Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Story Of Corrie Ten Boom

The story of Anne Frank is perhaps the best known and well documented personal narrative of the horrors inflicted upon Jewish families during the Holocaust. But unfortunately, these conditions were a reality for tens of thousands of Jewish families throughout Europe. During the first part of the 1940s, as millions of Jews were being rounded up by the Gestapo and marched away to concentration camps, other families were putting themselves at risk by hiding the persecuted within their homes. Whether they did it out of principle, religious conviction or moral obligation, their brave actions saved the lives of thousands of innocent people who would have otherwise perished in Germany's death chambers. One such family who risked everything, and made the ultimate sacrifice for their actions, was the Ten Boom family of Haarlem, The Netherlands.

The Ten Booms were a devout Christian family who earned their living at their clock and watch shop while actively pursuing and contributing to social causes in Haarlem in the century leading up to World War II. Even before the War their house served as a refuge of sorts for anyone who was in need of assistance. As the Gestapo began rounding up Jews, the Ten Booms provided them, along with students who refused to cooperate with the enemy and members of the Dutch underground resistance movement, temporary shelter until they could be smuggled out of Haarlem to safer areas. They knew their actions were placing them in danger but standing by their convictions, they continued to provide a place of refuge to those in need until they were betrayed and taken to the Ravensbruck concentration camp in northern Germany. Corrie survived her ordeal but her 84 year old father and sisters did not. In the thirty-two years following her release from the prison Corrie travelled to sixty-four countries spreading the word of her Christian faith. Her family home above the clock shop was turned into a museum that continues to serve as an open house for visitors who wish to come and learn more about her family's beliefs and brave actions.

Today no visit to Haarlem would be complete without visiting the Corrie Ten Boom House. It is easy to miss since it is tucked away on along a narrow street. A jewelry and clock shop sits on the first floor the same way it did when the ten Boom family resided here. The building is actually two houses that have been cobbled together into one with a ship's mast serving as an anchor. You would never know this by looking at it from the outside, thus making it the perfect place for hidden nooks, hallways and rooms. On the day of my visit the English speaking guide led us up a narrow set of stairs and into what had been the family's front parlor. Sitting amongst the original piano and walls lined with family portraits, she relayed the story of the Ten Booms to us. Their story is so moving and made more so as I was able to gaze at portraits of the actual house residents while she spoke. Later in tour we were lead up more narrow stairs and into the hiding room, a space built behind Corrie's bedroom where people took refuge when the Gestapo came calling. I was able to climb through the wall and into the narrow hiding space that sheltered people for hours on end. I can only imagine how dark and stifling it must have been but the alternative was simply unthinkable. I've walked and stood in a lot of history since we moved to Europe but standing in the very place where lives were saved was truly a moving experience and one that shouldn't be missed.

If you go:

Corrie Ten Boom House
Barteljorisstraat 19, 2011 RA Haarlem
The Netherlands
 0031 (0) 23 5310 823

Open Tuesday-Saturday from 10:00 to 15.30
Closed on Dutch holidays
Tours are free but donations are gladly accepted

1 comment:

  1. I'd love to go there someday. Thanks for the recommendation.