Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Corrie Ten Boom's Risky Business (c) By Polly Guerin

Dear Corrie: I often wonder what I would do in the wake of Germany’s invasion of Holland in 1943. Would I protect my friends who were being persecuted because of their faith? Would I step up to the plate and save Jewish people I did not even know? Would I risk my own life to facilitate their escape? These are questions I ask myself, but you did not even consider questioning your benevolent behavior and took a great risk to help Jewish people and you paid dearly for doing so. In the hallmark of remarkable women, determined to succeed, you leave a legacy of unparalleled bravery.

The Ten Boom family was renowned clock and watch masters and Corrie was one of the first women trained as a clock smith, who repaired and improved clocks in Haarlem, Holland where the Ten Boom family lived and were highly respected citizens. Corrie recalls, “Life was so peaceful then when I was growing up in Haarlem. I helped out in my father’s clock repair shop on the bottom floor of our home. Our family was well-liked in our neighborhood. I even taught bible class and started several girls’ clubs that became popular in Holland. It was a peaceful and idealic time, but it drastically changed with the German invasion.”
In 1837, Willem Ten Boom founded a clock and watch shop which later passed onto his son Casper, and then to his daughter Cornelia Ten Boom, generally known as Corrie Ten Boom (1892-1983). Casper Ten Boom was a well-liked watch repairman and often referred to as “Haarlem’s Grand Old man.” Their home called Beje (short for Barteljorisstraat) was a happy place where a cultured and religious family and their faith inspired them to serve both the Church and Society at large.
During World War II, their home Beje became a refuge, a Hiding Place for fugitives and hunted people who were sought by the enemy. By protecting people, father Casper and his daughters Corrie Ten Boom and Elizabeth ten Boom, called Betsie risked their lives. Their undaunted faith led them to hide Jews, students who refused to cooperate with the enemy, and members of the Dutch ‘underground’ resistance movement. The Beje accommodated these refuges until it was ‘safe’ to smuggle them to other families and thereby saved a great many lives.
After the German invasion of Holland in 1943 life began to change dramatically for the Jewish people. Every week there was something they couldn’t do. They lost their jobs, or their businesses were taken away; they were banned from public places; and they were denied food. Jewish men were sent away and never heard of again. Some Dutch people became unkind to their Jewish neighbors because the Germans gave them special privileges, but our family, and many others, knew that we had to help those being targeted. Corrie recalls, “We dedicated their lives in Christian services and our home was ‘an Open house’ for anyone in need of help. Our house, Beje, became a symbol of refuge during WWII. We built a safe room in the wall of our house and even though the Nazis would search hard, they never found the Jews who were hidden there.”
Corrie recalls, “I had been sick for several days with a bad case of the flu, but I was awakened by screams and the sound of feet rushing toward my room. At first I thought that it was one of the drills we had practiced to hide Jews. But this time , February 28, 1944, it was German soldiers raiding our home, looking for Jewish people that they had heard we were hiding. I leaped from my bed to help our guests hurry into the secret space that had been built inside a wall in my room. Once they were safely hidden, I pretended to be asleep but the soldiers rushed into my room. They wanted to know where the Jews were, but neither my sister, Betsie nor I, would tell them. We were slapped and hit by the soldiers. Blood tricked down our swollen faces, but we were willing to die than tell where they were.”
After the family was betrayed and the Gestapo raided the house they arrested six members of the family. The Nazis plundered the place, knocked down walls but could not find the Jews. However, they did find enough written material and food cards to send the Ten Boom family to prison. During the next hours about 30 friends, who came to the Beje unaware of the betrayal, were also arrested and taken to Ravenbruck concentration camp. The sister’s ordeal there was sustained by their unwavering Christian faith. They recited the Bible from memory and throughout their incarceration they helped other prisoners to renew their faith and take comfort in the words that would lift up their burden. Corrie’s sister Betsie died at Ravenbrook as did Casper (84), Christiann (24). Willem (60) died shortly after the war.
Corrie survived the horrors and deprivation of Ravenbruck concentration camp and when the war was over, she wrote a book, “The Hiding Place,” detailing the Ten Boom family saga. Corrie travelled around the world and encouraged everyone she met with the message that Jesus Christ is Victor over all and everything, even the misery of the concentration camp. Her family home, Beje is again an “Open House,” a living museum memorial to the Ten Boom family of Haarlem, who lived as Christians. The museum keeps alive the spiritual heritage of the family as an inspiration for everyone to learn and savor the truth, the true meaning of a Christian faith. The Ten Boom Clock and Watch shop has been partly restored in the setting of that time period and a watchmaker carries out this meticulous work of repairing watches on the spot in the shop today.

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