Friday, August 21, 2009

The Hiding Place

Corrie ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill, 1971

Having grown up in the church, I’ve heard a lot about Corrie ten Boom. I’d heard many anecdotes from the book, seen the movie, and even read the comic book (in which the scenes and dialogue were faithfully preserved, but unfortunately Corrie and Betsey, who were in their 50’s when they were arrested by the Nazis, look like shapely young Marvel Comics heroines, Corrie with long brown hair and Betsey with a chestnut bun).
Anyway, all that to say, I felt like I knew the story – and it turns out I did know most of it – but I’d never actually read the book. So thank you to whoever dropped off their copy at the used items exchange that I recently picked it up from.
Either Corrie ten Boom or the Sherrills are very good storytellers. The book is simply told, yet so well-written that it goes very fast. The parts you usually hear the most about are those that take place in the concentration camps, but frankly those are the least enjoyable parts of the book. I enjoyed much more the chapters spent with the whole ten Boom family, in their one-room-wide house/watch shop in Haarlem. It gets very interesting when the Nazis invade Holland and the family gets involved in the underground. But if you’ve taken the trouble to read the earlier chapters, you see that their involvement in helping and hiding Jews was a natural outgrowth of the exemplary life they’d already lived for many years. Long before the invasion, Corrie’s father Casper was known as the “Grand Old Man of Haarlem” to whom all kinds of people brought their troubles as well as their broken watches. When his children grew up and two of the four married and moved out, Casper ten Boom welcomed a series of foster children into his home. And this was years before the war.
As I watched this Grand Old Man wisely parent his daughters, do quality work in his watch shop, and then eventually reach out to his entire city, it dawned on me that were it not for Casper ten Boom’s faithful service of his family and his Lord, there would be no Hiding Place. He’s one of those remarkable fathers whose character undergirds an adventure story, like Charles Ingalls in the Little House books. Among other lessons of the Hiding Place, what a difference a good father makes!
Casper ten Boom also provides some unintentional humor in the story, as he never really “gets” some of the rules of the Underground … such as that everyone in the Underground goes by the name Smit.
Those familiar with the story will remember that in the concentration camps, Betsey ten Boom achieved a level of serenity, selflessness and compassion that is truly unbelievable … unless we remember that it was not her, but Jesus giving her the strength to pray for her tormentors, love everyone, and see visions of the future. Corrie, who was also a godly woman but less mystical, with her narration provides the voice of a more “normal person” that the reader can relate to.
The most amazing thing about this story is that it’s true.

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