COLUMN: Holocaust survivor forgave concentration camp guard

Published 7:30 am Saturday, January 27, 2024

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Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. May we never forget the atrocities of the Nazis during World War II. We must remember the over six million Jews they murdered and the heroic actions of the people who risked their lives to rescue Jews.

“The Hiding Place” tells the life story of Corrie Ten Boom and her family who lived in Holland during World War II. The book’s title describes a secret staircase and room of Corrie’s home where her family hid their Jewish neighbors from the Nazis. Before the end of the war, the German soldiers discovered her family’s activities and arrested them. They were sent to a concentration camp called Ravensbruck.

Corrie Ten Boom was the only member of her family who returned home after the Holocaust. Due to an error in paperwork, she was mistakenly released from the concentration camp on December 28, 1944. Just a week later, an order was issued to kill all women her age and older.

After the war, Corrie began traveling in Europe and America telling about her experience of survival and sharing a message of God’s forgiveness. In her book, she relates an incident that happened while in Ravensbruck.

One day when she and her older sister, Betsie, were forced to stand naked, they saw a concentration camp matron beating another prisoner. “Oh, the poor woman,” Corrie cried. “Yes, may God forgive her,” Betsie replied. Corrie realized that her sister was once again praying for souls of the brutal Nazi guards.

Years later while Corrie Ten Boom was speaking to a group of people, she recognized a familiar face in the audience. The person approached her at the conclusion of her remarks, and Corrie felt anger growing inside her. The individual had been one of the guards at Ravensbruck. He’d asked God to forgive him for the cruel things he had done there, but he wanted to ask Corrie’s forgiveness as well.

“Even as the angry vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? …. Didn’t he and I stand together before an all seeing God convicted of the same murder? For I had murdered him with my heart and my tongue.”

Corrie said, “It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.” She remembered Jesus’ words, “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15).

She then grasped the hand of the former guard, “And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands.And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.”

Among my collection of favorite quotations, several come from Corrie ten Boom’s many books. She once wrote, “You never so touch the ocean of God’s love as when you forgive and love your enemies.” Corrie learned, “When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”

Author’s Note: Corrie Ten Boom met local residents Pat and Miz Lou Brown at a Bible conference they attended. The couple invited Corrie to visit their farm in the Beda Community. So, Corrie traveled to Covington County. I wish I’d had the opportunity to meet her.

— Jan White has compiled a collection of her columns in her book, “Everyday Faith for Daily Life.”