(Parental advisory: Some of the content of this Perspective is unsuitable for young children.)
Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie were imprisoned in Ravensbruck, the notorious Nazi women’s concentration camp, during World War 2. Of over 130,000 prisoners incarcerated at Ravensbruck, only 40,000 survived. But the ministry of Corrie and Betsie while there shows the incredible power of God’s Word to bring light and life to the darkest, most-desperate human situations.
At the Ravensbruck processing center for new arrivals each woman had to surrender whatever possessions she had brought to the camp, strip off every scrap of clothes and walk naked past a dozen watchful guards into the shower room. After showering she was given nothing more than a thin prison dress and a pair of shoes to wear. Corrie and Betsie begged a guard to show them the toilets and were tersely ordered to use the drain holes in the shower room. There, behind a stack of old wooden benches piled in a far corner, they hid a compact Bible, a vitamin bottle and a blue sweater they had brought to the prison.
After showering and selecting their prison clothes from heaps on the floor just inside the shower room door, Corrie sought to hide their little bundle of precious possessions under her prison dress. She afterward related: “I flattened it out as best I could … but there was no real concealing it beneath the thin cotton dress. And all the while I had the incredible feeling that it didn’t matter, that this was not my business, but God’s. That all I had to do was walk straight ahead.
“As we trooped back out through the shower room door, the S.S. men ran their hands over every prisoner, front, back and sides. The woman ahead of me was searched three times. Behind me, Betsie was searched. No hand touched me. At the exit door to the building was a second ordeal, a line of women guards examining each prisoner again. I slowed down as I reached them but the officer in charge shoved me roughly by the shoulder. ‘Move along! You’re holding up the line!’ And so Betsie and I arrived at Barracks 8 in the small hours of that morning, bringing not only the Bible, but a new knowledge of the power of Him whose story it was.”
Roll call began promptly at 4:30 each morning, was held out in the predawn chill and sometimes lasted for hours. Throughout that time the prisoners were required to stand at parade attention. Immediately next to them were located the punishment barracks. Of the overwhelming nightmarish suffering they observed in those days, Corrie later wrote: “From there [the punishment barracks], all day long and often into the night, came the sounds of hell itself. They were not the sounds of anger, or of any human emotion, but of a cruelty altogether detached: blows landing in regular rhythm, screams keeping pace. We would stand [at role call] in our ten-deep ranks with our hands trembling at our sides, longing to jam them against our ears, to make the sounds stop. …
“It grew harder and harder. Even within these four walls [of Barracks 8] there was too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering. Every day something else failed to make sense, something else grew too heavy. ‘Will You carry this too, Lord Jesus?’ ”
However, Corrie also testified of a redemptive spiritual reality that God brought about through their ministry of His Word in that blackest of settings: “But as the rest of the world grew stranger, one thing became increasingly clear – and that was the reason the two of us were here. Why others should suffer we were not shown. As for us, from morning until lights-out, whenever we were not in ranks for roll call, our Bible was the center of an ever-widening circle of help and hope. Like waifs clustered around a blazing fire, we gathered about it, holding out our hearts to its warmth and light. The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the Word of God. ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us’ [Romans 8:35, 37].
“I would look about us as Betsie read, watching the light leap from face to face. More than conquerors. … It was not a wish. It was a fact. We knew it, we experienced it minute by minute – poor, hated, hungry. We are more than conquerors. Not ‘we shall be’. We are! Life in Ravensbruck took place on two separate levels, mutually impossible. One, the observable, external life, grew every day more horrible. The other, the life we lived with God, grew daily better, truth upon truth, glory upon glory.”
Betsie gradually weakened and died at Ravensbruck. A short while later, due to a clerical error, Corrie was released. She went on to devote the remainder of her life to sharing and showing the light and hope of God’s Word to benighted, hopeless people around the world.
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A fuller account of Corrie ten Boom’s upbringing, early years of ministry, heroic endeavors during World War 2 and fruitful worldwide ministry in the closing decades of her life is provided in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). Corrie’s inimitable telling of the events of her life is found in her autobiographical works such as The Hiding Place, Tramp for the Lord, and Jesus Is Victor. Carole Carlson’s Corrie ten Boom: Her Life, Her Faith is an excellent one-volume account of Corrie’s life and ministry.
Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie
In June, we spent a few days in Amsterdam. The Anne Frank house is one of the busiest attractions in Amsterdam. But Haarlem is only a 10 minute train ride away. What a difference!!! While the Anne Frank house is all about much crying and sadness, the Hiding Place museum is all about laughter. The guide right up front told us that this was a Christian story, and it certainly was. And the only tears were tears of joy.
Thanks, Josh, for sharing this interesting and instructive contrast. Having Christ in the midst of tragedy certainly makes all the difference.