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Corrie ten Boom Deported Again

A California charter school bans righteous Gentile's famous Holocaust memoir

Joel Miller brings us the shocking story of a Temecula, California charter school that ordered removed from its shelves The Hiding Place, the fantastic memoir of Corrie ten Boom, the Dutch Christian woman who was sent, along with her father and sister, to a concentration camps for the crime of hiding Jews in Nazi-occupied Holland. Pacific Justice Institute, the Christian religious rights group that wrote to ask school leaders to reverse its ban, reported the following response from the Springs Charter Schools superintendent:

Last week, the Superintendent of Springs Charter Schools, Dr. Kathleen Hermsmeyer, ignored the precedent in PJI’s letter and instead insisted, “We . . . do not allow sectarian materials on our state-authorized lending shelves.”

PJI President Brad Dacus commented, “It is alarming that a school library would attempt to purge books from religious authors.  Indeed, some of the greatest literature of Western Civilization comes from people of faith.  Are they going to ban the sermons or speeches of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?  What about the Declaration of Independence that invokes the laws of nature and nature’s God?  We are calling on Springs Charter Schools to immediately reverse their ill-conceived and illegal book-banning policy.”

I doubt that this policy is illegal, but I could be wrong. It is certainly ill-conceived.

I recall reading The Hiding Place as a child. I was interested in World War II, and brought it with me as vacation reading to the beach, of all places. I remember exactly where I was when I entered into the story of the ten Boom family of Haarlem, and the amazing risks they took to hide Jews in their apartment above their father’s clock shop. The Corrie ten Boom Museum website explains why, and what happened to them:

During the Second World War, the Ten Boom home became a refuge, a hiding place, for fugitives and those hunted by the Nazis. By protecting these people, Casper and his daughters, Corrie and Betsie, risked their lives. This non-violent resistance against the Nazi-oppressors was the Ten Booms’ way of living out their Christian faith. This faith led them to hide Jews, students who refused to cooperate with the Nazis, and members of the Dutch underground resistance movement.

During 1943 and into 1944, there were usually 6-7 people illegally living in this home: 4 Jews and 2 or 3 members of the Dutch underground.  Additional refugees would stay with the Ten Booms for a few hours or a few days until another “safe house” could be located for them. Corrie became a ringleader within the network of the Haarlem underground. Corrie and “the Beje group” would search for courageous Dutch families who would take in refugees, and much of Corrie’s time was spent caring for these people once they were in hiding. Through these activities, the Ten Boom family and their many friends saved the lives of an estimated 800 Jews, and protected many Dutch underground workers.

On February 28, 1944, this family was betrayed and the Gestapo (the Nazi secret police) raided their home. The Gestapo set a trap and waited throughout the day, seizing everyone who came to the house. By evening about 30 people had been taken into custody! Casper, Corrie and Betsie were all arrested. Corrie’s brother Willem, sister Nollie, and nephew Peter were at the house that day, and were also taken to prison.

Four members of the ten Boom family, including the 84-year-old patriarch, Caspar, and Corrie’s sister Betsie, would die at the hands of the Nazis for what they did.

Reading The Hiding Place as a kid dramatically affected me. The moral heroism of the ten Booms sensitized me to the effects of anti-Semitism, and taught me what Christians must do if ever we are in a situation where persecuted people rely on us for protection. And, crucially, the fact that Corrie survived the concentration camps and emerged to exhort others to forgive and be reconciled with the barbarians who did this evil, staggered me.

Many years later, as a grown man, I made a pilgrimage to the Beje, as they called the house. You can go see it for yourself, and should — it’s only a short train ride away from Amsterdam. The ten Boom house is just off the main square in Haarlem. Thinking now about how it felt to see the actual hiding place brings chills. The ten Booms and their Jewish brothers and sisters whom they risked their lives — and, for some of them, gave their lives — to protect were real people. This really happened. You can see for yourself. There’s no substitute for being there where history was made.

Before her 1983 death, Corrie was honored by the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations,” for her role in saving Jews from the Holocaust. She planted a tree at Yad Vashem in honor of her sister Betsie, who died in Ravensbruck for her “crime” of saving Jews. According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum:

In resisting Nazi persecution, ten Boom acted in concert with her religious beliefs, her family experience, and the Dutch resistance. Her defiance led to imprisonment, internment in a concentration camp, and loss of family members who died from maltreatment while in German custody.

The ten Boom family were members of the Dutch Reformed Church, which protested Nazi persecution of Jews as an injustice to fellow human beings and an affront to divine authority. In her autobiography, ten Boom repeatedly cited religious motivations for hiding Jews, particularly her family’s strong belief in a basic tenet of their religion: the equality of all human beings before God. Their religious activities had also brought the family a history of personal connections to the Jewish community. Corrie’s grandfather had supported efforts to improve Christian-Jewish relations in the nineteenth century. Her brother Willem, a Dutch Reformed minister assigned to convert Jews, studied antisemitism and ran a nursing home for elderly of all faiths. In the late 1930s that nursing home became a refuge for Jews fleeing from Germany.

The Holocaust Museum understands that Corrie and her family did what they did because of their Christian faith. You cannot understand why the ten Booms did what they did without understanding that they did it out of faith conviction. Yet these small-minded California bigots with their mindless laïcité find Corrie’s Christian faith intolerable. They deny schoolchildren the opportunity to learn about one of the great acts of moral heroism of the 20th century.

The nation of Israel, in the name of the Jewish people, bestowed upon this Dutch Calvinist woman the highest honor the Jewish state can give to Gentiles, in grateful recognition of her service. Yet this secular charter school in California finds her story too offensive to tell to American schoolchildren.

Joel Miller, on his great new blog Two Cities, writes of the California controversy, mentioning a gesture that old Caspar ten Boom adopted under Nazi occupation to show solidarity with Dutch Jews: when the occupation authorities ordered Jews to wear a yellow star, Caspar requested one for himself. When he passed Jews on the streets of Haarlem, he continued to doff his hat in greeting — this, in front of Nazis and their Dutch collaborators. When he was warned that this might get him killed, Caspar said that it would be an honor to die in service to God’s ancient people. And he did. Writes Miller:

Given this Christian impulse to identify with the oppressed and save those in danger, to remove The Hiding Place from library shelves betrays a sort of societal self-defeat, and similar examples multiply as our culture fumbles toward a more rigorously enforced secularity. We’re like the cannibal committing suicide one nibble at a time.

C.S. Lewis’ slender but prophetic book, The Abolition of Man—a volume praised here at Ancient Faith many times by Fr. Tom Hopko—speaks exactly to this issue. By gutting eduction of objective values and the mission to encourage proper sentiments around them, we’ve spent the last few generations robbing our culture of the very qualities it needs to survive.

We are creating, said Lewis, “men without chests,” people without the necessary instinct to act as needed when needed—to, for instance, hide the fugitive Jew at the doorstep from the Gestapo agents who are just now coming around the corner.

Read the whole thing. I don’t know what kind of character they are building into those children at Springs Charter Schools, but it is clear that historical ignorance and moral cowardice are part of the package.

Corrie ten Boom is buried in southern California, in Orange County. It is a one-hour drive from Temecula to her grave in the Fairhaven cemetery. Sounds like some folks who run that school ought to make a visit.