but the bulk of the action follows the slide into war, the horror of Nazi occupation, and the ten Boom family’s efforts to help their Jewish neighbors.
Eventually the Beje becomes the center of “God’s Underground” and a refuge for Jews who can’t be placed in other safe houses for various reasons—an elderly asthmatic, a cantor whose features are too Jewish to disguise, etc. Experts from the larger Dutch Underground build an undetectable secret room and coach the family on how to conduct emergency drills to prepare for a raid. Echoing Psalm 119:114, the family comes to call the secret room “the hiding place,” and with its help they manage to save some 800 Jews, plus Underground members and other refugees.
And then, in 1944, one hundred years after Willem ten Boom began praying daily for the peace of Jerusalem, the members of “God’s Underground” are betrayed to the Gestapo by a quisling.
The hiding place does its job, and the four Jewish refugees and two Underground workers in the house escape safely. But the ten Booms and their other friends do not. Casper dies in prison shortly after their arrest, but Corrie and Betsie are shuffled from one concentration camp to another ahead of the Allied advance after D-Day, ending up in one of the most hellish camps for women in Germany: Ravensbrück.
I don’t want to give away the whole story, although you can hear a summary in the deeply moving virtual tour of the Beje on the Ten Boom Museum website. I also recommend watching the 1975 film version starring Julie Harris and Jeannette Clift, which contains scenes not included in the book and ends with an epilogue delivered by Corrie herself. But I do want to end with one of the main lessons Corrie and Betsie learn in Ravensbrück, one that became the core of the message Corrie took around the globe after the war in her ministry as A Tramp for the Lord:
“There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”