This past Veteran’s Day a British coworker of mine asked that we take a moment of silence at 11am. She had commented that in Britain Veteran’s day, or Armistice day, there, is a significant day of remembrance for those lost in all wars and she felt that in America we take the day too lightly, failing to truly honor those who have fought for our freedoms, safety, and community. In that moment of silence I reflected on the fact that we are still at war in Afghanistan and although the official war in Iraq is winding down, we are hardly at peace with the Iraqi people. It is rare that I take a moment to pause and reflect on such things because my life in this country can be so removed from the trials of war. We are incessantly caught up in our pursuits of entertainment and commercial success despite the fact that just ten years ago this country was attacked in an orchestrated act of terrorism. The sad truth is that many Americans live day to day oblivious of the relative safety and opportunity that we are blessed to live with.
I had many similar thoughts as I read Corrie ten Boom’s appropriately titled memoir The Hiding Place. During the German occupation of Holland during WWII, Corrie and her family used their 100 year-old family-run watch shop as a center for the Holland underground. They housed Jews, helped distribute stolen ration cards, and acted as a communications center for the underground. The ten Boom family was devoutly Christian and felt that it was their calling to serve others in this time of struggle. The ten Boom’s were eventually discovered by the underground police and Corrie, her sister Betsie, and their 80 year old father (Corrie and Betsie were in their 50’s!) were arrested and imprisoned. Their Father died within a few days in the Holland prison but Corrie and Betsie were later transferred to a German prison and were required to serve hard labor. Through these trials the two sisters maintained their faith in God and remarkably found the ability to find light in the darkest of days as they ministered to their fellow prison mates. They developed a community within the prison that helped give them strength to endure the long days of hard labor, the physical violence, and ever present threat of extermination by their bullish Nazi guards.
The book’s title alludes to the secret room in their house where their Jewish occupants would hide during raids. Through my reading I could discern that the title’s true meaning is buried in a scriptural reference to Psalm 32’s promise for peace to those who trust in God. Corrie and her sister display faith established on a firm foundation, able to find thanksgiving in all things, even the fleas in their prison dormitory because the fleas gave them solace from the guards who did not enter the dormitory room for fear of becoming flea-bitten.
This is a powerfully humbling book. One that reminds me of my selfishness and enlightens my self awareness towards how minuscule my troubles are compared to others. I can not imagine what I would have done if I lived through the German occupation. The selflessness to put one’s life at risk for another is amazing and inspiring. The ability to remain selfless and hopeful during imprisonment, witnessing torture and pointless death at the evil hands of Nazism is just spellbinding.
Notably, this is the final book from my project to read all the unread books from my shelves. It was also the oldest book in my unread pile: a friend from high school gave me my copy back in 1996 as I was leaving for college. It went unread for 15 years and I wonder how this powerful story would have shaped me if I had read it with a younger mind. Although it is isn’t a literary masterpiece it is a notable and influential work, one that should be read alongside the Diary of Anne Frank. Where Anne Frank has its merits showing the blossoming of a young girl finding herself in the midst of war, The Hiding Place shows the full bloom of a mature woman capable of truly giving herself in the midst of war.