“Adventure and anguish, horror and heaven were just around the corner, and we did not know. Oh Father! Betsie! If I had known would I have gone ahead? Could I have done the things I did? But how could I know? How could I imagine this white-haired man, called Opa - Grandfather - by all the children of Haarlem, how could I imagine this man thrown by strangers into a grave without a name?”
At the start of Corrie’s narrative, she reflects on the contrast between her comfortable life and the coming horrors. The abrupt and cruel changes, which occur in the life of the ten Booms point to the unpredictable nature of life. However, unpredictability does not lessen the pain of suffering. Nor does the knowledge that life is unpredictable prepare an individual for the shock and horror of wartime atrocities. Corrie wonders if her bravery came from ignorance of the future costs, rather than perseverance in spite of them. Corrie feels that she might not have continued the dangerous Underground work if she had known how her father and sister would suffer, but the past cannot be altered by wishing.
“It would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you”
After reading about “sex-sin” in a poem in school, Corrie asks Father what sex is. When they pull into the Haarlem station, Father asks Corrie to carry the impossibly heavy case full of watches and instruments. When she cannot, he gives her this explanation. Corrie uses this example throughout her experience in Scheveningen, Vught and Ravensbruck. When knowledge of cruelty is too much to bear, Corrie gives that burden to God, her heavenly father. By using this small example, Corrie manages to survive the mental trauma of WWII.
“Happiness isn’t something that depends on our surroundings, Corrie. It’s something we make inside ourselves.”
When Corrie asks her mother if they can do anything to make Tante Bep happier, such as sending her to the last family she lived with as a governess, Mama replies that it would be impossible. Mama tells Corrie that happiness depends on attitude rather than circumstances. Once again, Corrie uses her mother’s lesson to survive the harshness of prison and concentration camp. This statement infuses the entire narrative, especially when little exists in Corrie’s life to make her happy.
“And yet, in the interludes, we forgot. Or, when Willem was visiting and would not let us forget, or when letters to Jewish suppliers in Germany came back marked “Address Unknown”, we still managed to believe that it was primarily a German problem. “How long are they going to stand for it?” we said. “They won’t put up with that man for long.”
In the years before WWII, the family along with most of Europe hopes rather than believes that Hitler is simply a German problem. Appeasement marked much of political policy in international affairs. Moreover, Holland’s neutrality in World War I led many to believe that a second war would lead to the same position. On an individual level, Corrie represents what many Dutch felt or hoped, that the problems in Germany would just go away. However, Corrie realizes that the disappearance of Jewish watch suppliers in Germany is cause for grave concern.
“Peter was playing the “Wilhelmus”! ...Then we were all singing together, the full voice of Holland singing her forbidden anthem. We sang at the top of our lungs, sang our oneness, our hope, our love for Queen and country. On this anniversary of defeat it seemed almost for a moment that we were victors.”
The German occupation government makes illegal the act of singing Holland’s national anthem, the Wilhelmus. Despite this ban, Peter ten Boom plays the song on the organ after church. In May of 1942, most Dutchmen avidly desire the restoration of the queen to the throne. With the occupation rules growing harsher every day, Corrie fears for Peter in this act of blatant rebellion against the Germans. However, Corrie also feels the power of the voice of Holland and its hope for the future.
“It will be far better for you to develop your own sources. The less connection with me – the less connection with anyone else – the better."
When Corrie asks Willem if he can procure stolen ration cards for the Jews staying in the Beje, he grows frustrated with her. Finally, he explains that Underground work must be individual and as self-sustained as possible. Corrie must develop her own network of people who can provide ration cards, communication, transportation, and homes for the Jews who come to them. This situation teaches Corrie a kind of self-reliance, which is foreign to her. Additionally, Corrie learns that anonymity is paramount in the Underground.
“It is possible that I appear to you a powerful person. I wear a uniform, I have a certain authority over those under me. But I am in prison, dear lady from Haarlem, a prison stronger than this one.”
During Corrie’s imprisonment at Scheveningen, she meets an officer named Lieutenant Rahms who presides over her hearing. When Corrie begs Rahms to allow her to see her sister Betsie, he informs her that he has little power. This comment reveals the nature of the German chain of command, in which uniforms do not mean power to contradict policy. On the level of individuals, the comment indicates the personal consequences of supporting an evil authority. Lieutenant Rahms acknowledges the guilt and cost of working for the Nazi regime when he calls it a prison. There is hope in the Lieutenant’s words, when they are compared with the countless guards who relish inflicting pain and suffering upon their prisoners. Here is a German man, who has learned Nationalist ideology and senses that it is wrong. Rahms serves as a reminder that German officers were humans who could be shown another way, such as Corrie suggests.
“Willem said, we praise You for these moments together under the protection of this “good man. How can we thank him? We have no power to do him any service. Lord, allow us to share this inheritance from our father with him as well. Take him too, and his family, into Your constant care.”
Lieutenant Rahms finds an excuse for the ten Boom siblings to reunite, by declaring that the law requires family members at the reading of a will. After hearing Father’s will, Willem prays for Rahms, inviting him to share the inheritance of God’s care. This prayer represents one of the ways the ten Booms touch the life of Lieutenant Rahms. Moreover, the ten Booms are shown to be devout and faithful people who do not rely on their own strength.
“I glanced at the matron seated at the desk ahead of us. I saw a gray uniform and a visored hat: Betsie saw a wounded human being.”
Throughout their lives, Betsie continually pushes Corrie to be more compassionate. In this instance, Betsie is thinking of the German guards as people rather than the enemy. Corrie, however, has trouble seeing past the pain. Eventually, Corrie will open her home to the former enemy and spend time developing rehabilitation centers. Betsie’s influence over Corrie produces positive changes throughout the narrative.
“Sure enough, in their own time and their own way, people worked out the deep pain within them. It most often started, as Betsie had known it would, in the garden. As flowers bloomed or vegetables ripened, talk was less of the bitter past, more of tomorrow’s weather. As their horizons broadened, I would tell them about the people living in the Beje, people who never had a visitor, never a piece of mail. When mention of the NSBers no longer brought on a volley of self-righteous wrath, I knew the person’s healing was not far away.”
National Socialist Bond members were Dutch people who sided with the German occupying government. After the war, former NSBers were evicted from their homes and prevented from getting work. However, Corrie realizes the need for forgiveness between Dutch Holocaust victims and their countrymen who betrayed them. Moreover, this forgiveness will happen in places of beauty, like gardens. Corrie inspires peace and renewal in the rehabilitation centers she begins.
The Hiding Place Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Hiding Place is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Betsie and Corrie switch roles in Chapter Four. After Betsie becomes sick with a cold, Corrie takes over her sister's responsibilities in the watch shop, while Betsie takes over the household chores. Both women embrace the change.
The Hiding Place study guide contains a biography of Corrie ten Boom, John Sherrill and Elizabeth Sherrill, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.