Sometimes being ordinary is enough. Sometimes being ordinary is extraordinary.
On April 15 1892, Cornelia ten Boom was born to an ordinary family in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The Ten Boom family was devoutly Christian and they were serious about putting the principles of their faith into practice. Family, friends and neighbors were always welcomed into their home and at their table. After May 1940 when the Nazi’s invaded the Netherlands and began arresting Jewish people, the Ten Boom family remained an ordinary family who welcomed family, friends and neighbors into their home and at their table. They did not discriminate based on religion. If someone came to their door, the Ten Boom family welcomed that person into their home.
So one day in 1942 a Jewish woman appeared at their door, suitcase in hand. Her husband had been arrested. Her son had gone into hiding. The police had already questioned her, and she was afraid to return home. She had heard that the ten Booms had helped other Jewish people, and so she came asking for their help. Corrie’s father Casper welcomed the woman into their home and promised to help her.
Corrie managed to acquire extra ration cards, and they became very active in the Dutch Underground, hiding Jewish families and helping them to escape to freedom. In February 1944 a Dutch informant told the Nazi’s about the Ten Boom family’s work. Later that day the entire Ten Boom family was arrested and sent to prison. Casper, Corrie’s father died ten days later. Corrie’s brothers were released, but Corrie and her sister were to Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany. Betsie died there on December 16, 1944. Corrie was released on December 28, 1944 through a clerical error. Shortly after her release, all of the women in the camp were executed.
All of the Jewish people that the Ten Booms had been hiding at the time of their arrest remained undiscovered, and all but one, an older woman, survived the war.
After the war Israel honored Corrie ten Boom by naming her “Righteous Among the Nations”. She was also knighted by the Queen of the Netherlands in recognition of her work during the war. Sometimes being ordinary is indeed extraordinary
But this story that Corrie tells about her experiences after the war is what I find most extraordinary. She says that she was traveling in Germany in 1947, giving lectures on the importance of forgiveness. After one of her lectures she was approached by a man who she recognized as one of the cruelest of the guards from the Ravensbruck prison camp. She understandably felt a myriad of emotions – forgiveness not among them. Having lived all of her life as a devout Christian, Corrie did what she had done all of her life. She prayed. She took the hands of the former prison guard, and she prayed from the depth of her heart. And she found the grace to forgive him. That I find most extraordinary.
She also wrote that in her post-war experience with other victims of Nazi inhumanities, those who were able to forgive were best able to rebuild their lives.
In 1977, 85-year-old Corrie moved to Placentia, California. In 1978, she suffered two strokes, the first rendering her unable to speak, and the second resulting in paralysis. She died on her 91st birthday, 15 April 1983, after a third stroke. Corrie ten Boom was an ordinary woman who did extraordinary things. I think we can all learn a lesson or two from her – forgiveness among them.
Corrie ten Boom wrote a number of books, perhaps her most well-known book is The Hiding Place, which describes the work of her family during the war years. You should give it a read.