“And yet, old friend, books do not age as you and I do. They will speak still when we are gone, to generations we will never see. Yes, the books must survive.” (Rabbi, The Hiding Place)
As I learn about the life of Corrie Ten Boom and her family, I am more certain than ever about the truth of these words. Corrie and her family lived in Holland during the Holocaust and during World War II were credited with saving the lives of about 800 Jewish individuals. These words were spoken by a local rabbi to Corrie’s father as worked together to preserve his book collection. I wonder if the man knew at the time, his words would be so applicable to the ten Boom family.
If you have read The Hiding Place, you likely know the remarkable Ten Boom family. The ten Boom family had a faith that permeated their lives. This faith convicted Corrie and her family to work with the Dutch underground through which they dedicated years of their lives to connecting Jewish individuals in Holland to safe homes, acquiring ration cards, and housing several individuals.
On February 28, 1944, the ten Boom family was turned in to the Gestapo for their involvement with the underground. Their house was raided and Corrie, along with family members and 29 others were arrested. At the time, Corrie was 51, her sister, Betsie, was 59, and their father was 84. Corrie’s father passed away 10 days after the arrest. Corrie and Betsie endured. Corrie and Betsie were transferred from the prison to an internment camp in the Netherlands and were eventually transferred to a concentration camp in Germany. Betsie passed away in the concentration camp in December of 1944, surviving almost 10 months of imprisonment. Corrie was released 12 days later. She later discovered that her release was a mistake, and all the prisoners her age were sent to the gas chambers several days after her release.
One of the most remarkable things about the ten Boom family is they never stopped proclaiming the gospel. Corrie credits this faith to the reason why she and her sister were able to persevere while imprisoned. The sisters had hope and handled their experience with dignity and grace. Corrie recalls story after story of her sister sharing the gospel with fellow prisoners and guards, as well as praising God through every trial.
I am confident Corrie and her family’s legacy will live on for generations to come, just as the rabbi said to Corrie’s father. This family reminds us of the meaning our spirituality brings to our lives. More basically than that though, it is a powerful story about the perseverance of a family during one of the world’s darkest times. Corrie specifically, teaches us what it means to be a woman who empowers others. She challenges us to live more boldly, to stand up for our convictions, and to not let being a female stop us from accomplishing big things.
Social Work Values
Two social work values Corrie demonstrates in through her work are service and social justice.
Corrie and her family actively participated in the underground movement. Through The Hiding Place, Corrie discussed how her family never turned away an individual that showed up at their door asking for help. When circumstances made it too challenging to send individuals to safe houses, Corrie’s family took people into their own home, assuming significant risk and responsibility.
While imprisoned, Corrie and her sister shared what few supplies they had with others, and continually worked to share the gospel with everyone. It did not matter where the ten Booms were, or who they were surrounded by, they recognized their purpose in life was empower those around them and to share their faith in tangible and meaningful ways.
As social workers, we find our work in serving others. The ten Booms are an inspiration to me as I consider ways I can serve and empower those around me.
There are times when we are called to act in justice, and the ten Boom family understood this. In The Hiding Place, Corrie relayed a time where their underground movement was put at risk by someone being captured. Corrie states “once again we considered stopping the work. Once again, we discovered we could not” (1971, p.123). Social justice was so important to the ten Boom family, they risked their own lives to save the lives of others.
While we have made strides in empowering women in the US and internationally, we still have strides to go. Corrie inspires us to stand up for women’s rights around the world, and to take action no matter how small.
The Power of Listening
Another beautiful lesson we can learn from Corrie is the power of listening. In her book Tramp for the Lord, Corrie shares a beautiful story of encountering an elderly, distraught woman in a refugee camp. Corrie states “I asked her to tell me about her life, knowing it sometimes helps just to have someone willing to listen” (1974, p. 40). I was so moved by this simple, yet insightful statement.
Women’s voices have historically been silenced. One way to rectify this injustice is to sit and listen to the stories of women and the challenges and triumphs they have experienced. By doing this, we are giving power back to women, and acknowledging the unique experiences they have to offer to life.
Wounded Germany can still Play Beautiful Music
In the story mentioned above about Corrie asking a woman about her story, Corrie learned the woman was a pianist. Corrie asked the woman to play a song for her on the piano and states “From the damp, battered old piano flowed the beautiful music of Bach as her skilled fingers raced up and down the broken, chipped keys. Tears came to my eyes and ran down my cheeks as I thought of wounded Germany, left with only remnants of the past, still able to play beautiful music. Such a nation will survive to create again, I thought” (1974, p. 41-42).
This story is a powerful analogy for trauma. Trauma often leaves us wounded, feeling as if we are grasping onto fragments, yet Corrie understood that this does not define those who have been through trauma. People are still able to make beautiful music in the face of trauma. As time passes, through healing, we will survive to create again.
I firmly believe The Hiding Place will speak to generations to come. It tells the story of a fierce woman who empowered others, particularly women. A family whose faith was more important than their lives. Two sisters who taught me lessons that will stay with me for years to come. It is impossible to put into words the power of the ten Boom’s story, but the power is there. The rabbi may never have known his words would apply so perfectly to the life of the ten Boom’s – but their story will survive, just as he said it ought to.
ten Boom, C. (1971). The Hiding Place. New York, NY: Bantan Books.
ten Boom, C. (1974). Tramp for the Lord. New York, NY: Berkley Publishing Group.
Picture from: https://ymi.today/2018/04/4-things-i-learned-from-corrie-ten-boom/