I don’t know about you guys, but my bucket list seems to get longer all the time. I have managed to check off some of the items, like seeing the Ruby Slippers, meeting Bryan Duncan, or climbing around inside a B-17. Other things are real long shots, such as handling a genuine First Folio or exploring one of the fallout shelters at my old high school (yeah, my bucket list is a cornucopia of strange 🙂 ). Hey we can all dream, though, right?
One of the borderline long shots on my list is what I call “The Hiding Place Tour,” and it’s very straightforward: Go to Amsterdam, visit the Anne Frank House, and then go to Haarlem and visit Corrie ten Boom’s house. Both were places where Jews were sheltered from the Nazis during World War Two, and the Dutch had a specific term for those who went into hiding: onderduiker, which comes from a verb meaning “to dive under” or “submerge.” According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, of the 140,000 Jews in Holland, 20,000 to 30,000 went into hiding, and of that number, two-thirds survived the war. I have always wanted to go to Europe and pay tribute to these and others who sacrificed so much during World War Two, but since money’s a big factor, the trip won’t happen anytime soon. Until then, I can do the next best thing, such as reading books like Inside Anne Frank’s House and The Hiding Place.
Most people have heard of Anne Frank and 263 Prinsengracht, but normally when the Secret Annex comes up, there are only about ten photos that get the most frequent use: the street view, the backyard view, the aerial shot, the bookcase, and so on. Not so in the Anne Frank Foundation’s extensive and excellent coffee table book, Inside Anne Frank’s House: An Illustrated Journey Through Anne’s World. The book skillfully weaves Anne’s story with what the world was like at that time, using not only historical and current-day photographs, but period artifacts, quotes from Anne, the helpers, Anne’s classmates, and many, many others. We see glimpses of Anne’s life before going into hiding, such as her apartment complex and the Montessori school she went to.
Of course, the bulk of the book focuses on the Secret Annex, and the big selling point is that it follows the route visitors take when they visit the house. I saw every nook and cranny, every hallway, every staircase. These are high definition photos, too–I could make out the texture of the paper in Anne’s room or the grains in many of the different woods, for instance. What takes the book over the top, though, is that it includes a ton of photos of the hiding place from 1954, right before Otto Frank’s spice and pectin company, Opekta, moved out of the building. During World War Two, when a Jewish family in Holland abandoned or was removed from a residence, a moving firm called Puls would come and clear out the furniture and other belongings. While the Annex was no different, there were still lots of items Puls didn’t take, like baskets, a few housewares, and empty glass bottles. In 1954 these things were still right where they had been left, and there’s a slightly eerie, frozen-in-time feeling to the photos.
Anne Frank’s House doesn’t shy away from the period following the arrest. The book’s treatment of the Holocaust (which it refers to as the Shoah) is not nearly as grisly as what can be found in other sources, but it still may be hard to take, especially for children who happen to glance through. Since, again, the Prinsengracht is the main focus, this section is relatively brief. From there, the book devotes a sizable amount of space to the restoration of the house and the diary’s publication history.
It’s a cliché that books can take us places, but Inside Anne Frank’s House is one of those that really brings a high level of vicarity. The Anne Frank House website has an excellent online tour that shows every room in the house even beyond what’s on the visitors’ route, but there’s something to be said for the tactile experience of reading an actual book. Inside Anne Frank’s House is a quiet, unhurried look at Anne Frank’s life that may grip even seasoned Anne scholars.
Less famous but still important is the Beje, a house with a watch shop in front that was owned by the ten Boom family. The Beje was also an active way-station for Jews waiting to find more permanent hiding places, and like many such endeavors, fell victim to betrayal. The only member of the Beje household to return from imprisonment was Corrie, who traveled the world and wrote numerous books, the most well-known being The Hiding Place.
Co-written with Elizabeth and John Sherrill, The Hiding Place doesn’t simply look at the ten Booms’ role in the Second World War, but also at Corrie’s life and family, mainly to clue the reader in as to why they chose to help the Jews. The ten Booms were well-known in Haarlem. Their watch shop had opened in 1837, and was therefore a longtime fixture of the town. The whole family were devout Christians who felt very comfortable talking about Jesus to everyone they met. Corrie’s brother, Willem, was a minister and her sister Nollie a contented wife and mother. Corrie’s mother, Cornelia, loved celebrating “occasions”, and her father, Casper ten Boom, was known as “Opa” to all the kids in Haarlem.
For her part, Corrie never married. She, along with her sister Betsie, lived at home with their father. Betsie kept house while Corrie worked in the watch business, becoming the first licensed woman watchmaker in Holland. She also taught a Bible class for special-needs children.
When the Netherlands surrendered to Nazi Germany in 1940, the ten Boom family, like everyone else in occupied Europe, were well-aware of how the Jews were treated under Hitler’s regime, and they weren’t having any of it. The whole family soon became involved in the resistance, and they had plenty of space in the Beje to board refugees, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Corrie’s bedroom, since it was at the top of the house, became the place where, if worse came to worse, these people would hide. A false wall was built with smuggled-in bricks, and a special door created at the bottom of a shelf. Corrie and the other residents of the Beje would hold practice drills to make sure everyone could get into hiding quickly and safely. It wasn’t solely a matter of dashing upstairs, either. If a raid happened during mealtime, places had to be cleared so it looked as if the ten Booms were the only ones at the table. If it was after bedtime, mattresses had to be flipped over because the Nazis liked feeling for warm spots on beds. Corrie went through rigorous training so that she would know how to keep secrets in all conditions, such as illness or grogginess. According to the Corrie ten Boom House website, around 800 refugees came and went at the Beje between 1942 and 1944.
On February 28, 1944, the worst happened when the Nazis raided the Beje and arrested the ten Boom family. Miraculously, their preparations went off without a hitch. All their guests got into the hiding place and escaped detection, while the ten Booms and many of their friends were taken away by the Gestapo. Opa died about two weeks after the arrest, but Corrie and Betsie endured prison, a labor camp, and finally, Ravensbruck, one of the Nazis’ harshest concentration camps.
The Hiding Place is a compendium of God’s continued provisions for the ten Boom family and their testimony of His love. For me, The Hiding Place didn’t really hit home until after 9/11. I’d read it several times since I was twelve, but a few years past that fateful day I picked it up again, thinking it would be depressing. To my surprise, however, Corrie’s words were tremendously encouraging, more than they had ever been before. To see this woman reckon with harder times than most of us will ever see, God willing, and yet still cling to Jesus and love others is formidably compelling. I don’t know where the rest of you land in terms of belief, but that’s how Corrie’s life strikes me.
That’s why the Hiding Place Tour is on my bucket list, even if accomplishing it is out of reach right now. The knowledge that the human race has in its midst such people as Anne Frank and Corrie ten Boom–individuals who faced down hefty demons–reminds me that no matter what, even if the odds aren’t in my favor, I must do the best I can. They also remind me that God has a way of blessing us and showing His love even when life isn’t all neat and tidy, which it most often isn’t.