Corrie ten Boom was a middle-aged spinster, who led an uneventful life as a watchmaker in Haarlem, Holland. When’s Hitler’s armies conquered much of Europe in the early 1940s, Corrie’s brother, a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, began to shelter Jewish refugees. Eventually, as German troops occupied Holland, Corrie decided to help too, by hiding Jewish friends in a secret passage within her home, until they could be smuggled out of the country.
Gradually, the ten Boom household became the center of the city’s resistance movement, with hundreds of Jews passing through, and some being hidden permanently. “My room resembled a beehive, a sort of clearinghouse for supply and demand,” she wrote in A Prisoner, and Yet….
On Feb. 28, 1944, Corrie, her sister, Betsie, and their father were betrayed and arrested. Although the Gestapo searched their house, the secret room had been so cleverly designed that they could find no evidence of smuggling. Since the ten Booms refused to reveal the house’s hiding place, they were convicted of stealing food-ration cards and sent to prison. (All but one of their guests ultimately reached safety.)
Corrie’s father lived for only 10 days after being sentenced, but for Corrie and Betsie, the next year was hell itself. And yet through their indomitable spirit and firm faith in God, the sisters brought hope and kindness to many suffering prisoners. To Corrie’s knowledge, she never saw an angel “in the flesh,” but she found evidence of angelic intervention.
At one point, as she and other inmates arrived at the dreaded Ravensbruck, a women’s extermination camp, Corrie realized in horror that all their possessions, including warm clothes, were being taken from them. They would freeze in this desolate wasteland. And what of her little Bible? She wore it on a string around her neck, and it had been her consolation through the hard days thus far. But surely it would be confiscated.
Before it was Corrie’s turn to be stripped and searched, she asked permission to use the bathroom. There, she wrapped the Bible in Betsie’s and her woolen underwear, laid the bundle in a corner, and returned to the row of waiting prisoners. Later, after Corrie and Betsie had been dressed in the prison’s regulation undershirt and dress, Corrie hid the roll of warm underwear and her Bible under her clothes. It bulged considerably, but she prayed, Lord, send your angels to surround me.
Then, realizing that angels were spirits, she amended the prayer: Lord, don’t let them be transparent today, for the guards must not see me!
Calmly, she then passed the guards. Everyone else in line was searched from side to side and top to bottom, every bulge and crease investigated. The woman in front of Corrie had hidden a woolen vest under her dress, and it was immediately spotted and confiscated. Behind her, Betsie was searched.
But Corrie passed without being touched—or even looked at—by anyone. It was as if no one saw her in line. At the outer door, as a second row of guards felt the body of each prisoner, she was again unnoticed.
Bibles were forbidden property. To be found with one meant a doubling of the prison sentence as well as a cutback on rations, which were already just above starvation level. Corrie lived for several months at this cruelest of institutions and was subjected to many searches. She and Betsie also conducted clandestine worship services and Bible study for inmates of all faiths and nationalities. But there seemed to be an invisible wall of protection around her Bible, for the guards never found it.
In Ravensbruck, prisoners had to surrender most medicines, but they were allowed to keep a few toilet articles. Corrie kept a bottle of Davitamon, a liquid vitamin, that, at the time she entered Ravensbruck, was about half full.
Vitamin deficiency was one of the worst hazards, and Corrie’s instinct was to hoard the precious vile for Betsie, who by now was emaciated and ill. But the others were sick, too, “and it was hard to say ‘no’ to eyes that burned with fever, hands that shook with chill,” she wrote in The Hiding Place. Soon, the number receiving a daily dose was more than 30; and still, “every time I tilted the little bottle, a drop appeared at the top of the stopper. Many times, I lay awake trying to fathom the marvel of supply lavished upon us.” Although she could not understand how it was happening, the drops keep coming.
One day, someone who worked in the prison hospital smuggled to Corrie a yeast bag containing vitamins, asking that she dispense them to as many prisoners as possible. Corrie gave each woman enough to last her a week. But when she opened her own little bottle of Davitamon, the bottle was dry. However, the yeast bag took its place, continuing to yield vitamins for many weeks. Connie always believed that angels had a hand in these unaccountable events.
Betsie died in prison from starvation and illness. A short time later, Corrie was called into the Warden’s office and released. Her suffering had ended. But life would never be the same again.
Corrie began a new career, opening homes for people who had been damaged by brutal treatment during the war, places where they could heal their bodies and minds. To support her homes, she went around the world giving lectures. It was not until 1959, however, that Corrie discovered the most significant “invisible intervention.” She was revisiting Ravensbruck as part of a pilgrimage honoring the 96,000 women who had died there, when she learned that her own release had been the result of a clerical error. A week after she’d been granted freedom, all the women prisoners her age had been taken to the gas chambers.
Joan Wester Anderson, copyright 2016. Corrie ten Boom, A Prisoner, and Yet… (Toronto, ON: Evangelical Publishers, 1947), 10. Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place (New York: Bantam Books, 1981), 202-203.