Dutch History; Corrie ten Boom, how a watchmaker turned into a hero.

Corrie ten Boom was the first licensed female watchmaker in the Netherlands, who, along with her father, and other family members, helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II by hiding them in her closet.

Born in Haarlem in 1859, Corrie’s father, Casper was a well-educated man and a talented watchmaker. When he was eighteen years old, he started a jewelry store in Amsterdam. He had grown up in a family that belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church and had strong faith. He eventually returned in Haarlem.

Casper met his wife, Cornelia, in Sunday School. They married in 1884. They had 5 children and 4 of which survived to adulthood. In Haarlem, Casper, Cornelia and two of his unmarried daughters, Bestie and Corrie, all lived together. At the bottom of the house was their watchmakers’ shop.

In May 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands.

In May 1942, a woman came to the ten Booms’ with a suitcase in hand and told them that she was a Jew, her husband had been arrested several months before, her son had gone into hiding, and Occupation authorities had recently visited her, so she was afraid to go back. She had heard that the ten Booms had helped their Jewish neighbors, the Weils, and asked if they might help her too. [1]

Casper, readily agreed that she could stay with them. A devoted reader of the Old Testament, he believed that the Jews were the ‘chosen people’, and he told the woman, “In this household, God’s people are always welcome.” The family then became very active in the Dutch underground hiding refugees.

Wartime shortages meant that food was scarce. Every non-Jewish Dutch person had received a ration card, the requirement for obtaining weekly food coupons. Through Corrie’s charitable work, she knew many people in Haarlem including a civil servant who by then was in charge of the local ration-card office. She went to his house one evening, and when he asked how many ration cards she needed,

“I opened my mouth to say, ‘Five,'” ten Boom wrote in The Hiding Place. “But the number that unexpectedly and astonishingly came out instead was: ‘One hundred.’ [2]

He gave them to her and she provided cards to every Jew she met.

Corrie and her sister Betsie opened their home to refugees, Jews and others who were apart of the Dutch Resistance Movement. The Resistance sent an architect to the ten Boom home to build a secret room adjacent to ten Boom’s room for the Jews in hiding, as well as an alert buzzer to warn the refugees to get into the room as quickly as possible.

On February 28, 1944, a Dutch informant named Jan Vogel told the Nazis about the ten Booms’ work; at around 12:30 P.M. the Nazis arrested the entire ten Boom family. They were sent to Scheveningen prison. Casper died 10 days later. The six people who were at the time hidden by the ten Booms remained undiscovered: Corrie ten Boom received a letter one day in prison reading,

“All the watches in your cabinet are safe,” meaning the refugees had managed to escape and were safe. [3]

Corrie ten Boom was initially held in solitary confinement for three months. She was then taken to her first hearing. On trial, Corrie spoke about her work with the mentally disabled; the Nazi lieutenant scoffed, as the Nazis had been killing mentally disabled individuals for years. Corrie defended her work, saying that in the eyes of God, a mentally disabled person might be more valuable “than a watchmaker. Or a lieutenant.”


ten boom

© Concentration camp: Female workers forced to dig trenches at Ravensbruck http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/ravensbr-uuml-ck-photographs

Corrie and her sister Betsie were sent from one concentration camp to the other and finally ended up in the Ravensbrück concentration camp, a women’s labor camp in Germany. Betsie died on December 16, 1944, at the age of 59. Fifteen days later, Corrie was released due to a clerical error and all the women in her age group at the camp were murdered in a gas chamber. As soon as Corrie had returned home, she sheltered disabled people and others who were vulnerable.

After the war, Corrie set up a rehabilitation center in Bloemendaal. The center housed refugees, concentration-camp survivors and sheltered the jobless Dutch who previously collaborated with Germans during the Occupation exclusively until 1950. Corrie Ten Boom went on to travel the world as a public speaker, appearing in more than 60 countries.  Corrie died 15 April 1983, aged 91 in the United States.

You can still see the Ten Boom house in Haarlem.

ten boom

©Corrie ten Boom: https://infograph.venngage.com/p/244551/corrie-ten-boom




[1] Atwood, Kathryn J. Women Heroes of World War II. Chicago: Chicago Review Press. p. 118.

[2]  Boom, Corrie ten. The Hiding Place. Peabody Massachusetts Hendrickson Publishers, 2009, p. 92.

[3] Atwood, Kathryn J. Women Heroes of World War II. Chicago: Chicago Review Press. p. 120.


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