“The Hiding Place” is a 1971 memoir by Corrie ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill. The idea for the book came when the Sherrill’s were writing another book on another hero of the holocaust and discovered ten Boom’s story.
The book tells the story of ten Boom’s early childhood and most importantly, the story of her time working with Dutch underground system to hide Jews during World War II. Corrie developed a hiding place in her family’s watch shop. She and her family sheltered groups of Jewish people for years before they were found out by the Gestapo and imprisoned. Corrie and her sister were eventually put into a concentration camp where they suffered inhumane treatment for many years before her sister eventually passed away.
Corrie was let out of the camp shortly before the end of the war due to a clerical error. She then went on to turn her home into a rehabilitation center not only for the people that were held in the concentration camps but for the German soldiers who suffer from PTSD after the war.
When the book was written, ten Boom was in her seventies. The book was later made into a movie of the same name. The title refers, in part to a psalm that speaks of a “hiding place” and a “shield”.
One morning in January of 1937 an unmarried forty-five year old women named Corrie ten Boom wakes in her house the “Beje” in Haarlem, Holland. She begins readying herself for the 100 year anniversary of her family’s watch shop. Downstairs, Corrie and her sister Betsie decorate the shop while the cast of characters is introduced, including Pickwick, a family friend who gets his nickname from a Charles Dickens novel, the apprentice Hans, Toos the bookkeeper and their father.
Corrie’s narration reveals that the family was so happy at that moment she never would have guessed that the death of her father and inhumane treatment of her sister would soon happen. Many people from town show up to celebrate the 100th anniversary. Corrie is eventually sent to her sister Nollie’s house to fetch more supplies. Corrie has an older brother, Willem who works as a minister as the head of a program for Jewish outreach.
Many Jews are seeking shelter from the rising tide of Nazism and many Jewish watch suppliers have mysteriously gone out of business. Some members of the party claim that the war will not affect Holland. Willem arrives accompanied by an older Jewish man with a burned face named Herr Gutlieber. Willem explains to Corrie that the man escaped Munich after teenagers set fire to his beard. Gutlieber is welcomed to the party.
At the end of the day, Corrie lies in her bed and reflects on her childhood. At this point, the narrative goes back forty years, to 1898, when Corrie was six years old. It is the day before Corrie is to start school for the first time and she is nervous. Her older sister’s only talk about what they intend to wear the following day. Corrie’s aunt, Tante Jans has moved into the house and taken it upon herself to buy most of the girl’s clothes. However, being a very religious woman, she only buys them clothes that she deems appropriate.
Nollie wishes to wear a fur hat to school but is told it is not appropriate. The girl’s mother attempts to distract Tante Jans from noticing the hat. Before school, Father reads a passage from the Bible that includes the phrase, “Thou art my hiding place and my shield.” Corrie wonders what this hiding place could be. Corrie reflects more on her childhood with her father, a knowledgeable man who taught himself five languages.
One day, on a train Corrie reads the word “sexsin” in a poem and asks her father what it means. Her father hesitates before handing her his heavy watch case and asking her to carry it. When she tells him it is too heavy, Father tells her that some knowledge is also too heavy for children. He asks her to wait until she is older and stronger to learn about such things.
Corrie’s family also visits poor families in the neighborhood to bring them food. It is on such a visit that Corrie is faced with the reality of death and poverty. That evening, Corrie sadly tells her father that he cannot die, because she needs him. Father comforts Corrie by saying that God prepares us for things just before we go through them, like getting a ticket for a train ride just before you get on board.
At this point, the narrative skips forward several years to when Corrie is fourteen and she falls in love for the first time. The boy is a friend of her brothers named Karel who does not notice her. Two years later, Corrie graduates from school and takes over the household work. Her aunt and Corrie’s mother suffers a stroke. Tante Jans is also diagnosed with diabetes, which, at the time was a death sentence. Jan distracts herself by throwing herself into her charitable work. Holland begins readying for the first World War. Corrie introduces Willem to the woman he ends up marrying. She sees Karel again at the wedding and speaks to him, making her fall even more in love.
