After the Holocaust: The story of Corrie Ten Boom and her Bible

Opinion: Arrested for hiding Jews, Ten Bloom maintained her faith.

 Corrie Ten Boom Bible (photo credit:  Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C.)
Corrie Ten Boom Bible
(photo credit: Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C.)

Just days before Christmas 1970, December 16 in fact, Billy Graham sat down at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, opened a new leatherbound copy of the King James Bible, and wrote the following inscription: 

To Corrie Ten Boom,My friend — God’s Servant —And an inspiration to millions of the Lord’s people on every continent — A Blessed Christmas He then signed his name, with Psalms 16:11.

We don’t know when Reverend Graham actually gave this Bible to Ten Boom. We do know that they met a couple of years earlier in Switzerland and that she spoke at the 1966 Congress on World Evangelism in Germany, an event co-sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. By 1970, Billy Graham had become friends with Ten Boom and his production company, World Wide Pictures, would produce the movie "The Hiding Place" based on her widely popular book by the same name. 

Author Matt Frawley (Credit: Courtesy Matt Frawley)Author Matt Frawley (Credit: Courtesy Matt Frawley)

We also know this Bible, far from becoming a treasured keepsake carefully locked away only to be shown on special occasions, became Ten Bloom’s personal Bible until her death in 1983. 

Looking at the Bible today, it shows the wear and tear of a Bible that accompanied Ten Boom on her many travels, sharing her story and her love of God to millions throughout the world. The notes she left in its pages are a witness to her study and meditation on its words. This was a beloved Bible. 

A more careful look at these pages provides a window into her life. This was a woman steeped in the Scriptures and who held tight to its promises. And what makes that so remarkable is she had every reason to question those promises given her experiences during World War II. 

Prior to the outbreak of the war, Ten Boom led a relatively quiet life with her family in the Netherlands. She showed an aptitude for and love of the family’s watchmaking business, even becoming the first licensed female watchmaker in her country, and was in charge of keeping the books, too. 

So, it seemed Ten Boom would live out her life working in the family business, leading Bible studies, and helping with the youth club she established.  

Ten Boom was well into her 40s when the Germans invaded the Netherlands during World War II. The strong faith of the Ten Boom family led them to join others in sheltering and guiding Jews and other refugees to safety. In the Ten Boom home there was an actual “hiding place,” built behind Corrie’s bedroom for the Jews they were sheltering to secret themselves away during Gestapo raids.  

On Monday, February 28, 1944, after two years of working to save the lives of nearly 800 Jews and other refugees, the entire Ten Boom family was arrested by the Gestapo. Several family members were immediately released, but Ten Boom’s father, her beloved sister Betsie, and Ten Bloom herself remained imprisoned. Her father died 10 days later, and Ten Bloom and Betsie eventually ended up at Ravensbrück concentration camp, where Betsie died of illness in December 1944.

Just 12 days after Betsie’s death, Ten Bloom was released. She was later told her freedom actually resulted from a clerical error, saving her from the gas chambers that tragically awaited the fate of the others at Ravensbrück.

Amid this upheaval and loss, it would be understandable to assume that Ten Bloom’s faith would slide into despair. She had, after all, lost so much for doing such heroic work. But, as Ten Bloom herself said in a prayer before a Youth With A Mission talk, God’s love is the greatest reality. That alone sustained her in the concentration camp and through the loss of her family members.

Ten Bloom’s faith in God’s love was nourished by her constant study and meditation on the Bible. 

She was comforted by the Bible, and this same faith and devotion sustained her later in life. We can see this in the way she traced certain passages that were particularly important to her in the Bible that Billy Graham gave her.

Think of this woman, an icon of Christian faith for so many, taking the time to carefully trace the letter of each word of a verse. Though we’ll never know, somehow one feels this was a meditative practice, a way of allowing the verse to sink into her heart. She showed the steady hand of a watchmaker in tracing each letter so precisely, so much so that you can still easily read the verses today.

This Bible, one of her few possessions when she died, was willed to Jim Parker, who pastored a church in Virginia, and who became Ten Bloom’s unofficially adopted grandson.

The story goes that Parker was visiting Ten Bloom in Haarlem, in the Netherlands, and accompanied her one night as she invited neighbors to a Bible study she was leading that evening. They talked about why Ten Bloom never married and the passing of Parker’s beloved grandmother. At one point during the conversation, Ten Bloom stopped and turned to Parker with this offer: Would he adopt her as his grandmother if she could adopt him as her grandson. We don’t know if they shook on it, but the unofficial adoption led her to bequeath the Bible to Jim, whose wife, Anne, donated it to Museum of the Bible after his death.

Dr. David Bruce, executive vice president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, stated that Graham often included a Bible verse under his signature and Psalm 16:11 was one of his favorites. It seems particularly appropriate that he used that psalm when he signed his name for the Bible he gifted to Ten Boom, for indeed she would have been comforted and she definitely lived the reality that “thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (KJV).

Matt Frawley is head of business development at Polymath. This piece was originally written for the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.