We’ve reached the point in The Hiding Place where Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie have been arrested for helping Jews hide and escape the Nazis in World War II Haarlem, sent first to a jail in Holland and a few months later to their first prison camp. From there, they are herded with other prisoners on a train, traveling south for more than three days into Nazi Germany. This was a dreaded fate – no one had heard of anyone returning from Germany.
Finally, they arrive. And discover they have been sent to Ravensbruck, a women’s prison camp whose horrors had reached back to Holland.
Ravensbruck was some 56 miles north of Berlin. Over the course of its existence, it housed an estimated 130,000 to 150,000 women prisoners from various countries in Europe, including Germany. No one knows for sure how many died there, but estimates run as high as 96,000. Many were transported to death camps in Poland; more than 2,000 were killed in gas chambers on site. Approximately 15,000 women survived and were liberated at the end of the war.
Corrie and Betsie’s first resting place there is a large tent with no sides, inhabited by too many women prisoners and lice. They are eventually assigned to a barracks, sharing a bed with five other women. Corrie still has a small Dutch Bible given to her earlier and her sister’s blue sweater, which she makes Betsie wear for warmth.
Terrible food, terrible latrine-like bathrooms, lice, fleas, and brutality from the guards (including the women guards). That was daily existence in Ravensbruck. When Betsie is taken to the camp hospital, Corrie sneaks in through the bathroom, where she finds bodies stacked against the wall.
At one point, Betsie reminds Corrie that they are to give thanks to God in all things, including Ravensbruck. They hold hands and pray their thanks – for being together, for having the Bible with them, and for the crowded conditions in the barracks that more women might hear the gospel.
And then Betsie tells her to give thanks for the fleas. Corrie can’t do it. “Betsie,” she says, “there’s no way even God could make me grateful for a flea.”
But Betsie insists. And the two sisters give thanks for the fleas.
I can’t imagine it. Right there, in an absolutely horrible, death-filled environment, the two ten Boom sisters give thanks.
Their attitude makes other notice. Gradually, the ten Booms become the center of a widening circle of the gospel.
And they give thanks for fleas.
Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading The Hiding Place. To see more posts on this chapter, “Ravensbruck,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.
Photograph: Female inmates working at Ravensbruck in 1939. Photo courtesy Wikimedia;
"Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1985-0417-15, Ravensbrück, Konzentrationslager" by Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1985-0417-15 / CC-BY-SA 3.0. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 de via Commons.