Soon, Jan’s diabetes worsens and she passes away. Months later, the family travels to Brabant where Willem is set to deliver his first sermon upon becoming a minister. Corrie begins dating Karel. Willem struggles to tell her that Karel is not serious about her because his family is expecting him to marry someone with money. After communicating through letters for months, Corrie is devastated when Karel returns home with a new fiance. Corrie’s father tells her that she should give her love of Karel back to God.
After the end of the war, Corrie’s mother suffers another stroke and falls into a two month coma. She only recovers enough to speak three words. Corrie takes care of her mother until the woman passes away a few months later after another stroke. Nollie falls in love and marries. Corrie is soon given control of the bookkeeping at the watch shop. She proves to be adept at handling the finances of the shop. Corrie also learns to repair the watches and becomes the first female watchmaker in Holland.
Over the next few years, Willem and his wife and Nollie and her husband begin having children. The family begins taking in foster children. The threat of another war begins rising as Hitler comes to power. In 1939, a young German named Otto comes to apprentice as a watchmaker and proudly tells them that he was in Hitler Youth. Father initially thinks that he can teach Otto tolerance but when Otto begins harassing Christoffels, the family friend, Father throws him out. The threat of Nazism suddenly becomes very real for the family. When they discover that Holland has chosen to remain neutral in the blossoming war, Father is angry.
That night, the German’s bomb the country and the family wake to the sound of explosions. Corrie has a terrible vision of everyone being hauled away in wagons. For five days the fighting continues, until Holland surrenders. The people in the community are distraught to have surrendered so quickly. The German’s occupy Holland. At first, the changes are not very noticeable. The family finds the influx of German soldiers uncomfortable but they do a lot of new business in the watch shop as a result. A 10 PM curfew is set and everyone is given identity cards and rations. Though the ten Booms are not Jewish, the increased persecution of the Jewish community around them is obvious. Families from the town begin disappearing. Synagogues are burned and the Jewish people in town are made to wear yellow stars to make them identifiable.
In 1941, the German’s vandalize the ten Boom’s neighbor’s store. The family takes the man in to hide him and eventually he is smuggled out of town by Willem’s son. It is after this that Corrie begins working with the Dutch Underground. In 1942, Willem’s son, Peter is arrested for playing the national anthem in church after it was outlawed by the Nazis. He is taken to an Amsterdam prison. The family begins taking in Jewish asylum-seekers but worries about the house being located very close to a police station. Corrie begins seeking places in the country to hide Jewish people.
Corrie manages to work out a system with the local Food office worker whose daughter she once taught piano to. The man, Fred Koornstra, agrees to help her re appropriate ration cards for the Jewish refugees. He stages a robbery of the food office in order to make it look like 100 cards were stolen and agrees to come to the Beje once a month disguised as a meter man to deliver more. Corrie realizes that she has a network of people available to aid her with this mission of helping smuggle Jews out of the city. She relies on praying to herself to figure out who she can trust.
Pickwick introduces Corrie to an architect who is willing to build a secret room in the house. A room is built off of Corrie’s room at the top of the house and a secret door is made behind a bookcase. Peter is finally released from prison after two months and begins taking up resistance work again. However, the German’s begin raiding houses looking for boys Peter’s age to work in munition factories. One such raid forces Peter to hide in his house as the German’s ask his younger sister if she has any older brothers. The sister, Cocky, tells the truth but luckily her nervous laughter makes the Officer think that she is making fun of him and he leaves.
Afterward, the family argue over whether Cocky did the right thing. Nollie thinks that God rewards those who tell the truth. Corrie worries that her own lies during the war are going to send her to hell. Many Jews begin sheltering in the house as the tensions of the war worse. The family puts in an illegal telephone line and develops a phone code to help aid their mission.
One Jewish man who is hard to hide because he has distinctive features, comes to the house. The man, Meyer Mossel is given the name Eusie Smit and the family assumes that he will stay with them permanently. Three more permanent additions move in, a young man named Jop, a young lawyer named Henk and a teacher named Leendert. Corrie realizes that the family need some type of warning systems for raids. Leendert installs an electric warning system and the household begins working on their reaction time. They eventually reach a point where they can hide all of the Jewish residents in only two minutes. The household enjoy a good quality of life, despite the constant threat. They spend every evening together doing readings and Hebrew lessons.
