Haarlem is a Dutch city known for its tulips, bustling Grote Markt, Frans Hals Museum and beautiful church, Sint Bavokerk; but for me it is most memorable for something more: a story of love, sacrifice, and forgiveness. During World War II, a home in the center of town was secretly known to many as “the hiding place.”
In 1940 the Nazi’s invaded Holland and before long were rounding up Jews and political dissidents, sending them off to prisons, concentration camps and forced labor. In a tall, narrow home just steps away from the Grote Markt, an elderly clock maker and his two unmarried, middle-aged daughters put plans in motion to save as many as they could.
They were the ten Boom family, Casper, Betsie and Corrie. Propelled by a strong faith and deep love for others, they were active in social work before WWII and willingly joined the Resistance when the Nazi’s arrived.
48-year-old Corrie was an active social worker and the first licensed female watchmaker in Holland, but unskilled in the ways of the Resistance. Yet in spite of her fear and inexperience, before long she was finding hiding places for Jewish babies, smuggling ration cards, and listening to coded messages sent over the radio. By 1942 the ten Booms had a secret room built in their home and were hiding people in need – Jews, Resistance workers and young men evading the Nazi work draft – and Corrie was leading a Resistance group of about 80 members.
On February 28, 1944 Corrie was in bed with a terrible fever when suddenly her bedroom was filled with people rushing for the secret room. Stumbling out of bed she helped them get inside and slid shut the hidden door mere seconds before the Nazi’s burst in. She was arrested along with her father, sister, and 36 others, but all their guests were safe and later rescued.
An officer took pity on Casper’s age and offered to let him go home if he would stop his Resistance activities. Casper refused and died in prison 10 days after his arrest. Corrie and Betsie were sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp where they continued to nurture and care for those in need, strengthening each other with the belief that “there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” They were together until Betsie’s death in 1944. Corrie was released through a clerical error and returned home. A short time later all women her age were sent to the gas chambers.
Although her suffering and loss were devastating, Corrie was able to forgive her betrayer, tormentors, and those who killed her family and friends, and carried that message of love to over 60 countries. She established a post-war home for other camp survivors to recover from the horrors they had endured and was knighted by the Queen of Holland. The Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem (Yad Vashem) asked her to plant a tree in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations in honor of the many Jewish lives her family saved.
The ten Boom home still stands, a humble place tucked down a quiet alley. Walking past one would never know the story behind those brick walls and the glossy cases filled with shiny watches, but it is a story worth knowing and worth remembering and worth taking those few extra steps away from the Grote Markt.
Editor’s Note: For more information on visiting The Corrie ten Boom House, please visit their website. Haarlem, located a short 15 minute train ride from Amsterdam, is an excellent and easy choice for a day trip from Amsterdam.