Cornelia “Corrie” ten Boom was born in Haarlem, Netherlands, and grew up in a devoutly religious family. During World War II, she and her family harbored hundreds of Jews to protect them from arrest by Nazi authorities. Betrayed by a fellow Dutch citizen, the entire family was imprisoned. Corrie survived and started a worldwide ministry and later told her story in a book entitled The Hiding Place.
Cornelia Arnolda Johanna ten Boom was born on April 15, 1892, in Haarlem, Netherlands, near Amsterdam. Known as “Corrie” all her life, she was the youngest child, with two sisters, Betsie and Nollie, and one brother, Willem. Their father, Casper, was a jeweler and watchmaker. Cornelia was named after her mother.
The Ten Boom family lived in the Beje house in Haarlem (short for Barteljorisstraat, the street where the house was located) in rooms above Casper’s watch shop. The family were members of the Dutch Reformed Church. Faith inspired them to serve society, offering shelter, food and money to those in need. In this tradition, the family held a deep respect for the Jewish community in Haarlem, considering them “God’s ancient people.” After the death of her mother and a disappointing romance, Corrie trained to be a watchmaker and in 1922 became the first woman licensed as a watchmaker in Holland. Over the next decade, in addition to working in her father’s shop, she established a youth club for teenage girls, which provided religious instruction as well as classes in the performing arts, sewing and handicrafts.
In May 1940, the German Blitzkrieg ran though the Netherlands and the other Low Countries. Within months, the “Nazification” of the Dutch people began and the quiet life of the Ten Boom family was changed forever. During the war, the Beje house became a refuge for Jews, students and intellectuals. The façade of the watch shop made the house an ideal front for these activities. A secret room, no larger than a small wardrobe closet, was built into Corrie’s bedroom behind a false wall.
The space could hold up to six people, all of whom had to stand quietly and still. A crude ventilation system was installed to provide air for the occupants. When security sweeps came through the neighborhood, a buzzer in the house would signal danger, allowing the refugees a little over a minute to seek safety.
The entire Ten Boom family became active in the Dutch resistance, risking their lives harboring those hunted by the Gestapo. Some fugitives would stay only a few hours, while others would stay several days until another “safe house” could be located. Corrie ten Boom became a leader in the “Beje” movement, overseeing a network of “safe houses” in the country. Through these activities, it was estimated that 800 Jews’ lives were saved.
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