When she finished speaking at a Munich church, she saw him, and the memories flooded back. The laughter at the thin, naked bodies. The piles of flea-infested clothes. The face of her dying sister.
And when the former soldier at the women’s concentration camp at Ravensbruck held out his hand to Corrie ten Boom, saying he had converted to Christianity, she hesitated: “I cannot forgive him.” Then, she prayed: “Jesus…Give me Your forgiveness.”
“As I took his hand, the most incredible thing happened,” ten Boom recounted in her autobiography, “The Hiding Place.” “From my shoulder, along my arm, and through my hand, a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.”
From saving nearly 800 Jews from the Gestapo to starting a camp to rehabilitate her captors, Corrie ten Boom, a ringleader of the Jewish underground in the Netherlands during World War II, exhibited the dedication to freedom treasured at Hillsdale College. Her commitment to Judeo-Christian values, personal responsibility, and education should give her a statue on the Liberty Walk.
And in front of the rising Christ Chapel would be the ideal spot for her. It would not only honor ten Boom’s example of her faith but also Jack and Jo Babbit, who donated the original $12.5 million to Hillsdale for the chapel. Jack Babbit served in the Army Air Corps during World War II on 29 combat missions, and Jo Babbit’s brothers also fought — one was held prisoner and taken to a German concentration camp, according to a promotional video for the chapel.
Born in 1892 and raised in Haarlem, Holland, ten Boom grew up in a close Christian home. She became the first female Dutch watchmaker, following in her father’s footsteps, and her parents taught her the lesson that would help her survive during the war — to love in all circumstances. When Jews began disappearing after the Nazi invasion, the ten Booms opened their home to those in need and hid “God’s chosen people,” as her father said. After a man informed the Gestapo of the network, Nazis arrested ten Boom and her family in February 1944. Four Jews and two resistance workers, however, remained safe in the house’s hiding place.
Although most of her family was released from prison, guards took ten Boom and her sister Betsie to Herzogenbusch and Ravensbruck concentration camps. The ten Booms found hope in sharing the Bible’s story and imagining a future when they would rehabilitate the prisoners and soldiers. Corrie ten Boom did not give into a cold, hate-filled heart of which her father warned. She shared the Gospels and found hope in prayer, learning to thank God for even the fleas in the Ravensbruck barracks.
Betsie ten Boom died in Ravensbruck, but a clerical error soon released Corrie ten Boom, and she left Dec. 30, 1944. After recovering at home, she opened a rehabilitation center for concentration-camp survivors and former soldiers, just as she had promised her sister she would. Ten Boom later immigrated to the United States and died on her 91st birthday, a blessing in the Jewish tradition.
Her story shares the values demonstrated by other leaders found on Hillsdale’s Liberty Walk — courage, patriotism, piety. A statue of ten Boom, named a Righteous Among the Nations by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, would be unique, the first erected in her honor. She is also a strong female role model, worthy to stand alongside Margaret Thatcher.
And like the students who went to fight in the Civil War, ten Boom and her family made sacrifices for truth and life. Like Frederick Douglass, she spoke for humanity and freedom.
Although not a politician like most of those on the Liberty Walk, ten Boom demonstrated statesman-like qualities. Instead of administering a country, Corrie ten Boom governed herself with wisdom and respectability even in the worst of circumstances. She showed what an average person ought to do in times of injustice. With only a home, courage, and faith, ten Boom exercised the personal responsibility needed in a free society by looking after her neighbors. She put her convictions first, relying on the Judeo-Christian teachings her father had respected and instilled in her.
After the war, ten Boom used her freedom to undo the harmful effects of anti-Semitic indoctrination by creating a home for Jewish refugees and a camp for former concentration camp soldiers. She also shared her story around the world to inspire others. Ten Boom became an educator for truth. She used her freedom to free others. And that is the purpose of Hillsdale’s liberal education.
All Hillsdale students study statesmanship, and some even hope to practice it. Most, however, will not have the chance. Most will be ordinary like Corrie ten Boom. Her statue would remind everyone on campus that even ordinary people can be called to act in extraordinary ways.
Ms. Noble is a junior studying politics and journalism.