Date: 17 August 2013
Books Completed: 159
Books Left: 41
I was doing some back-to-school housecleaning last week, and for a librarian, this naturally includes weeding my personal collection. As I was looking through my European history section (yes, my bookshelves are arranged by subject, author, and title) I came across a book that I know I will never remove from my possession.
I first encountered the book in question when I was in sixth grade. Several of my elementary school years were spent at a very small parochial school. One of the greatest practices of this school was to start the post-recess afternoon with a read-aloud time—we called it Literature in those days. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom was one of these Literature books, and to this day it has had the greatest impact on me of any book I’ve ever read. Over the past few years I have shared that book with others and that impact has spread.
The Hiding Place is one of Miss ten Boom’s memoirs (she wrote at least two others) and my favorite by far. It chronicles her World War II experiences as a middle-aged Dutch watchmaker and leader of an underground group dedicated to helping anyone (Jews in particular) suffering under the Nazi regime. To this day I have a fascination with Holocaust literature, rejoicing in any lives saved in defiance of the Nazis and mourning for any lives sacrificed.
Miss ten Boom’s influence on my reading tastes, however, is rather minor when compared with the influence she has had on my actual life.
The ten Booms were a very devout family, Corrie’s brother even being a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church. They had daily Bible readings, worked as catechists, and focused on serving others. Indeed, their wartime resistance activities grew out of this sense of charitable duty. And due to these resistance activities, the ten Booms ultimately experienced tragic consequences: the entire family was arrested; Corrie’s father died in prison; her brother contracted a painful illness from which he subsequently died after his release; her nephew was murdered at Bergen-Belsen; she and her older sister Betsie were eventually shipped to the extermination camp Ravensbrück, where Betsie died from a combination of exposure, unsanitary conditions, abuse, and starvation.
This family suffered greatly at the hands of the Nazis, yet a major theme of this book is forgiveness. While she and her sister are tortured, Betsie forgives and prays for their tormentors and urges Corrie to do the same. Corrie struggles with this, especially after the war when she comes face to face with one of the guards who sexually abused prisoners by enforcing a mandatory weekly stripping for an “inspection” that never took place. She chronicles how she could not manage forgiveness on her own, but was only able to do so through divine assistance.
Here are two women who forgave those who routinely beat, starved, humiliated, and violated them. How can I not forgive what in comparison are petty slights? I, like Corrie, often struggle with this. Upon those occasions, I try to recall this book and think that if Corrie and Betsie could forgive, I have no right nurture a grudge. So in essence, this book helps me to try to live a better life. That’s one heck of an impact!
And it’s an impact that does not end with me. A few years ago I was in a book club. We were discussing possible future reads and some Holocaust fiction titles emerged. I mentioned my love of this non-fiction book and two club members expressed interest. They each borrowed my copy and were as moved as I was. I was curious as to how they would react to the book, since they are both Jewish and the book is heavily Christian in tone–not surprising since Corrie became a missionary after the war. Their enthusiastic endorsement solidified my belief that this book can have a positive impact on anyone who reads it.
A friend of mine from church once mentioned that she was traveling to Leiden on business. She was surprised that I knew where the city was (it is a location in the book). I explained how I knew and she asked to borrow my copy. When she returned it she told me she had purchased 5 copies for family members as Christmas presents. The impact continues to grow.
So thanks to CSCS for their daily Literature readings. Thanks to Mrs. Conover for reading an amazing, and what could be considered controversial, book to her 6th grade students. And thanks to Corrie ten Boom, for having the courage to live the life she did and the courage to write about it. May the depth of her impact only increase with each successive reader.