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Forgiving as the Messiah Forgave: The Life of Corrie Ten Boom

Corrie ten Boom was born in 1892, to a family of Dutch Reformed faith in the Netherlands. Even before the German occupation of the Netherlands during World War II, the ten Boom family had a history of concern for Jewish people. Her father owned a small jewelry store in the Jewish section of the city, and they joined with their Jewish neighbors in Sabbath worship and Bible study. Her grandfather had supported efforts to improve Jewish-Christian relations in the nineteenth century. Her brother, Willem, a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, had been assigned to convert Jews to the Christian faith. Rather than force conversions, however, he studied antisemitism and opened a nursing home for people of all faiths that eventually became a safe house for Jewish refugees during the war.

A Family Affair

Once the war began, many members of the ten Boom family became involved in resistance efforts. Corrie and her sister, Betsie, began to hide Jews within their family home. She worked with the underground resistance in Holland to obtain ration books for those Jewish people she was hiding, and coordinating the hiding of others in the Dutch countryside. This work continued for eighteen months, blooming into the center of an underground movement that spread nationwide.

Corrie later told of a time she had asked a local pastor to shield a Jewish mother and her infant child. He had refused out of safety concerns. Casper ten Boom, Corrie’s father, had overheard the conversation and entered the room, embracing the child and saying, “You say we could lose our lives for this child. I would consider that the greatest honor that could come to my family.”

Faithful Unto Death

The German police raided the ten Boom home in February, 1944. Those who were hiding remained undiscovered, while Corrie, along with her father, two sisters, brother, and other family members were arrested. Resistance workers who entered the house during the raid were also arrested, along with a group of friends who had been holding a prayer meeting in the living room of the home. In total, 30 people were arrested.

Of the ten Boom family members who had been arrested, all were released save Corrie, her sister, Betsie, and their father, Casper. Casper became sick shortly after arriving in prison and had died within ten days of the arrest. The sisters remained in prison until June, when they were transferred to an internment camp in another part of the country. In September, they were moved to the Ravensbrueck concentration camp in Germany.

While in the concentration camp, the sisters used their secret Bible to hold worship services for the other prisoners. These services blossomed into a multi-denominational taste of God’s Kingdom. Corrie wrote, “At last either Betsie or I would open the Bible. Because only the Hollanders could understand the text we would translate aloud in German. And then we would hear the life-giving words passed back along the aisles in French, Polish, Russian, Czech, and back into Dutch. These were little previews of heaven, these evenings beneath the light bulb.” Betsie died there in December 1944, and Corrie was released days later due to a clerical error. Her release happened one week before all the women in the camp her age were killed.

A Life of Forgiveness

What is particularly notable about Corrie ten Boom is her life after the war. In addition to speaking out about the central role her Christian faith played in her wartime actions, she proved committed to the Messiah’s teachings on forgiveness. At one of her speaking engagements, she was reunited with a Ravenbrueck guard, a man who had played a key role in the tragic death of her sister. He asked her forgiveness for his horrible actions, and she found that her faith gave her the power to forgive.

Read the story in Corrie’s own words here.

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