One of the Holocaust’s most endearing and celebrated figures was Corrie ten Boom. She survived the horrible persecution of the Third Reich, and then spent the rest of her life helping millions find forgiveness through her travels and writings.
But her greatest struggle came after the war when she met one of the guards who savagely mistreated her in a concentration camp.
Corrie’s family was living in the Netherlands when the Nazis invaded and begun to deport Jews to their dreaded concentration camps. The Christian family quickly took action, and began to hide Jews in a secret room upstairs. Thus, when Corrie co-authored her biography years after the war, she titled it The Hiding Place.
The family successfully endured raid after raid by the Nazis, but was eventually betrayed by Nazi loyalists in their hometown. Corrie, her father, and her siblings were all arrested and sent to labor prisons. During their awful captivity, Corrie suffered the death of her father and sister, Betsie.
Miraculously, literally miraculously, Corrie survived the concentration camp, and began to rebuild her life in the Netherlands. However, she quickly began to see that other people needed help, so she began traveling and speaking about forgiveness.
In the closing chapter of The Hiding Place, Corrie writes:
I continued to speak, partly because the home in Bloemendall ran on contributions, partly because the hunger for Betsie’s story seemed to increase with time. I traveled all over Holland, to other parts of Europe, to the United States.
But the place where hunger was greatest was Germany. Germany was a land in ruins, cities of ashes and rubble, but more terrifying still, minds and hearts of ashes. Just to cross the border was to feel the great weight that hung over that land.
It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbrück. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s plain-blanched face.
He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!”
His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.
Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.
I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.
As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.
And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.
The language of forgiveness transcends borders, nationalities, and circumstances. Its power changes lives. That’s why Jesus so strongly commanded His followers to forgive one another, including their enemies.
Especially their enemies.
The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. Baker Book House, 1984, Pages 214-215.
Topics Illustrated Include:
Taking a Stand
World War II
(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)