The youngest of four children, ten Boom was born on April 15, 1892 in Haarlem, in the Netherlands. With the passing of her grandfather came his watchmaking business, so the family moved to occupy the house on Barteljorisstraat 19 above the store. They lived as devout Christians, willing to feed a hungry stranger, help a neighbor, or provide a home for foster children. Active in the Dutch Reformed Church, ten Boom also helped with charitable causes and religious activities. She attended a Bible school, but left discontented and decided to learn her father's trade.
Spending a short time as an apprentice in a Swiss watch factory, ten Boom continued her education under her father's watchful eye. In 1922 she became licensed as a watchmaker in the Netherlands, the first woman to ever achieve this accomplishment. Ten Boom's life seemed filled with compassion. Having suffered when her true love married another, ten Boom settled into a content role of helping around the house, taking care of her sick mother, and teaching the Bible when she wasn't working. Through her efforts, a club for teenage girls was started and funded by local citizens. Though her mother died of a stroke and ten Boom again dealt with sadness, she had never felt fear or concern for the future.
Adolf Hitler gave the people of the Netherlands cause for concern. But it wasn't until Jewish suppliers of watch parts began to go missing in Germany that the ten Booms felt extreme alarm. That alarm was well-founded when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands and began dictating laws to Dutch and Jews alike. Ten Boom's father was horrified at the treatment of the Jews because he had many Jewish friends and he believed they were God's chosen people. When his neighbor's business was ransacked by German soldiers, ten Boom invited him into their store and then found a safe place for him to go. For that reason and many others, the ten Booms began assisting Jews in need.
The family took in refugees, Jews, people running from the Gestapo, and those in the resistance until they could safely move on undetected. Ten Boom helped also by calling in favors from those in her community who she had assisted before. Over fifty years old, ten Boom worked tirelessly to help as many people as she could. For over two years the family successfully aided between seven hundred and eight hundred Jews. Their refuge, however, came under the scrutiny of the Germans through a Dutch informant, and the ten Booms and all who came to their shop that day were arrested on February 28, 1944.
The harassment and interrogation proved too much for ten Boom's father. After being transferred to a prison, he fell ill and wasn't given medical attention at a hospital until it was too late. Ten Boom and her sister moved from one concentration camp to another, nearly starving and suffering from manual labor. At the Vught camp, the Allies grew near, and the inmates believed they would be freed. But to empty the camp, the males were shot and the females were shipped to Ravensbruck, Germany. Under extremely harsh conditions, the ten Booms sisters tried to survive. Yet the hardships overcame Betsie, who had been born with anemia, and she died on December 16, 1944. Before she passed on, she imparted to ten Boom her dream of some day having a safe haven for war sufferers. Shortly thereafter, ten Boom received a miracle.
By a clerical error, she was allowed to leave Germany. Other Dutch people were told to go, but ten Boom wasn't supposed to have been one of them. Taking a train to Berlin, she then boarded another train headed for the Dutch border. Upon her arrival, disheveled, sick, and starving, ten Boom found a hospital and was nursed to health.
Returning to Haarlem and missing her father and sister, ten Boom searched for her cat as a way of reconnecting with her home. Suffering, she felt a need to speak out about the family's experience and make Betsie's dream come true. Ten Boom began talking to people, and she created a place for concentration-camp survivors and other rehabilitation centers as her sister had foreseen. Consistently inspired by the faith that had helped keep her alive, ten Boom continued her charitable work. She also penned several books, but it wasn't until she wrote the autobiographical The Hiding Place
that she became famous. Her royalties helped her pay for more missionary work with Youth for Christ and allowed her to found Christians, Incorporated.
After teaching the Lord's Word, inspiring hope, and promoting faith to people in over sixty countries, ten Boom settled in California at age 85. Strokes impaired her speech center and her body, making her an invalid until her death on April 15, 1983. For the woman who helped so many Jews, it seems appropriate that she passed away on her birthday. For, Jewish lore says that dying on the day of one's birth is a special blessing from God.
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