Haarlem Shuffle

Corrie ten Boom

The Ten Boom Museum in Barteljorisstraat
WW2 heroine and evangelist

Thanks to a tiny, concealed room in their modest house in central Haarlem, Corrie ten Boom and her family saved the lives of hundreds of Jews and other underground figures during the German occupation of Holland in WW2.

The ten Booms were by no means the only family to risk their lives in this way but Corrie was a deeply religious woman who later exported her brand of evangelism to the rest of the world, inspired by her wartime experiences. Perhaps this is why even now, she is better known in hundreds of Christian communities abroad than she is in her native Holland, which has become more secular with each decade. Foreign visitors make up the majority of those who come to see the ten Boom museum nowadays, a restored version of the house as it would have been during the war.

The house in Barteljorisstraat - or BJ as it was known in Resistance circles - had belonged to the ten Booms since 1837 and consisted of a ground floor with a watch-repair shop and living quarters in a floor above. The tiny hiding room was added in the early days of the German occupation, on the top floor. It was less than a metre wide and only accessible through a built-in cupboard. It had a small air vent on an outside wall and inside, a mattress, biscuits and water. Up to seven people would cram into this space when a special alarm was given, and its last occupants would spend four days there in terrified silence until being clandestinely freed by local Resistance agents.

The ten Boom family were all devoted members of the Dutch Reformed Church and were already involved in social work in Haarlem when Holland was invaded by the Germans in May 1940. As more and more Jews were deported, Corrie and her family gradually built up their own contact network with help from the Dutch Resistance, hiding refugees and passing them on to safe houses in nearby rural areas when the chance presented itself. The local Resistance and the free British supplied other amenities such as official cars and forged identity papers, often used to return pilots downed in action to Great Britain. Corrie, her sister Betsie and their father, Caspar, risked their lives daily to help those hunted by the Nazis. This non-violent, Christian resistance reflected their own deep faith.

The Resistance trained the ten Booms to be security-conscious: there were regular drills where they had to get rid of all trace of the occupants and rush them to the hiding room, a routine they cut down to little over a minute. There were buzzers to alert those inside of possible threatening visitors, and a coded display in their window to warn friendly visitors from outside about danger within.

The whole operation ended in February 1944 when someone tipped off the Gestapo, who immediately raided the house. The occupants within were alerted by the buzzers but there was no time to set the window display warning. More than thirty visitors to the shop, including other ten Boom family members, were arrested that day along with Corrie, her sister and her father. The Germans found evidence of Resistance documents and arrested the family for possessing illegal ration-cards. However, they never did find the concealed room nor its last occupants.

Corrie's father, Caspar, sadly died after 10 days in German custody at Scheveningen and the sisters saw three prisons in ten months, ending up in the infamous Ravensbruck concentration camp near Berlin in Germany where they spread their Christian message amongst the women prisoners. In late 1944, Betsie succumbed to illness and died, a huge blow to Corrie who had relied on her faith and inspiration. She also learned that her brother and a nephew had died.

Corrie miraculously escaped death in the Ravensbruck gas chambers thanks to an incredible clerical error and returned to Holland. Once the Allies had defeated the Germans, she knew that Betsie would have wanted the world to hear their story and began speaking in public. She set up a special home for war refugees and other ex-prisoners of the Germans and the Japanese in India. She even offered shelter to now-discredited German collaborators from the professional classes as long as they agreed to give medical and psychological support to the other residents. Helping the former oppressors was another aspect of her strong religious beliefs, based on forgiveness.

After the war, at the age of 53, she started out on what would become a personal evangelical crusade in which she would visit more than sixty countries in 33 years. She was knighted in 1968 and honoured by the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem for her part in saving so many Jewish lives. In the 1970s, Corrie ten Boom moved to the United States, writing her bestselling book, "The Hiding Place", in 1971. It was also released as a major film in 1975 and described wartime events in the Haarlem house against the background of her spiritual calling.

She continued her religious writing and preaching and featured in several evangelical videos. In 1978, however, she suffered a stroke which paralysed her for the last five years of her life. She died aged 91 in 1983 on her birthday, bizarrely enough a sign of the very blessed in the Jewish faith. Not long after her death, a local interest group restored much of the interior of the Haarlem house and opened the Ten Boom Museum to honour her heroic life.

Corrie ten Boom Museum - "The Hiding Place"
Barteljoristraat 19
2011 RA Haarlem
Tel: 023-5310823
Fax: 023-5251515

Opening hours:
April-October: Tue-Sat, 10:00-16:00 (November-March Tue-Sat 11:00-15:00)
Closed on Sundays and public holidays.

Admittance: free of charge. Donations may be left.
Visits normally as part of a guided tour.