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Eighty years ago, a couple of middle-aged women and an elderly man altered the course of history. The Ten Booms, a humble family of watchmakers outside of Amsterdam, boldly saved over 800 Jewish refugees during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.
The impact on the lives they saved is exponential and impossible to calculate, but the Ten Boom family paid the consequences. When they were discovered by the authorities, most of the family was sent to various prisons.
Corrie and her sister Betsie went to the Ravensbruck concentration camp in Eastern Germany, and when all had settled at the end of the war, Corrie — single, middle-aged, grief-stricken and traumatized — found she’d lost nearly everyone close to her.
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But it’s what she did with that monumental loss that continues to make her story resonate today. She didn’t just pick up the pieces of her previous life and move on.
What she’d been through had fundamentally altered her calling in life, and she spent the rest of her years first building a rehabilitation center for women from concentration camps, and then traveling the entire world, going wherever she felt called to speak, to preach, to witness to what she’d experienced both in the darkness — and in its aftermath.
She chose to forgive Nazis. She chose to love the people in front of her. She chose to turn the ruin of war into a garden. And she spent the last 30 years of her life testifying to the light that the world cannot, not even in a Nazi death camp, extinguish.
In a very real way, her decision to love her neighbors during the war, cost her everything she had and everyone she loved. But 80 years after the Ten Boom’s heroic act of hospitality, look what she’s given the world.
If you bring up Corrie Ten Boom’s name in a conversation, you’re likely to be met with one of two reactions. Either a blank stare devoid of recognition, or an exclamation of how her book (published in 1971 by Chosen Books) or her movie (released in 1975) was a life-changing experience.
And if the person you’re talking to is 60 or older, they may even recall a personal encounter with Corrie that has stayed with them for a lifetime.
Thousands consider her a mentor and role model. Millions consider her book a story that changed their lives. And while the legacy of Corrie Ten Boom is rightly told in the continuing family trees of the thousands upon thousands of Jewish descendants of those she helped, this wider impact upon the culture around her also adds to the incalculable nature of the Ten Boom’s effect on the world.
Corrie lived her life in such a way that her sole mission was to ensure that the world did not forget the horrors of Nazi Germany, and that people knew the Christ she served had brought her through the darkness for a reason.
What about those blank stares though? Well, the story is an old one, and unless it’s told and retold and retold, the world forgets.
When I was asked to adapt Corrie’s story for the stage, I accepted with enormous trepidation. The weight of this piece of history wasn’t only that of the Holocaust itself, but of the decades of lives this woman had changed in giving her testimony to anyone who would listen.
Today, in 2023, most of those I meet who so revere Corrie and her story are of an elder demographic, and it’s my hope that this play and this film can help to awaken a new generation to this hero of the past.
Only by story does the world remember, and by silence it forgets. So, this August we’re ending the silence and telling the story again, in a new way, with new people and a new vision.
Corrie and Betsie and Casper and Willem Ten Boom gave us a great story at great cost. We owe it to them to help the world remember it.