Soon, Nollie’s house is raided and she is asked if the woman staying with her, Annaliese, is Jewish. Nollie tells the truth that she is and both Annaliese and Nollie are arrested. Corrie soon receives word that Nollie is fine although she is in prison in Amsterdam. She tells them that she feels that God will protect Annaliese because Nollie told the truth. A short time later, forty Jews are rescued from holding, including Annaliese although Nollie is kept in prison. Corrie decides to visit the German doctor in charge of the prison to ask him to help Nollie. She manages to charm the man by talking about his three dogs and he tells her that he will do what he can to help Nollie. Nollie is released a few weeks later after the doctor recommended she be let out for health reasons.
One day, Otto Altschuler, the Nazi apprentice that Father had fired years earlier, unexpectedly shows up at the front door. Luckily, Corrie and Betsie manage to hide the Jewish refugees upstairs before they answer the door. They manage to convince Otto that the house is perfectly normal, they’re only mistake being in giving him real tea when no one in the country is supposed to have any.
During Christmas and Hanukkah, the celebrations at the Beje are interrupted when Corrie receives a summons from the chief of police. He tells her that he knows what she is doing but that he sympathizes with her mission. He asks her if she knows anyone who can have a member of the Gestapo killed as he is a spy in the department. Corrie insists that her mission is to save lives not end them. The chief apologizes for asking and sends her on her way. Despite the assurances from the chief, the ten Booms become more nervous after this incident.
In February, when Corrie is in bed with the flu, she is disturbed by the sound of the warning buzzer and running. Through her sick haze, it takes her a minute to realize that this is not a drill. The house is being raided by the Gestapo. Corrie sees everyone safely into the hiding place and closes the entry. The Gestapo come into the room and ask her her name, telling her to get dressed.
The Gestapo officers find incriminating Jewish religious items that have been left there for safety. The two agents, Kapteyn and Willemse begin questioning Corrie, whom they feel is the ringleader. When she refuses to answer, she is beaten. The Gestapo begin breaking down walls, looking for the secret room. They detain anyone who comes to the door, including customers. When they are not able to find the room, the agents march the ten Boom family out to the police station and surround the house, intending to starve the hidden Jews out.
After being questioned all night, the family is put on a bus to an unknown destination. Corrie remembers the vision that she had about the ten Boom’s being hauled out of town in a wagon. The family, and the people who were helping them, are taken to the Gestapo headquarters in The Hauge. The agents tell Father that they are willing to send him home as long as he agrees not to take in any more Jewish people. He tells them that he will open his door to any man in need tomorrow and so he is kept under arrest.
The family is taken to a prison called Scheveningen and separated by gender. Corrie is separated from her sister and put in a cell with strangers. In prison, Corrie must adjust quickly to a life of watery porridge and sanitary buckets. Luckily, a kind young woman lets her have the only cot in the cell, as she is still ill. Corrie is mostly stymied by the boredom of prison although she does worry about her family and the people still in the hiding place.
When Corrie fails to recover from her flu she is taken to the doctor and told she is pre-tubercular. Corrie taken to solitary confinement where she is made to sleep on a cot on the floor. Despite the prison guards treating her poorly, Corrie manages to recover a few weeks later. She begins reading the gospels to stave off the boredom. Corrie makes a knife out of a corset stay and uses it to scratch a calendar on the wall she she can keep tracks of the days passing.
On her birthday, she attempts to sing herself a birthday song only to be shushed by the guards. While the guards are distracted celebrating Hitler’s birthday, the prisoners use the opportunity to pass information between the cells. Corrie discovers Betsie’s cell number and that Nollie, Peter, Pickwick and Willem have been released. There is also news of an Ally invasion. Nollie sends Corrie a package and a letter informing her in code that the Jews in the hiding place are safe. Corrie weeps in relief. Corrie soon learns that Father died after ten days in prison. She is so distraught that she is given a sedative. She scratches a date into the wall ‘March 9th, 1944- Father released.’
