Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, with Elizabeth & John Sherrill

While this book became a best seller after its publication in 1971, it does not enjoy the status of a “great book”, except to readers of the Christian faith and others who are drawn to the book’s spiritual lessons.

Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch evangelist, had already written some books before this one - compilations of events and experiences illustrate Christian faith. These events were her testimony, as she spent the greater part of her last thirty years traveling, speaking and working with missionaries throughout the world. Although she had told her story many times, Christian writers Elizabeth and John Sherrill worked to make “The Hiding Place” a definitive account of what she and her family went through as defenders of the Jews in World War II.

Over half of the first part of the book is taken up with introducing the reader to the Ten Boom family, who lived in Haarlem. The father was a watchmaker. At the beginning of the war, his wife had passed away, as had three of her sisters who had lived with them. Of his four grown children, two were married and only the two unmarried sisters, Corrie and Betsie, still lived with their father. Betsie, seven years older than Corrie, had a kind of anemia which was not understood at that time, and so was “sickly” and was expected to live at home and not marry. Corrie had suffered an early disappointment in love when someone who she loved and believed to love her in return instead satisfied his family’s expectations by making a “good marriage”. This circumstance gave Corrie her first real lesson in hardship.

As she is sobbing brokenheartedly, her father lovingly comes to comfort and counsel her. Interestingly enough, he does not tell her that there will be other chances. He says she has two choices, one to smother and deny her love, giving rise to bitterness – or to give up her own feelings and ask for God’s in return. Not God’s love for her, but God’s love for this man, which is so much greater than her own.

Moments like these are the kernels of Corrie’s life, which are what sustain her during imprisonment and provide the impetus for her missionary work after the war. During the war, her family shelters Jews from being taken by the Germans. They become involved with the underground movement and have a secret compartment constructed in their house for Jews to hide in during a raid. They are eventually arrested. While in the local jail, their aged 84 year old father becomes ill and dies in an overcrowded hospital, left unattended in a waiting area. Corrie and Betsie spend two months in a Holland prison, and are reunited in a Holland concentration camp where they live for three months before being transported by cattle car to Ravensbruck, a concentration camp for women in Germany. Betsie, already ill, survives only two and a half months there before her death.

Although the flow of the narrative is disjointed, the book successfully illuminates key events for the reader interested in suffering and its implications. In Ravensbruck, Corrie changes. She is human - she hates the enemy, the sadistic guards and the cold and starvation and vermin- but she changes. Partly through her sister, who has compassion for everyone, partly through words in the Bible, which they smuggled into the camp. Corrie’s time and place in our history make the book worth reading. Whether or not it’s a “good read”, it’s a read that resonates.

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