The incredible faith and kindness of Corrie ten Boom Part 1
It is a rare and beautiful thing to see true, radical compassion in this world. To see someone devote themselves to the most vulnerable and downtrodden among us, to care deeply about their fellow man even when it means putting themselves at risk, is as rare as a shooting star. Corrie ten Boom was one of those people, and her acts of radical compassion and faith saved more lives than we can know.
Corrie came from relatively normal roots. Born the daughter of a watchmaker in 1892 in Haarlem, Netherlands, her family was a memorable part of their community. Living in the Beje (pronounced Bay Jay) house above her father’s jewelry store, they were a fixture of the neighbourhood, a family everyone knew. From her father’s penchant for getting so fascinated by a tricky repair job that he would sometimes forget to charge customers, to their active participation in the Dutch Reformist Church, the people of Haarlem knew the Booms were a kind and generous people. Sincere believers, the Boom’s frequently opened their doors for foster children and made an extra seat at their table for neighbours who didn’t have enough to make ends meet.
Corrie took these lessons from her parents to heart, taking after them in more than one way. First the inspiration from her father to pursue watchmaking herself, a trade that was utterly dominated by men in the early 1900’s. Nevertheless, Corrie proved herself a deft and able hand when it came to sprockets and gears and became the first licensed woman watchmaker in the Netherlands in 1922. Already quite the accomplishment, Corrie wasn’t content to just make a quiet living, she believed she had a civic and human duty to her community. Taking her earnings, she opened a Youth Center for teenage girls in the neighbourhood, leading them in religious teaching, performing arts, and useful craft and practical experience to help them as they entered adulthood. She also began an involved charity effort for the mentally handicapped, working with the city’s most in need to assist them in living full, happy lives free of suffering and exploitation.
This was a good and fulfilling life. She had a proud vocation, a close family, and established good works in a grateful community – but it was not to last. While Corrie was building up her community, the Nazis were putting cities to the torch and spreading their foul ideology of hate across Europe. When the Netherlands were invaded in 1940, Haarlem fell like every other city. The jackbooted thugs took one look at the girls Youth Group and shut it down immediately, and their eugenic designs directly targeted the mentally ill as "degenerates” to eliminate. For everyone living under the new Nazi occupation, it was time to keep their head low, time to not rock any boats or stand out in anyway. But Corrie wasn’t that kind of person. She kept helping the vulnerable through the occupation. She provided food and money when possible, small but meaningful lifelines in a very dangerous time and place.
But then a knock at her door in 1942 changed her life. It was a small, skinny Jewish woman holding a suitcase. Neither Corrie nor any of her other family members knew this woman, she wasn’t an old friend or an acquaintance she met back in school, she was a Jewish stranger in a time when talking to a Jew could easily be considered "conspiring with the enemy.” But why was she there? The woman explained that her husband had already been taken away to a fate no one knew for certain. Her son was in hiding, he became involved in the underground and the Gestapo was onto him. And now they were on to her, asking questions around her apartment building. She took as much of her life as she could carry in a suitcase and fled, knowing that staying in one place meant certain death, and having no where else to turn she went to a family in the community known for helping others. She went to the Booms because there was nobody else.
Corrie took her in immediately.
It was a decision that would change her life from that moment on. In that instant, she placed herself and her family directly in harms way for the sake of a stranger. It was a decision Corrie would never once regret, no matter how much it cost her – and the price was steep.