The God Even of Ravensbruck: The Hiding Place

The Hiding Place (1971) by Corrie ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill

“I know that the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work He will give us to do.” (Corrie ten Boom)

“If people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love. We must find the way, you and I, no matter how long it takes…” (Betsie ten Boom)

At my recommendation, the ladies book club at my church recently read and discussed The Hiding Place.  While about half of us had read it before, for most of us it had been a long time (20 years for me), and I was glad to create an opportunity for the others (mostly the younger women) to read it for the first time. One of the gals commented, “At first I wondered why we chose to do a book that so many women had already read. But now that I’m into it, I totally get it!” This is one of those classic works that I believe every Christian – strike that – every person should read.

The story of the ten Boom family was compiled by husband and wife writers, John and Elizabeth Sherrill. The Sherrills had previously written about founder of World Challenge David Wilkerson’s ministry with the gangs of New York City in The Cross and the Switchblade (1963) and God’s Smuggler (1967), the story of the Dutch missionary Brother Andrew van der Bijl, who took the Gospel behind the Iron Curtain. The writing of The Hiding Place came about as a result of the Sherrills meeting Corrie ten Boom in 1968. In the Preface of The Hiding Place, the Sherrill’s describe their introduction to Corrie:

When we were doing the research for God’s Smuggler, a name kept cropping up: Corrie ten Boom. This Dutch lady – in her mid-seventies when we first began to hear of her – was Brother Andrew’s favorite traveling companion…”She sounds like a book in herself,” we said.

It was in May, 1968, that we attended a church service in Germany. A man was speaking about his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp…He was followed at the lectern by a white-haired woman…with a face that radiated love, peace, joy…We stayed behind to talk with her. And as we did, we realized that we were meeting Andrew’s Corrie.

They asked her if she would consider putting her story into book form, to which she agreed. The Hiding Place became the first book published in 1971 by the Sherrill’s newly-formed publishing company, Chosen Books.

Corrie was born in Haarlem, Netherlands in 1892 as the youngest of four, with two older sisters and an older brother. Her father, Caspar, was a watchmaker, and their family was well-known and respected in their community. Their mother passed away in 1921, and her brother Willhelm and sister Nollie had gotten married and moved out of the household. Corrie and her sister Betsie remained in the home, running the household and working in the business.

ten Boom Family; Corrie at far right

The story unfolds in what I see as three parts:

  1. Corrie’s memories of the early years of the ten Boom family, which provides a background and gives us some insight into these family members.
  2. The family’s involvement in the resistance movement and the rescuing of Jews.
  3. The time (primarily Corrie and Betsie’s) of imprisonment in the concentration camps. 

The book begins in 1937 Haarlem on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the ten Boom’s watch store. As the story is narrated, Corrie tells about their family life and the Dutch community. We see how close-knit this family is, and how serious they are about their faith, as Caspar ten Boom leads his family daily in prayer and Bible reading. He teaches his children of God’s love, provision, and care for them, and encourages them to trust Him. For example, Corrie relates a conversation with her father as a girl, in which her father tells her, “Your Father in heaven knows what you need and will give it to you just in time.” And on another occasion where a terrible result could have occurred, Betsie says to Corrie, “There are no if’s in God’s world. And no places that are safer than other places. The center of His will is our only safety.”

On one occasion, Corrie describes a morning Scripture reading during which her father reads from Psalm 119:

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path…Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word.” What kind of hiding place, I wondered idly as I watched Father’s brown beard rise and fall with the words. What was there to hide from?

Passages like these foreshadow the events that will follow. Tension begins to rise as the family hears of trouble in Germany, but in the earlier years of WWII, neighboring countries like the Netherlands did not realize how serious the situation would become. After the country of Holland fell to German invasion in 1940, the ten Booms begin to witness the harassment and disappearances of their Jewish neighbors. On one occasion, upon seeing a truck loaded with yellow-starred individuals, Mr. ten Boom comments, “Those poor people. I pity the poor Germans, Corrie. They have touched the apple of God’s eye.”

Corrie explains,

We knew of course that there was an underground in Holland – or suspected it. Most cases of sabotage were not reported in our controlled press, but rumors abounded. A factory had been blown up. A train carrying political prisoners had been stopped…The rumors tended to get more spectacular with each repetition. But always they featured things we believed were wrong in the sight of God. Stealing, lying, murder. Was this what God wanted in times like these? How should a Christian act when evil was in power?

The family begins to get involved with the underground movement helping Jews, and in May 1942 they take in their first Jewish person to hide from the Nazis. At this point, for me anyway, the book became harder to put down. The risks and challenges become greater, and you just know it’s a matter of time before their activities are discovered by the Nazis. The family was arrested in February 1944.

Thus begins the final, simultaneously heart-wrenching yet heart-warming part of the story, as Corrie recounts her experiences with her sister Betsie in the concentration camps. Throughout the account, earlier in the book but especially after their arrest, the providence of God and His watchful care and plans are clearly evident in the situations that occur.

One moving passage is described by Corrie as she sees God’s purpose and hand at work in their circumstances:

It grew harder and  harder. Even within these four walls there was too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering. Every day something else grew too heavy. “Will You carry this too, Lord Jesus?” But as the rest of the world grew stranger, one thing became increasingly clear. And that was the reason the two of us were here…our Bible was the center of an ever-widening circle of help and hope…we gathered about it, holding out our hearts to its warmth and light. The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the word of God.

There is just too much to try to share, and I don’t want to spoil it for you; you just have to experience reading The Hiding Place for yourself.

After her release, Corrie established a home for the rehabilitation of war survivors and refugees, wrote several books, traveling to many countries as a speaker. Corrie came to California in 1977, where she died in 1983 in Placentia, CA, after suffering a third stroke. Interestingly, she died on her 91st birthday. According to the Jewish tradition, it is only very blessed people who are allowed the special privilege of dying on their birthday.

A film adaption of The Hiding Place was produced in 1975, and Corrie was involved and saw the movie sets. The reconstruction of the Ravensbruck camp was so realistic that Corrie confessed,

It was difficult for me. The moment I entered the camp I felt it was all real again, maybe too real. It became too much for me. I couldn’t hold my tears any longer, and maybe it was good that I cried. (

There were many times while reading The Hiding Place that would cause me to reflect: how would I respond if I were found in a situation like the ten Booms? Questions like:

  • What would I do if Evil appeared to be winning? Would I strive to do what is right in the sight of God and trust Him for the outcome?
  • Would I be willing to risk my own safety and my family’s to help others in danger?
  • Would I be as compassionate and caring to those around me as Corrie and Betsie, or would I be looking out for my own comfort and survival?
  • Am I able to see God’s hand and purpose at work, even in the midst of such horror, evil, and suffering?
  • Am I as quick and ready to forgive my enemies?

Of course we cannot anticipate how we will behave in a hypothetical situation. But we can implement many of these things in our every day situations now, and trust that God will equip and enable us to do what needs to be done when the time comes.

Have you read The Hiding Place? What particulary parts moved or impressed you?

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