In May, Corrie prepares for her trial. She is questioned again but manages to seem as though she is ignorant of the accusations. She tells the agent questioning her, Lieutenant Rahms that she used to run a small church group for mentally handicapped children. Rahms calls this a waste of time and Corrie tells him that God values people not for their strength or their brains but because he made them.
After a day of questioning, Rahms escorts Corrie outside to get some sunlight. Rahms confesses to Corrie that he hates his work in the prison and he fears for his family. After another few days, Rahms wonders why God would let Christians like Corrie and her father suffer. Corrie thinks about her father’s watch case and how there are still things that are too heavy for her to know. When the questioning is over, Rahms tells Corrie to walk slowly down a certain hallway. When she does so she manages to see the back of Betsie’s head.
Soon, Corrie gets to see her family again as they all have to be present for the reading of her father’s will. She is happy to see them but shocked to see the Willem is sick with jaundice.
Father leaves the house to Betsie and Corrie and tells them to share his money equally. Soon, the prison is evacuated and the prisoners are transported by train into Brabant, Holland. Corrie manages to push her way through the crowd to be with Betsie during the train ride. When they arrive at their destination, the prisoners are marched through the woods by armed soldiers. Corrie supports Betsie so that she will not fall behind and be beaten by the guards.
They are taken to a prison camp called Vught. The prisoners are kept in quarantine for two weeks while tempers wear thin. Corrie and Betsie manage to stay together. Both sisters are given work assignments. At the radio factory that Corrie is assigned to, her kindly boss tells her to sabotage the wiring of the radios because they are being sent to German planes. Betsie takes the opportunity of being in the camp to spread the gospel to the other prisoners. The guards become more brutal when word spreads that the Dutch soldiers are trying to retake Holland.
One day, seven hundred male prisoners are executed at the camp. The Dutch forces proximity forces the camps evacuation and the one thousand female prisoners are put on another train and taken into Germany. After a grueling train trip with no food or water, the women are brought to a notorious extermination camp called Ravensbruck. The women are treated inhumanely and forced to cut off their hair due to lice. Ravensbruck is worse than Vught and Corrie is witness to horrifying punishments of the prisoners. She asks God to carry the burden for her.
Betsie becomes more and more ill and is eventually admitted to the camp hospital. Luckily, she recovers enough to be let out of the hospital and returns in three days to the barracks where she continues ministering to the women around her. Betsie is still ill, however and has to be held up by Corrie during roll call. Corrie looks at the prisoners around her and wonders if they can make a home for these people after the war. Betsie says that they can but she is thinking of the guards instead. The sister plan to open up a home for the people damaged by the concentration camps after the war is over.
Soon, Betsie is taken into the hospital again and Corrie breaks the rules to stay with her as long as she can. Corrie returns the next day to find that Betsie has died and she believes that her sister has gone to heaven. Corrie is numb for days after her sister’s death. She tries to take comfort in talking about her sister with the women that knew her in the camp. One day, she is called to the administration barracks and told that she is being set free. But before she can be released, she is sent to stay in the hospital for a few days because she has edema, a swelling of the legs. Soon, Corrie is released and given back her personal items. She is also made to sign a sheet saying that her treatment at the camp was good.
Corrie takes a train to Berlin and feels disconnected from reality and in disbelief that she is truly free. Corrie struggles to get out of war-torn Germany and finally makes it back to Holland. She limps to a hospital in Gronigen and told that she is malnourished. The kind treatment of the nurses brings tears to Corrie’s eyes after being mistreated for so long. Corrie manages to make it to Willem and his children and sees that Willem is sick and will probably die soon. She returns to Haarlem. Pickwick tells her that the Beje network is still operating and homeless families are living in the house now. Corrie spends time with Nollie and takes in a group of mentally handicapped people to hide from the Nazis.
Corrie feels that the Beje is not a home without Father and Betsie, but she goes on living and running the underground. Soon, Corrie’s aunt tells her that she feels compelled to donate her manor home in the suburbs to Corrie’s cause. In the second week of May, the Allies reclaim Holland. Hundreds of people arrive at the manor house which Corrie names Bloemendaal. Corrie sees through Betsie’s vision to turn the house into a rehabilitation center for those affected by concentration camps and turns the Beje into a home for former National Socialist Bond members who have been fired and evicted.
