At any one time, six or seven people wanted by the Nazis were living in the ten Boom home. Sometimes there were even more, as refugees stayed for a few hours or days until another safe house could be found for them.
Inside the hiding place, behind a false wall in Corrie’s bedroom. The ten Boom house in Haarlem is now a museum, and the wall of the hiding place has been opened to allow visitors to see into the narrow space.
As these fugitives from the Nazis passed through the house, the danger of being discovered became greater. There were many close calls.
On one occasion, Corrie’s nephews Peter and Robert Van Woerden, both members of the resistance, only had a moment to dive into a hiding place in the floor under the table, leaving Corrie, Betsie and the boys’ sister Cocky to face the Nazi soldiers. The soldiers demanded to know where Cocky’s brothers were.
“The oldest one,” Cocky said, “is at the theological college. He doesn’t get home most nights because – “
“What about the other two?”
Cocky did not miss a breath. “Why, they’re under the table.”
Motioning us all away from it with his gun, the soldier seized a corner of the cloth. At a nod from him, the taller man crouched with his rifle cocked. Then he flung back the cloth.
At last the pent-up tension exploded: Cocky burst into spasms of high hysterical laughter.
“Don’t take us for fools!” the short one snarled. Furiously he strode out of the room.
One thing which made the situation worse was the attribute that had led the ten Booms to begin hiding the Jews in the first place: their compassion. They found themselves taking people no one else would take, people who were seen as liabilities: Eusie, a man with features that marked him out as a stereotypical Jew; a mother with a new-born baby which had not yet learned when to be quiet; and Mary, a sick old woman with chronic bronchitis:
Since (Mary’s) ailment compromised the safety of the others, we took up the problem in caucus…
“There is no sense in pretending,” I began. “Mary has a difficulty – especially after climbing stairs – that could put you all in danger.” In the silence that followed, Mary’s laboured breathing seemed especially loud.
“Can I speak?” Eusie asked.
“It seems to me that we’re all here in your house because of some difficulty or other. We’re the orphan children – the ones nobody else wanted. Any one of us is jeopardising all the others. I vote that Mary stay.”
The vote was unanimous, but it was inevitable that the ten Booms’ compassion would land them in deep trouble.
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Our famous follower in these pages is Corrie ten Boom, whose family courageously provided a refuge for Jews and others wanted by the Nazis during the German occupation of Holland in the 1940s.
These pages were written by Howard Ingham.
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