The first four chapters of the book give important background to the main story. Chapter one, “The One Hundredth Birthday Party,” relates the big celebration in Haarlem for the 100th anniversary of the watch repair shop owned by Casper ten Boom. This chapter introduces all the main characters in the story. Corrie reflects on this happy celebration, slightly marred by news of events taking place in Germany, and says,
The shadow fell across us that winter afternoon in 1937, but it rested lightly. Nobody dreamed that this tiny cloud would grow until it blocked out the sky. And nobody dreamed that in this darkness each of us would be called to play a role: Father and Betsie and Mr. Kan and Willem—even the funny old Beje [their house] with its unmatching floor levels and ancient angles. (p. 31. Page numbers are from the 2006 35th Anniversary Edition published by Chosen Books.)
In chapters 2 – 4 Corrie takes us back to her childhood as she learns about life and God from her parents. She learns about sickness and loss through the death of her mother and aunts, who lived with them. She learns also about watch making, doing business when others aren’t completely honest, about love and the loss of love, and trusting God with these hurts. All these lessons come into play during the war when she has nothing left to trust except God. These opening chapters move more slowly than the rest of the book, but they are essential and spiritually profitable. According to the author, “The experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work He will give us to do.” (p. 31)
Beginning with chapter 5, “Invasion,” the action picks up. Hitler’s forces move into Haarlem, bringing ever-tightening martial law. As Nazi persecution of the Jews increases, the ten Booms become involved in the resistance, hiding Jews in their house and helping them to leave the country. They construct a wall in Corrie’s bedroom to create a small space for people to hide in case of a Gestapo raid. The opening to the secret room was well concealed. A buzzer system warned Jews and resistance workers in the house to flee upstairs to the hiding place. During this time Corrie and her family continued to read the Bible and minister to everyone that came to their house.
In spite of good planning and execution, the ten Booms were eventually caught. On February 28, 1944 a man pretending to need help came to their house. He was a Nazi spy who turned in the ten Booms to the Gestapo. During the raid the Jews made it to the secret room, but the family was arrested. Despite a thorough search the Nazis never found the room, which they believed existed and was hiding Jews.
The ten Booms were taken to a local prison where Casper ten Boom, now in his 80s, died. Corrie and Betsie were separated for months but reunited when everyone was moved to a prison camp farther into Holland. As the allied forces advanced the Nazis found it necessary to move all prisoners to another camp deep in Germany—Ravensbruck, an extermination camp for women. The sisters traveled together with only their faith and a few possessions, including a small Bible that had been smuggled in to Corrie.
At Ravensbruck conditions were far worse than anything they had yet seen. The women were forced to do back-breaking labor, subsisting on meager rations and living in filthy barracks. Hate was the order of the day, and most of the women lost hope. Even Corrie struggled with hatred for the guards. But Betsie pitied them and prayed for them, encouraging Corrie to do the same.
The sisters conducted nightly services for all the women who could crowd around them in the barracks, using the Bible they had smuggled into camp. Soon the atmosphere of the barracks changed as the Lord worked in the hearts of the women. Many of them found hope in Christ. Corrie, too, found help for her besieged spirit. In this section we realize that the book’s title has a double meaning. The “hiding place” is not just a little room, but “Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word” (Psalm 119:114).
The circumstances of the story are dark, but the darkness is the backdrop against which the grace of God shines ever brighter. Betsie’s health broke in Ravensbruck, and shortly before she died, she said to Corrie, “. . . 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.” (p. 227)
A few days after Betsie’s death, Corrie was released. Many years later Corrie learned that her release had been because of a “clerical error” and that a week after her release all the women her age were sent to the gas chamber. For decades Corrie ten Boom traveled around the world telling her story and pointing people to Christ. Many lives wounded by war and hate have been healed through her ministry.
If you’ve never read this book, I highly recommend it to you. It is very edifying. Co-written by Elizabeth and John Sherrill.
Available from Amazon in several formats—
Deluxe paperback edition (35th Anniversary Edition) Better paper and print quality and opens more easily than the mass market edition.
Hendrickson hardcover edition
Paperback Mass Market edition
The Hiding Place DVD Movie (Excellent)
A comic book version of The Hiding Place is available for free download from Spire Christian Comics. Gives the gist of the story and is good for children to read.