Eleven million civilians died under the brutality of the Nazis, including six million Jews and other minority groups like the elderly and mentally impaired, gypsies, homosexuals, and political dissidents. The word Holocaust means "a burning of the whole." Adolf Hitler led Germany into what he called “the Final Solution,” which advocated what he deemed an ethnically pure nation. The Holocaust provides more than the historical background for Corrie ten Boom’s biography. Rather, the mass murder of millions provides the driving force behind all Corrie does. She is reacting to the hatred and cruelty of a regime, using love and religious precepts of forgiveness. During the war, Corrie experiences several environments of Nazi brutality, including prison, a concentration camp and an extermination camp. With bravery and courage, Corrie survives the Holocaust and helps others to do the same in rehabilitation centers.
Corrie returns to the need to give and receive forgiveness throughout her story. She often finds forgiving others difficult, especially after enduring cruelty and hatred. When the former guard at Ravensbruck approaches Corrie after the war, she struggles even to shake his hand. However, Corrie believes that God gives the power to love her enemies even in the most adverse situation. When Corrie takes the man’s hand, she feels a burden lifted form her and finds healing. Corrie often uses metaphors of washing and cleansing in order to make the point that forgiveness renews the individual. Although Corrie speaks of forgiveness in a Christian context, it applies to the post-war world more broadly. Healing after WWII often came after the victims forgave their persecutors.
Friendship in adversity
The friendship between Corrie and Betsie endures for over half a century. Friendship in adversity builds strong bonds between sisters who witness the atrocities of war together. Moreover, the strong friendships formed in the biography indicate the need for human companionship, especially during times of duress. When Corrie and Betsie meet after being separated at Scheveningen Prison, they weep together out of gratitude for their reunion. The blue sweater represents the ties of friendship between the sisters, which lasts physically until Betsie dies and Corrie hopes will continue in an after life. Although the sweater grows dirty and lice-ridden, it stands for the warmth and loyalty the sisters feel for each other.
The Hiding Place
The hiding place appears as a constant image of safety in periods of duress. When Father reads the verse from Psalm 119:114, “Thou art my shield and my hiding place,” to his young children, he does not know how important the words will become. Adding to the physical sense of a hiding place, Corrie and the Underground build a secret cupboard in the Beje, which provides a safe haven for many Jews against the terror of the Nazis. Later in Scheviningen, Corrie understands the power of an emotional and spiritual hiding place, when she sees the ants disappear from her prison cell into concealment and protection. Although the symbol of the hiding place has roots in reality, its metaphorical significance almost outweighs the physical location.
Nationalism versus Patriotism
German Nationalist ideology inspired people to disrespect elderly people, ethnic and political minorities and weakness of any kind. Hitler encouraged complete devotion to the state and reverence for power and strength. Germans were encouraged to pride themselves on their nationality. So, when Otto Altschuler comes to the ten Boom shop to work, he displays shocking attitudes, which he learned in Hitler Youth, to the family and employees like Christoffels. However, the family’s Dutch pride appears quite similar to Otto’s devotion to Germany. Peter ten Boom faces imprisonment by the Gestapo in order to play the Wilhelmus, Holland’s national anthem, and the church congregation proudly sings along. However, the ideology regarding reverence for strength and disdain for human weakness may separate Dutch patriotism from German nationalism.
In the early twentieth century, gender roles are complicated for Corrie, who cannot continue her education and must stay home to do household work. In Dutch society, women are expected to marry, receiving little-to-no sex education beforehand, or remain at home. In addition, people were not free to marry whom they wanted. For instance, Karel will not marry Corrie because she is not rich or well connected enough, although he loves her. In spite of these conventions and barriers to women, Corrie defies traditional gender roles, by excelling at watch making. Even in the sparse environment of concentration camp, Corrie surpasses Mr. Moorman’s expectations at Phillips factory by taking an interest in stereotypically masculine work. There is a complicated balance in the narrative between following and rejecting traditional gender roles. However, Corrie does not let the existing barriers prevent her from exerting her own strong will and surviving conditions which many men sadly could not withstand.
Prison and its effect on individuals
Corrie and the others experience several kinds of prison during the war, including physical and mental ones. Earlier, Corrie’s mother tells her that happiness comes from inside an individual rather than externally. With this advice, Corrie survives the mental trauma of solitary confinement and the physically brutal conditions at Ravensbruck. However, prisons exists in spaces which do not have four walls covered in barbed wire. For example, Lieutenant Rahms remains trapped in the hierarchy of German command, which forces him to do hateful things to innocent people. There is another kind of prison, which fear and harsh conditions create. Many of the women in Ravensbruck are trapped in the prison of self-interest. Rather than bear the suffering of others, people in prison often focus on their own needs. However, Corrie has other lessons from the Bible, which allow her to break free from this particular prison. Even after the war, many people across Europe suffer in mental prisons of their own haunting memories. Corrie attempts to provide the means of freedom by providing rehabilitation centers and giving encouraging speeches.
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.