Had Hitler never come to power, Corrie ten Boom, the first licensed woman watchmaker in Holland, today at 83 might be enjoying obscure retirement amid a cacophony of ticking clocks in Haarlem. Instead, the dumpling-plump crusader and survivor of a Nazi concentration camp has spent the last 30 years writing, lecturing and traveling around the world as “a tramp for the Lord.”
Now her prison life is the subject of a lavish $1.7 million film, The Hiding Place, produced by the Rev. Billy Graham’s film company. Based on her best-selling 1971 book, which has sold over three million copies, The Hiding Place is now playing at 650 theaters across the country. It stars Julie Harris, Arthur O’Connell and Jeannette Clift, a Texas theater actress, as Corrie. “The film,” says Corrie ten Boom, “shows people how to come through with God in the difficult times ahead,” and she adds the kind of one-line sermonette she is so fond of, “The worst can happen, but the best remains.”
The worst for Corrie ten Boom started in February 1944 when she and her entire family, all Dutch Christians living in occupied Holland, were arrested by the Nazis for sheltering Jews. Corrie’s father died in prison, and she and her sister, Betsie, were packed off to Ravensbrueck, a German extermination camp for women where hundreds were dying daily. Betsie was one of the victims. But through a clerical error, which Corrie ten Boom prefers to call God’s miracle, she was released in December 1944—one week before her scheduled execution. “He had work for me to do,” she explains.
And work she has done. After her release, suffering from malnutrition and edema, Corrie ten Boom made her way back to Holland. After the war she operated a large halfway house for displaced persons and even helped Germans whose homes had been destroyed by the Allies. “Betsie had told me we must show people love where we have known hatred,” she says.
To get that message across, she began to write and preach, journeying over the years to 63 countries. She often speaks in prisons, telling the skeptical inmates, “I know how it feels to be behind a door you can open only from the outside.” As a concession to her age, she is now cutting down on personal appearances by making videotapes of her talks. But buoyed by half a dozen catnaps during the day (and spending one day a week in bed), she has no intention of abandoning her crusade. She has completed the manuscript of her next book, In My Father’s House—the story of her first 50 years.
All her earnings from books, movie rights and donations go to Christian, Inc., a nonprofit organization in Orange, Calif. As chairman, she supports charitable causes all over the world—an orphanage in Israel and Christian missions in 66 countries, “wherever I see the need.”
Corrie ten Boom, who on her 70th birthday was knighted by Queen Juliana, lives on an old-age pension from the Dutch government. Last year she purchased a three-story house in Overveen, Holland, her first home in three decades, to which she returns on Christmas and summer holidays. She shares it, as she does her travels, with Ellen de Kroon, a nurse and her companion for the last nine years. Ruth Graham, Billy’s wife, who first brought The Hiding Place to her husband’s attention, calls Corrie ten Boom “one of God’s merry saints.” Corrie tries to keep the adulation in perspective. She tells her admirers, “This halo you are putting on me gives me a headache.”