Category Archives: WWII

“In My Father’s House: The Years Before ‘The Hiding Place'”

fathershouseI’ve found a book I love almost as much as The Hiding Place. Almost.

Which is saying a lot. I read The Hiding Place from cover to cover in just a few hours and have revisited its pages many times since. I jumped at the chance to tour the Corrie ten Boom house in the Netherlands last summer. It was an unforgettable hour in the Beje, but I would so love to have been able to visit when Father, Betsie, Corrie, and the rest of the family were there.

In My Father’s House lets us peek through the window at what it must have been like. The Ten Booms were examples of faithful obedience and unwavering faith in a time that seemed impossible. Corrie worked to save people hunted by the Nazis in a time of constant uncertainty, but her hope in God was just as real.

But World War II was not the beginning of her story. As Corrie points out, people don’t just come into existence at fifty years old, but instead are shaped from the very start into who they will become. In My Father’s House shares vignettes from Corrie’s childhood and younger adult life with little “teasers” tracing the connecting lines between her earlier life and her World War II experiences.

We hear more of Corrie’s family and their unmistakable personalities that sometimes didn’t seem to go together. Corrie shares about the growing tension before the Nazis actually invaded Holland and tells WWII stories not included in The Hiding Place. She writes of her work with teenage girls and the mentally handicapped.

“I remembered…what Father had often said to me. ‘Corrie, what you do among these people [the mentally handicapped] is of little importance in the eyes of men, but I’m sure in God’s eyes it’s the most valuable work of all.’”

Corrie’s rambling, motherly voice feels as if she is sitting right beside us and sharing her heart. The stories flow together into a patchwork piece of art, illustrating God’s leading in life that can often only be seen when looking back. She writes of learning English and German through family Bible study, when each family member would read the same verse in a different language.

“Father would begin by asking what John 3:16 was in English. I would answer from my English Bible, Mother from her Dutch Bible, and Betsie would reply in German. When I was so young, it didn’t seem possible that Betsie would ever have a chance to use a Bible verse in German. We didn’t know any Germans then! However, God uses such seemingly insignificant ways to prepare us for the plan He has for our lives. Over forty years later, in a concentration camp in Germany, Betsie was able to use that verse—and many more—to speak to the prisoners and the guards about God’s love.”

God orchestrated Corrie’s life at every moment, whether during a Nazi invasion or on a church trip with middle school girls. In My Father’s House reminds us that He does no less for us.

“[One of our foster daughters] was married by then and had two children, and another one on the way. Her husband was a teacher, and they lived in Rotterdam during that terrible bombardment. They fled to a small suburb of Rotterdam, where her third baby was born in a cellar. For a year they lived in that cellar, which formed a bomb shelter. [She] told me in later years that over and over again she repeated to her children, ‘Opa taught us, “When Jesus takes your hand, He keeps you tight. When Jesus keeps you tight, He leads you through your whole life. When Jesus leads you through your life, He brings you safely home.”’”

“My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past”

teege_grandfathernaziJennifer Teege was killing time before picking up her son from pre-k. Browsing the shelves in a German library, she found a book called I Have to Love My Father, Don’t I? Intrigued, she pulled it off the shelf. The Life Story of Monika Goeth, Daughter of the Concentration Camp Commandant from “Schindler’s List.” Monika Goeth was her mother.

Her mother.

Jennifer had been adopted when she was seven years old. She remembered her biological mother and grandmother, though her Nigerian father had long since ceased to be a part of her life. Life with her adoptive family was a happy and healthy childhood, and Jennifer enjoyed close relationships with her adoptive brothers and her caring adoptive parents.

After high school Jennifer spent time in Israel, eventually moving there for college and learning Hebrew. She married Goetz, and they now had two children of their own.

Shocked

Then Jennifer found it. She checked the book out of the library, devouring its pages. This was certainly her mother—and her grandmother. But who was this grandfather it talked about? She had never met her mother’s father, but here he was: Amon Goeth. Nazi camp commandant at Plasgow. The Nazi camp commandant in Schindler’s List. She had seen that movie before. Was she really related to that monster of a man?

The next night a documentary aired on television about her family. Her family. The birth family of happy memories.

Jennifer plunged into a deep depression. She had long struggled with depression and negativity, and now she felt she understood why. She spent hours researching her grandfather, and traveled to Poland to visit the home he had shared with her grandmother, and the camp he had brutally ruled.

“I read book after book, looking for answers, to find out what drove the perpetrators to act the way they did, but in the end I gave up: Yes, I found some explanations, but I would never understand it completely.”

The story just kept getting worse. Amon Goeth heartlessly killed many inmates, brutally treated the inmates who worked in his house, and never seemed to show any remorse for even the most sickening cruelty.

“He in his black uniform with its death-heads, me the black grandchild. What would he have said to a dark-skinned granddaughter, one who speaks Hebrew on top of that? I would have been a disgrace, a —- who brought dishonor to the family. I am sure my grandfather would have shot me.”

