FORT WORTH, Texas, March 30, 2013 — While Jews and Christians celebrate one of the most holy weeks of the year the story of Corrie ten Boom and her family is worth hearing.
It started in 1844. Willem ten Boom was a clockmaker in Haarlem, Holland and a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. Already a proponent to improve Judeo-Christian relations, he was inspired to found a weekly group whose sole purpose was to pray for Jews and for the peace of Jerusalem, an unusual idea among Christians at the time.
His son Casper continued the prayer group with his own family. He and his wife Cornelia had four children: Betsie, Willem, Nollie and Corrie. The young family moved to the clock shop in the early 1890’s.
Friends, family, love and laughter filled the apartment above the store. Known for their generosity and compassion, the ten Booms always opened their door to those in need.
Then in May 1940, the destruction of Rotterdam led to the surrender of Dutch forces to the Nazis. The ten Booms witnessed the harassment and indignities against their Jewish neighbors and were appalled. The Dutch Reformed Church protested the persecution as they believed the injustice was an affront to divine authority.
Soon Jews had to wear a yellow star on their clothes that made them easy prey. Casper ten Boom - 80 years old now - insisted on wearing one too. He said that if everyone wore a star, then the Nazis wouldn’t know who was Jewish and who was not.
The family fought back through the Dutch Resistance. They also began to hide Jews, slave labor camp escapees and members of the Underground. When told his actions could cost him his life, Casper answered simply, “’It would be an honor to give my life for God’s chosen people.’”
To hide people, the home would have to appear as if only the family lived there. A false wall was built into Corrie’s bedroom that included a closet. It had a trap door where the refugees could enter the tiny eight foot by two foot space.
Guests didn’t have to stay in the cramped quarters all the time. But if the Gestapo came each person had a job to do. They held practice drills regularly in an effort to cut down on the time it took to get the refugees to safety and the apartment to appear as if all were normal.
Middle-aged now, Corrie was the ringleader of the Haarlem Underground. With the generous help of others, she had a steady supply of food ration cards and a hard working team that believed in their mission. Resistance fighters, young men and at least 800 Jews escaped certain slavery, torture and death because these brave souls did what was right even under threat of death.
In spite of the darkness that blanketed Holland, faith, love and laughter continued in the ten Boom household. Jews and Christians became one family of faith that gathered to study, talk, sing, and encourage each other. They worshiped in mutual love and respect that became a light.
Some Dutch citizens, collaborators, sided with the Nazis. Secure jobs, extra food rations and assurance of families safe enticed these traitors. This was a thorn in the side of the ten Booms because it was hard to tell who could be trusted and who could not.
That’s what tripped them up; a collaborator found out their secret. On February 28, 1944 the Gestapo paid a visit to the happy home above the clock shop and arrested the entire household including 84-year-old Casper.
Four Jews and two Underground members made it to the hiding place and waited. The room had air vents to provide fresh air and there was a pot in the corner for waste.
One of several web sites dedicated to Corrie, corrietenboom.com describes the scene: “Although the house remained under guard, the Resistance was able to liberate the refugees 47 hours later. The six people had managed to stay quiet in their cramped, dark hiding place for all that time, even though they had no water and very little food.”
Though tortured, not one of the ten Booms gave up their refugees. Dutch Underground materials and extra ration cards found in their home meant imprisonment in a concentration camp.
While dragging the old man from his home during the arrest, a German officer told the elder ten Boom that he could die in his own bed if he promised to behave himself. Casper ten Boom looked him square in the eye and replied, “I will [always] open my door to anyone who knocks for help.”
More on the ten Boom’s and their heroism will be in the next column. You will learn how Corrie and Betsie fared as prisoners and how the terrifying darkness they endured served as a stepping stone to light.
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