Born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Corrie ten Boom grew up in the nearby city of Haarlem as the youngest of four children born to Cornelia Johanna Arnolda (died 1921 of a cerebral haemorrhage) and Casper (1859–1944). She had two sisters, Betsie ten Boom (died 1944 in the Ravensbrück concentration camp) and Nollie (died in 1953); her brother, Willem ten Boom, was born in 1887 and died in 1946 of spinal tuberculosis. Corrie’s three maternal aunts also lived with her family: Bep died in the early 1920s of tuberculosis; Jans died in the mid-1920s of diabetes; and Anna, who took care of the children after their mother’s death, died in the early 1930s. Casper ten Boom worked as a watchmaker, and in 1924 Corrie became the first licensed female watchmaker in the Netherlands. Corrie and Betsie never married, and until their arrest they lived their entire lives in their childhood home in Haarlem. Corrie also ran a church for mentally-disabled people, raised foster children in her home, and was extremely active in other charitable causes.
In May 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. Among their restrictions was banning a club which Ten Boom had run for young girls. In May 1942 a well-dressed woman came to the Ten Booms’ with a suitcase in hand and told them that she was a Jew, her husband had been arrested several months before, her son had gone into hiding, and Occupation authorities had recently visited her, so she was afraid to go back. She had heard that the Ten Booms had helped their Jewish neighbors, the Weils, and asked if they might help her too. Casper ten Boom readily agreed that she could stay with them. A devoted reader of the Old Testament, he believed that the Jews were the ‘chosen people’, and he told the woman, “In this household, God’s people are always welcome.” The family then became very active in the Dutch underground hiding refugees; they honored the Jewish Sabbath. Thus the Ten Booms began “the hiding place”, or “de schuilplaats”, as it was known in Dutch (also known as “de Béjé”, pronounced in Dutch as ‘bayay’, an abbreviation of their street address, the Barteljorisstraat). Corrie and Betsie opened their home to refugees — both Jews and others who were members of the resistance movement — being sought by the Gestapo and its Dutch counterpart. They had plenty of room, although wartime shortages meant that food was scarce. Every non-Jewish Dutch person had received a ration card, the requirement for obtaining weekly food coupons. Through her charitable work, Ten Boom knew many people in Haarlem and remembered a couple who had a disabled daughter. The father was a civil servant who by then was in charge of the local ration-card office. She went to his house one evening, and when he asked how many ration cards she needed, “I opened my mouth to say, ‘Five,'” Ten Boom wrote in The Hiding Place. “But the number that unexpectedly and astonishingly came out instead was: ‘One hundred.'” He gave them to her and she provided cards to every Jew she met.
With so many people using their house, the family built a secret room in case a raid took place. They built it in Corrie ten Boom’s bedroom because it was on the house’s top floor, hopefully giving people the most time to hide and avoid detection, as searches usually started on the ground/first floor. A member of the Dutch resistance designed the hidden room behind a false wall. Gradually, family and supporters brought building supplies into the house, hiding them in briefcases and rolled-up newspapers. When finished, the secret room was about 30 inches (76 cm) deep, the size of a medium wardrobe. A ventilation system allowed for breathing. To enter the secret room, a person had to open a sliding panel in the plastered brick wall under a bottom bookshelf and crawl in on hands and knees. In addition, the family installed an electric raid-warning buzzer. When the Nazis raided the Ten Boom house in 1944, seven people were using the hiding place.
On February 28, 1944, a Dutch informant told the Nazis about the Ten Booms’ work; at around 12:30PM the Nazis arrested the entire Ten Boom family. They were sent to Scheveningen prison; Nollie and Willem were released immediately along with Corrie’s nephew Peter; Casper died 10 days later. Corrie and Betsie were sent from Scheveningen to Herzogenbusch political concentration camp (also known as Kamp Vught), and finally to the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany, where Betsie died on December 16, 1944. Before she died, she told Corrie, “There is no pit so deep that He [God] is not deeper still.” Corrie ten Boom was released on December 28, 1944. In the movie The Hiding Place, she narrates the section on her release from camp, saying that she later learned that her release had been a clerical error. She said, “God does not have problems — only plans.” The Jews whom the Ten Booms had been hiding at the time of their arrests remained undiscovered and all but one, an old woman named Mary, survived.
After the war, Ten Boom returned to The Netherlands to set up a rehabilitation center. The refuge houses consisted of concentration-camp survivors and sheltered the jobless Dutch who previously collaborated with Germans during the occupation. She returned to Germany in 1946, and traveled the world as a public speaker, appearing in more than 60 countries. She wrote many books during this time. Ten Boom told the story of her family members and their World War II work in her best-selling book, The Hiding Place (1971), which was made into a World Wide Pictures film in 1975, starring Jeannette Clift as Corrie and Julie Harris as Betsie. In 1977, 85-year-old Corrie moved to Placentia, California. In 1978, she suffered two strokes, the first rendering her unable to speak, and the second resulting in paralysis. She died on her 91st birthday, 15 April 1983, after a third stroke.
- April, 15, 1892
- Amsterdam, Netherlands
- April, 15, 1983
- Placentia, California
Cause of Death
- Fairhaven Memorial Park
- Santa Ana, California