Cornelia Arnolda Johanna “Corrie” ten Boom was a Dutch watchmaker and part of the Dutch resistance during World War II. For her role in sheltering Jews in her home, Corrie ten Boom was arrested and sent to Ravensbrück, a women’s concentration camp in northern Germany. Corrie survived the Holocaust and went on to become a writer and speaker who never stopped communicating God’s goodness.
Corrie ten Boom was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in 1892 to watchmaker Casper ten Boom and his wife, Cornelia. She had three older siblings: Betsie, Willem, and Nollie. A few years later, the Ten Boom family moved to Haarlem, where Casper took over his father’s watchmaking shop. Working with her father, Corrie ten Boom discovered she loved the watchmaking business, and in 1922 she became the first woman to be a licensed watchmaker in the Netherlands. In addition to that work, Corrie established a youth club for teenage girls, providing them with Christian teaching and classes in performing arts, sewing, and handicrafts.
The Ten Booms were part of the Dutch Reformed Church, and all the children were raised to give generously to the poor and hold tightly to their faith. In the 1800s, Corrie’s grandfather had worked to improve relations between Christians and Jews. Her brother Willem was a Dutch Reformed pastor who studied anti-Semitism and ran a nursing home for the elderly—a place that became a refuge for Jews fleeing Germany in the 1930s.
In May 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands and occupied the country for the next five years. Corrie ten Boom’s club was banned from meeting, but it was not long before other people started coming to her for help. The Ten Booms became involved in the Dutch underground—hiding Jewish refugees and members of the resistance movement from the Gestapo and its Dutch counterpart, passing out ration cards, and smuggling Jews to safety. Corrie and her family kept Jews in their own home, building a secret room in their house as a hiding place. It is estimated that about 800 Jews were saved through the efforts of the Ten Boom family.
In February 1944, a Dutch informant told the Nazis about the Ten Booms’ activities. The Sicherheitsdienst, an arm of the Nazi SS, raided Corrie’s home, and the whole family and everyone who had been attending a prayer meeting in their home, about thirty people, were arrested. Amazingly, the six Jews and resistance workers who were in the hiding place went undiscovered, and police officers who were part of the resistance were eventually able to coordinate their escape.
Corrie ten Boom, her sister Betsie, and their father were held in prison even after the Nazis released all the others. Casper ten Boom died about ten days later, and Corrie was held in solitary confinement for three months. At her first hearing, she defended her work, especially with the disabled, saying that a mentally disabled person could be more valuable to God than a watchmaker or even a lieutenant.
Corrie and Betsie ten Boom were first sent to Herzogenbusch and then finally to Ravensbrück. Using a smuggled Dutch Bible, the two sisters held worship services in the camp, and through their example of love and faith, many of their fellow prisoners became Christians.
Sadly, Betsie ten Boom’s health began to fail, and she died in December 1944, one of 92,000 women who perished in Ravensbrück. Twelve days after Betsie’s death, Corrie ten Boom, at the age of 53, was released on a clerical error. Corrie found out afterward that all the other women in her age group were sent to the gas chamber just a week after she left. Corrie arrived home in the middle of the Dutch “hunger winter” but immediately opened her arms to shelter the mentally disabled fleeing execution.
After the war, Corrie ten Boom set up a rehabilitation center that helped concentration camp survivors. In 1946 she returned to Germany, meeting with and forgiving two guards from Ravensbrück, including one who had been especially cruel to Betsie. She began traveling the world, calling herself a “tramp for the Lord.” She told her story in over sixty countries, wrote books, recorded a series of forty radio broadcasts, and gave all the glory to God. Most importantly, she shared the love of Jesus and the gospel of God’s forgiveness wherever she went. She wrote a letter of forgiveness to Jan Vogel, the informant who had betrayed her family to the Nazis. She encouraged prisoners who, like her, were tempted to give up hope.
In 1975, the movie The Hiding Place was released, sharing the story of the courage and faithfulness of Corrie ten Boom and her family. In 1977, Corrie ten Boom emigrated to America and settled in California, where she died on April 15, 1983, her 91st birthday, after suffering her third stroke. In 1988 the Ten Boom home in Haarlem, the Netherlands, was opened to the public as a museum to preserve the memory of the spiritual heritage Corrie’s family left behind.
Selected bibliography of Corrie ten Boom:
The Hiding Place (with John and Elizabeth Sherrill), 1971
Tramp for the Lord (with Jamie Buckingham), 1974
Corrie Ten Boom’s Prison Letters 1975
In My Father’s House, 1976
Each New Day, 1977
He Cares, He Comforts, 1977
Father Ten Boom, God’s Man, 1978
And here are a few quotes from Corrie ten Boom:
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.”
“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”
“Don’t bother to give God instructions; just report for duty.”
“The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration, but its donation.”
“If people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love!”
“God has plans—not problems—for our lives.”
“It is not my ability, but my response to God’s ability, that counts.”