The Hiding Place

The Hiding Place Summary and Analysis of Chapter 4: The Watch Shop


In 1918 after the end of World War I, Corrie’s mother suffers another stroke and slips into a coma for two months. Although she recovers briefly, Cornelia ten Boom can only say “yes,” “no” and “Corrie.” Corrie takes care of her mother, helping her to write notes to people all over the city. This time leads to an amazing discovery: love finds ways when the means are few, reaching beyond physical boundaries of weakness and frailty. Meanwhile, Nollie falls in love with another teacher in her school, Flip van Woerden. Because Nollie’s mother cannot speak, unmarried Tante Anna must talk to Nollie about sex education. On the day of the wedding, Cornelia joins in miraculously to sing “Fairest Lord Jesus,” her favorite hymn, with the congregation. This comes as a final gift to the family who lose mama four weeks later after a final stroke.

When Betsie comes down with a bad cold towards the end of December, Corrie takes over the bookkeeping for the watch shop. She is appalled by the absence of a billing system and gradually works to make one by asking her father about past transactions. She begins to enjoy the business side of the watch shop and learns that Betsie thrives in household work. Now in their correct roles, Corrie helps restore financial order and Betsie makes the house beautiful and stretches the food budget amazingly. Corrie learns watch repair, becoming the first licensed female watchmaker in Holland, three years after her mother’s death. Betsie helps Corrie with the human side of business, reminding her of names and personal information of customers.

In the late 1920s, Tante Anna dies, but the family fills the empty space in the house with a succession of foster children. Meanwhile Willem and Tine have four children, and Nollie and Flip have six. Willem has long since stopped being a pastor, working instead on his nursing home in Hilversum. Nollie lives closer to the Beje, as her husband is now the principle of the local school. Nollie’s son Peter discovers his talent for music in the Beje, where Corrie teaches him piano for six months before he needs more advanced teaching.

When Father ten Boom recovers from a nearly fatal case of hepatitis, the town buys him a radio for his seventieth birthday to show their appreciation. The radio changes life in the Beje, eliminating the need for Father to check the Naval Observatory clock in Amsterdam. The family listens to music on the radio and hears angry German voices stirring. The distractions of normal life, including daily walks around Haarlem to visit friends and neighbors, almost allow the ten Booms to ignore the threat of Hitler and the alarming disappearance of Jewish watch suppliers. They form an unofficial and non-verbal friendship with a man whom they call the Bulldog because of he looks so like the pets he loves dearly.

In 1939, when a young German watchmaker, Otto, comes to be an apprentice under father, the family realizes the effect of Nazism. Otto proudly states that he was in the Hitler Youth, and excuses himself during daily scripture reading. When questioned, Otto complains that Father was reading from the Old Testament, which he calls the Jews’ “Book of Lies.” Father believes that they can show Otto that he is mistaken; however, when Otto abuses Christoffels on account of his age Father draws the line. After shoving Christoffels into a wall, Otto is fired from the shop and leaves with great contempt for the family. Willem tell the family that Germany is systematically teaching its youth respect for authority and utter disrespect for the weak and elderly. The family worries for the future of Holland and the rest of the world.


This chapter contains Corrie’s life during the interwar years, which bring several changes to the ten Boom family. Although Corrie covers a vast period of time, 1918-1939, she conveys a vivid picture of her life during those years. While covered briefly, the interwar years play an essential role in establishing Corrie’s character and identity. The tone remains cheerful throughout the narrative, except during the episode with Otto Altschuler. Even when Corrie’s mother dies, Corrie’s sorrow has sweetness in it, because she believes she and her mother will meet again in heaven. Corrie’s voice is mature and increasingly wise; she carries a heavier burden of responsibility than she did previously.

After Mama falls ill, Corrie’s life alters irrevocably and she gives up childish pursuits. Corrie is not the same young girl who fell hopelessly in love with Karel only a few years ago. In the intervening years, Corrie learns to love unconditionally by serving the people around her. The lesson she learns from her mother infuses Corrie’s actions during the war. Corrie takes the knowledge that love is greater than a physical place or body into Scheveningen, Vught and Ravensbruck. Love is a key theme in “The Hiding Place,” which helps Corrie survive Nazi cruelty.

Although Corrie feels no resentment towards Karel, she thinks of him often. Before Nollie’s wedding, Corrie remembers her offering of love to God. This unconditional love helps Corrie reconcile her fate as a single woman. Women in the early 1920s in Holland were expected to marry or remain single. Moreover, the scene with Tante Anna and Nollie before her wedding illustrates the standards of behavior for unmarried and married women.

As time passes, Betsie and Corrie demonstrate the ways they act as foils for one another. When Betsie and Corrie switch roles, the emphasis on their differences is especially strong. Betsie’s quiet patience and good-natured generosity brings Corrie’s impatience and energy into focus. Despite their differences, Betsie and Corrie’s personalities complement each other and reveal the close bond of the sisters. Betsie’s homemaking illustrates the theme of home and homeliness, which reappears in Scheveningen. Wherever Betsie goes, she tries to make a place into a home, by instilling order and beauty even into a prison cell. The symbol of home holds great significance for a family who is forced to leave their house. Home represents love and care, and sharply contrasts the philosophy of Nazism. Later in the prison, the sisters are called by numbers rather than name and made to feel like they are not human beings.

Betsie’s homely activities are complemented by Corrie’s efforts in the watch shop. Corrie creates a system of order out of chaos, by tracking down receipts and searching through her Father’s mess. A child sorting out her parent’s mess provides an image that neatly parallels the aftermath of the First World War. After the devastation of WWI, Europe also needed to make chaos into order. Europeans were not expecting WWI to be as brutal as it was. The war and the intervening years forced Europe into an uneasy adulthood.

Therefore, Otto Altschuler’s German Nationalist attitudes about strength and weakness come as eerie foreshadowing of the Second World War. At the end of chapter four, Otto provides an illustration of what is happening in Germany. Otto’s treatment of Christoffels manifests hateful ideology, which teaches contempt for several groups of people. Through his behavior and actions, Otto is almost the personification of Hitler’s evil ideas. All of this drama unfolds from the perspective of a family watch business. Corrie presents the effects of the war on a small, personal scale, giving a sense of the individual’s reactions amid a massive conflict.