Corrie ten Boom
It has been more than a decade since I first visited the solemn grounds of the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. When I worked in our nation’s capital, I often gave family and friends the full tour of the area. I prided myself on taking them to all the “must-see” sites. But the Holocaust Museum was the one place I could only venture just once. The exhibits affected me in ways I never knew one event in history could. It’s no wonder the stories we hear from concentration camp survivors leave us humbled, heartbroken, and baffled over how the darkest time in our world’s history could have happened. I often find myself wondering what miracles had to take place for anyone to survive those concentration camps. This story is about one of those miracles.
Born in Haarlem, Netherlands during April of 1892, Corrie ten Boom was 47 years old when WWII broke out. She had never married but, instead, devoted her life to her family and God.
She lived with her father and older sister, watchmakers by trade and members of the Protestant Dutch Reformed Church who believed that all human beings were equal before God. It’s that same belief that led Corrie and her family to make their home a refuge for Jews once the war began.
During the war, over 25,000 Dutch Jews and members of the Dutch resistance went into hiding to escape the wrath of the Gestapo (the secret police of Nazi Germany). The ten Boom family helped over 800 of them.
Unfortunately, she and her family were deceived by an informant and caught and captured by the Gestapo in February of 1944. Both her father and sister would ultimately die in the concentration camps. Only Corrie would walk away free. And after all was said and done, it was purely through an increased faith in God and a series of miracles that she lived to tell her story.
Corrie and her older sister Betsie were eventually sent to a concentration camp so horrendous that its dreaded reputation, of torture and experimentation of its prisoners, had spread all the way to the Netherlands. The place was Ravensbruck, a concentration camp located north of Berlin. It was the largest concentration camp in the German Reich for women. At the time the ten Boom sisters arrived, there were nearly 50,000 women prisoners there. By the end of the war more than 96,000 women would die in its gates. Conditions were literally sickening. Overcrowding led to extreme scarcity of food, and inhumane sanitation led to a typhoid epidemic that spread like wildfire throughout the camp.
It was here, upon entry into the camp, where God performed his first miracle for Corrie. Once prisoners arrived, they were stripped naked and forced to give up everything in their possession. Corrie had hung a pouch holding a small copy of the Bible by a string onto her back. She knew without that book she would never make it through the horrific treatment she was about to face. Every woman was searched thoroughly at least twice. As Corrie stood in line waiting for her turn to be checked, she prayed that angels would make her invisible. As her turn came, the guards literally passed right over her, as if they hadn’t even seen her. She proceeded with the Bible undetected.
Another miracle came when Corrie began nightly readings of the Bible in her barracks. She was determined that even in a Nazi concentration camp, she would conquer the brutality and spread light. Those nightly Bible readings brought peace and comfort to the women in those barracks, barracks crammed with over 1400 women in a place designed to hold only 400. Because the ten Boom’s copy of the Bible was in Dutch, and only those from Holland could understand the text, the ten Boom sisters would translate aloud in German. The words would then be passed back down the aisles in French, Polish, Russian, and Czech. Despite the dark circumstances that brought them there, Corrie remembered those times as “little previews of heaven, these evenings beneath the lightbulb.” If they were caught, Corrie knew she could be killed. However, the guards, who did daily checks in every other barrack in the camp, never came. The reason was both a curse and a blessing: the barrack was infested with fleas. The guards wouldn’t step foot in a barrack with a flea infestation. Corrie and her sister thanked God daily for those fleas.
Days before Betsie passed away of illness exacerbated by the conditions in the camp, she told Corrie that she had a vision that they would return to Germany to teach people about God. Corrie was shocked. Germany was the last place she would ever want to return. But Betsie insisted that it was the Germans who would need their message the most: “We must tell people what we have learned here. We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still. They will listen to us, Corrie, because we have been here.”
Less than two weeks following Betsie’s death, another miracle took place. Corrie was ordered to stand out in front for roll call. She thought her time to die had finally come. Much to her surprise, however, she was released without explanation. It was later discovered to be a clerical error. She never should have been released. Just days later, an order was given for all of the female prisoners in her age group to be killed.
Her experience at Ravensbruck tested Corrie’s faith repeatedly. However, the miracles she witnessed testified to her the undeniable truth that God had a greater plan for her.
Perhaps though, Corrie’s biggest test of faith came after the war and it led to yet another miracle. Corrie did return to Germany, just as Betsie had predicted. One day she had just finished giving a sermon on forgiveness at a church in Munich. It was then that Corrie saw an eerily familiar face—a heavyset balding man in a gray overcoat and brown hat. He worked his way toward her and she froze. Memories of how she knew him came flooding back.
“One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next a blue uniform and a visor cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush...the place was Ravensbruck, and the man who had been making his way forward, a guard—one of the most cruel guards.”
He told her since his time at Ravensbruck he had become a Christian and knew God had forgiven him for his sins but he wanted to hear something from her. Then he held out his hand said something that made her blood freeze, “Fraulein, will you forgive me?”
Corrie stood there for what seemed like hours staring at him with flashbacks of his cruelty and wrestled with the most difficult thing she ever had to do. How could she ever forgive him?
Anger and coldness toward her former guard clutched her heart. But as she prayed, she realized, “Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more?” The anger slowly thawed and she realized “Forgiveness is an act of will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” So she prayed, “Jesus help me! I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
So she held out her hand. As she did, something miraculous happened. “The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. I forgive you brother! With all my heart.”
For a long moment, they stood just grasping each other’s hands, “the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then,” Corrie later recalled. “But even so, I realized it was not my love. I had tried, and did not have the power....And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world's healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself."
This is Corrie ten Boom’s story of miracles.
I’m convinced that some women, like Corrie ten Boom, suffer horrific fates, carried only by their faith in God, so that people, years later, can continue to be inspired by them. Corrie’s story teaches us that if we open our hearts and eyes to the miracles taking place in our own lives, we’ll find not only are they there at every turn, but perhaps they are also evidence that God has a greater plan for us all.
God’s plan for Corrie literally took her all over the world. The last 30 years of her life were spent traveling to over 60 countries to convey the message that God heals all wounds and that His love is always shining—even in the darkest of places.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. is just one of hundreds of Holocaust museums throughout the world dedicated to honoring the lives of those who lost theirs at the hands of the Nazis. Any one of the memorials is well worth a visit—even if your heart can only handle going just once.
Brittany C. Richman
Brittany served in the speechwriting office of President George W. Bush at the White House. She was also a Congressional staffer for former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. She and her twin sister started The American Moms, a blog devoted to passing civics and civility onto the next generation. Richman is also passionate about history—our own and our nation’s. She and her husband currently reside in Rapid City, South Dakota with their three children. You can read more about her blog and connect with her at www.theAmericanMoms.com
or on Instagram @TheAmericanMoms.