Corrie begins to heal and goes on speaking tours around Europe. At one such engagement she runs into a former guard from Ravensbruck who tells her that he has become a Christian. She struggles to forgive him but feels at peace once she does. Corrie decides to fund a rehabilitation center for Germans as well and uses the site of a former concentration camp called Darmstadt. Corrie redesigns the place, painting the dormitories green and planting flowers. Corrie finally feels that she has lived up to her sister’s vision.
Corrie ten Boom – the protagonist of the novel. Corrie’s childhood is covered briefly in the first few chapters, but she spends the majority of the novel as a middle-aged woman who lives with her older sister and father. Corrie’s character is marked mostly by her unselfish nature and her devotion to God. After the beginning of World War II and the imprisonment of the Jews in the city, Corrie decides that she must do something to help them.
Corrie is the ringleader of an intricate system of protection for the Jewish refugees in the city. Using her clever ingenuity, she manages to create the hiding place and keep it running for several years before they are discovered by the Gestapo. During her time in prison and the concentration camps, Corrie struggles with her own beliefs but ultimately believes that God will see her through the hard times. In the end, Corrie honors the wishes of her sister by starting a rehabilitation center for both affected Jews and the German guards.
Betsie ten Boom – Corrie’s older sister. Betsie’s characterization is told through Corrie’s eyes and thus she is represented as being almost infallibly faithful. Betsie is an unfailingly kind, devoted Christian who maintains her faith in God despite inhumane treatment in the concentration camps. Betsie not only preaches the gospel to the other prisoners but she attempts to make her jail cell beautiful with decorations. It is as if she beautifies every situation she is in, despite the fact that she is in some of the worst situations imaginable. It is Betsie’s idea to open a rehabilitation center not just for the victims of the Holocaust but for the German guards too. Corrie is able to carry out this wish after Betsie finally succumbs to her illness in the camp.
Father ten Boom – the family patriarch. Father is Corrie’s trusted adviser and moral guidepost. Father owns a watch shop that has been in the family for over 100 years. He is a very religious man who raises his children to be as well. It is obvious through Father’s actions that his example of kindness and bravery in the face of adversity is what made his children, and especially Corrie develop such a need for justice. Unfortunately, Father dies a short while after he is put in prison. In his will he leaves his shop and home to his daughters and the rest of his estate to his children.
Cornelia ten Boom Biography
Cornelia ten Boom was born in Amsterdam, Netherlands on April 15th, 1892. As a child she grew up in her father’s watchmaking shop and was eventually licensed as the first female watchmaker in the Netherlands. When the second world war began in Holland, ten Boom began sheltering Jewish refugees in her house in a secret room that she referred to as “the hiding place”. Eventually, ten Boom and her family were arrested by the Gestapo and sent to prison. Corrie spent two years in a prison in Amsterdam before being transferred to a concentration camp with her sister.
In the concentration camps, Corrie suffered inhumane treatment from the guards and was repeatedly beaten. She finally escaped after the death of her sister due to a clerical error. Corrie returned to a Holland that was still occupied by the Nazis for several more months until the war ended later that year. With the use of her father’s watch shop that was willed to her, Corrie set up a refugee house and rehabilitation center for concentration camp survivors as well as the homeless Dutch who had previously collaborated with the Nazis. In answer to the wishes of her sister, Corrie also set up a rehabilitation center in an old manor house for German soldiers affected by PTSD from the war.
In 1946, Corrie returned to Germany and forgave two of the guards who had been employed at her concentration camp who had since become Christians. In 1950, the shelter began accepting anyone in need of care and counseling. Over the next 20 years, Corrie traveled the world and worked as a public speaker in many different countries.
In the early 1970’s, Corrie was approached by two authors who wanted to tell her story in the form of a memoir. The book, ‘The Hiding Place’ was published in 1971 and was so successful that it was made into a feature film in 1975. Corrie received many honors for her work during the Holocaust, including a knighthood by the queen of the Netherlands and a museum dedicated to her at the sign of her old watch shop.
In 1977, Corrie moved to California and a year later she suffered two strokes that rendered her unable to speak. She died on April 15th, 1983, her 91st birthday.