(EXCITING NEWS: Have you heard our own programme on PREMIER RADIO yet? The programme is on Saturdays at 12:30pm GMT and will run for another 3 weeks. You can hear past episodes here. The 4th programme is Saturday 13th December at 12:30pm)
Corrie Ten Boom lived during the Second World War as the daughter of a watchmaker in Holland. She had a brother and two sisters and lived in a home where the Bible formed the centrepiece of their lives, used as a living guidebook, rather than as a doorstop or a weapon of hate. Her family were poor, but happy and by all accounts nothing very remarkable happened to this lady until she was just about to approach her middle-age years. Then the Nazis came to town. Anti-Semitism first reared its ugly head in the form a young German apprentice who worked at their shop. For no apparent reason other than joining the Nazi party (which, I suppose was a pretty good reason), he had started to regularly beat up the old man who’d worked at the shop for years. For a kindly and godly lady, it was a profound shock to see how hatred can just flare up for no apparent reason. The apprentice was immediately sacked. The following year the Nazis had invaded Holland and her life was to turn upside down.
The Ten Boom family had many Jewish friends, including the local rabbi, and were appalled at what they saw going on around them. Jews now had to wear a six-pointed star on their clothing at all times and were slowly being forced out of society – banned from restaurants, jobs, even their own homes. The family were also to witness Jews being taken away in trucks, officially to ‘work camps’, but in reality to ‘death camps’.
But this was no ordinary family. Rather than turning a blind eye they actively prayed for situations where they could show solidarity with the Jews. Their chance came and they gave shelter to three homeless Jews, despite the extreme dangers attached to this act. Corrie ten Boom, then in her fifties, became a resistance leader of the Dutch underground, with special responsibilities for finding safe havens for the Jewish population of her town. The watchmaker’s shop became a centre of resistance activity, with all members of the ten Boom family actively participating, motivated by their Christian faith and knowledge that they were doing God’s work.
After nearly two years Corrie had built up a network of eighty workers and had helped hundreds of Jews. But things were getting harder and harder, as the Nazis increased their grip, and the dangers were immense. One day they were visited by a captain in the Nazi army of occupation; it was the same German apprentice they had sacked years earlier! Although his suspicions were fuelled by old resentments he found nothing suspicious in this innocent watchmaker’s shop. But this luck had to give out and they were finally betrayed by a local man, Jan Vogel. The Gestapo arrived and rounded up the family. They were then split up and Corrie and her sister Betsie were placed in prison, in solitary confinement for their ‘crimes’. Her father, a frail old man, was also imprisoned and died ten days later. Three months later the sisters were both transferred to Vught Concentration Camp.
It wasn’t a death camp, rather one where you worked until you dropped. Corrie was employed making radios for the Germans. Soon this camp was dismantled and the ‘guests’ were moved to a far more sinister and dreaded place, Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, in Germany. The work there was much harder, the regime more cruel. While she was an inmate her spirit was never broken; her faith sustained her, even after her sister died in captivity. She lived totally for others in the camp, even the guards, sharing her faith. She survived the camp, by virtue of a clerical error – if she had stayed a week longer she would have been put to death along with all of the other women of her age!
Corrie ten Boom lived the rest of her life as a missionary to the world, travelling extensively and speaking to audiences in every corner of the globe, telling them about her faith and her experiences in Ravensbruck. It was through her kindness to Jewish people, without any regard for her personal safety, that she lived through those years of hell in prison and concentration camps. Yet not once did she regret her actions and she died with a prayer to God on her lips.
What did Corrie ten Boom do during the Second World War?