Telling Friends and Family

At Christmas, Jennifer told her adoptive family about her biological ties to the Nazis. They had never heard this part of her story. Jennifer’s adoptive brother became a close ally as she continued to wade through her family’s past. Her adoptive parents tried to be helpful, but Jennifer didn’t find their efforts as comforting. She would struggle with her relationship with them, and with her Israeli friends. They kept asking her what was going on, why she wasn’t answering their e-mails…How could she tell them about her family? How could they still call her friend after the actions of her grandfather?

Identity

Jennifer wrestled with much of this for years. Her father was a heartless terror—what does that say about her? Is she capable of the same choices? Are any of us?

“Height, lines—those things are only external. But what about on the inside? How much of Amon Goeth do I have in me? How much of Amon Goeth does each of us have in us? I think we all have a bit of him in us. To believe that I have more than others would be to think like a Nazi—to believe in the power of blood.”

Throughout the book she traces her journey from shock to peace, culminating with her renewed relationships with her Israeli friends. “But there is so much to discover in the barrenness,” she writes. And she shares what she finds with us.

What Corrie Would Have Told Us

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The ten Boom family living room

I’ve never been one to have a bucket list. But if I did, meeting Corrie ten Boom (or getting as close to that as I can) would be on it.

It all started with a book. “I should read that,” I thought, wondering how I graduated high school without reading Corrie’s classic, The Hiding Place. So one afternoon I started into the first chapter, and I would finish the last page that night while the rest of my family slept. The ten Boom story floored me, and I have revisited those chapters many times since. Their example of faithful work and love in a time of horror illustrates so well how Christians are to live in a world that opposes the very idea of God. As we face an increasingly hostile society today, we are encouraged by remembering the faithfulness of people like the ten Booms in harder times than these.

So I was thrilled to visit Corrie ten Boom’s house last spring.

One crisp June morning in Haarlem, The Netherlands, my brother and I entered the kitchen door right by the window with that telltale Alpina sign. I was seeing the family living room. Climbing that impossible staircase. Feeling the tweed fencing around the railing of the roof, built to hide illegal guests while they savored a few minutes of fresh air. There were space limitations in the cramped house, and we could only be in the house while on a guided tour, but I lingered as long as I could in each room, trying to be the last one to leave, taking one final look.

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Our guide was Aty, an older Dutch woman who shared ten Boom stories I hadn’t read in any books. Over 800 people were saved through the work of the people in that unassuming little house. “This is a story about the family ten Boom, not about heroes,” Aty told us. “This is a story about God…who still works today like He did in the past.”

Poetic. Like she’d read the book.

It was something Corrie would have said, too—and she did, many times. The ten Booms filled their days with feeding guests, cooperating with other workers, and serving strangers. It was God who orchestrated the details and led them along the path they had no map for. And Corrie knew that. That’s the story she told.

The medicine bottle that didn’t empty. The world-renowned architect who quietly and without any recognition built their secret room. Fred the meterman and Rolf the policeman, who used their unique positions and skills to meet specific needs.

“That night Father and Betsie and I prayed long after the others had gone to bed. We knew that in spite of daily mounting risks we had no choice but to move forward. This was evil’s hour: we could not run away from it. Perhaps only when human effort had done its best and failed, would God’s power alone be free to work.”1

Nazis. Bombings. Hunted people. It was an epic time with epic problems and epic heartaches. But the struggles Corrie and the ten Boom family faced were not isolated to desperate times.

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The only picture I have of our tour guide, Aty (you can just barely see her on the other side of my brother). I so wish I had taken a better picture with her!

Forgiveness. Courage. Love. Service. Day after day after day. Through epic circumstances God was present in her life, working in her heart, writing a story we only know in part.

In my less-than-epic life the same is true. I am slighted by people who see things differently than I do. I meet people who base their life on things I know won’t last forever. I am surrounded by people who have hurts I may never know or realize. I’m faced with others’ needs when I feel I have enough of my own.

Forgiveness. Courage. Love. Service. And we’re called to do it all again the next day.

My brother and I sat in the living room not of a legend or hero of the past, but a child of the King. One who followed Him in the muck and mire of earth and now praises Him in glories unknown to me with others who have gone before us.

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The visitor in front of me disappears into the hiding place through the secret entrance.
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The secret door from the inside of the hiding place.
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Six people hid here for over 47 hours.

As Francis Schaeffer said, “there are no little people and no little places.”2 Not when God is there. And He is. Here. Working in and through us like He did (and does) through Corrie, the ten Booms, and Aty the tour guide. Whether or not our dreams are realized or bucket list completed, He still works. And that’s where the real story is.

“This is a story about God…who still works today like He did in the past.”

  1. The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom
  2. No Little People, Francis Schaeffer

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