Corrie and Betsie in Ravensbruck
(From the Hiding Place)
Corrie and Betsie were taken to Ravensbruck concentration camp. This was worse than any other prison they had been in. The first two days they had to sleep out in the open. It poured with rain, and the ground became a sea of mud. Then they were packed into a huge barrack-room. It had been built to house 400 people, but there were now 1400 prisoners in it. They had to sleep on straw mattresses filled with choking dust and swarming with fleas. Even the guards did not like going into the barrack-room because of the fleas.
Roll-call was at half-past four in the morning. There were 35000 women in the camp, and if anyone was missing they were counted again and again. So it often went on for hours. If the prisoners did not stand up straight the women guards beat them with riding whips.
The work was extremely hard. Corrie and Betsie had to load heavy sheets of steel on to carts, push them for a certain distance, then unload them. All the time the guards shouted at them to work faster.
They were only given a potato and some thin soup at lunch-time, and some turnip soup with a piece of black bread in the evening. The prisoners who were doing lighter work had no lunch at all.
If the prisoners became ill, the guards took no notice of them unless their temperature was over 40C, which meant they were seriously ill. Then they had to join the long queue for the camp hospital. But nothing was done for them when they finally got there. When the hospital was full, the weakest prisoners were put onto lorries and taken to gas chambers to be killed. Then their bodies were burned. The tall chimney above the ovens in the centre of the camp was always belching grey smoke.
This was the “hell on earth” to which Corrie and Betsie had come. Yet when they arrived at Ravensbruck, God had shown them that He could still help them, even in a place as terrible as this.
Before they had left Holland, on the day Father ten Boom’s will had been read, one of Corrie’s relations had managed to smuggle a small Bible to her. She had also received a bottle of vitamin drops in one of the parcels sent to prisoners by the Red Cross. When the prisoners arrived at Ravensbruck they had to give up everything they had with them. Corrie was determined to keep the Bible and the vitamin drops. Somehow she managed to smuggle them in without a guard seeing them.
When they first moved into the barrack-room, the conditions there made the women angry and selfish. There were arguments and fights. Everyone suffered so much that they spent all their energy looking after themselves.
When Betsie noticed this, she began to pray that God would give peace to the barrack-room. Very soon the atmosphere changed. The women became a little more patient with each other. They even began to make a few jokes about their troubles.
In the evenings, after a hard day’s work and a miserable supper, Corrie and Betsie took out the little Dutch Bible. At first a small group gathered round to listen, then more and more women joined them. The guards never came in to stop them, because of the fleas. So Corrie and Betsie thanked God for the fleas!
The women came from many countries, including Poland, France, Germany and Russia. Corrie translated the Bible from Dutch into German, someone else translated the German into Polish, and so on.
Under these terrible conditions, the goodness in the words of the Bible shone out brightly and their message of God’s love brought comfort. With death all around, the promise of eternal life and the glory of heaven gave the women hope for the future.
One day, Betsie was cruelly whipped by a guard for not working hard enough. But she did not give in to hatred. She prayed for the guards as much as she prayed for the prisoners. Corrie found this very difficult, but somehow Betsie seemed to have risen above all the suffering, and to be living very close to God.
One night as they were lying on their bunks, Betsie whispered to Corrie, “I can see a house, somewhere in Holland. It is a beautiful house with a large garden. There is a large hall with a carved wooden staircase. We are going to look after people who have been hurt in the war, until they can live a normal life again. Corrie, I believe God is going to give us a house like this.”
Later on, Betsie had another vision. This time she saw a concentration camp in Germany. But there was no barbed wire in this camp, and there were no guards. All the buildings were painted a cheerful green. It was a camp for German people that had been hurt by the evil of Hitler, even people like the guards at Ravensbruck, who had been taught to be so cruel.
“Corrie,” she said, “we must tell people how good God is. After the war we must go around the world telling people. No one will be able to say that they have suffered worse than us. We can tell them how wonderful God is, and how His love will fill our lives, if only we will give up our hatred and bitterness.”
All this time Corrie had been giving Betsie a few vitamin drops each day because she was so weak. But there were so many other needy prisoners that she began giving drops to them also. She gave them to more and more people. She knew the bottle must soon be empty. But every day more drops came. Nobody could understand it, until Betsie reminded them of the story in the Bible of the widow’s jar of oil, which did not run dry for many days.
Gradually, however, Betsie became weaker and weaker. It was bitterly cold, for it was now November. In the end, Betsie was so ill that she was admitted to the hospital. Corrie was not allowed to visit her sister, but each day went to look at her through one of the hospital windows. Finally, one day Betsie’s bed was empty.
Corrie was heart-broken. At first she did not dare to look in the room where the dead where placed. Then another prisoner called her. There was Betsie. Yes, she was dead. But her face had changed. Instead of being full of pain and suffering as it had been, it was now beautiful, like the face of an angel!
Death or freedom?
Once again it was roll-call. The women stamped their feet to keep warm. Suddenly Corrie heard her name: “Prisoner ten Boom, report after roll-call.”
What was going to happen? was she going to be punished? Or shot?
“Father in heaven, please help me now,” she prayed.
When she reported, she was given a card stamped “Entlassen”, which means “Released”. She was free! She could hardly believe it. She was given back her few possessions, some new clothes and a railway pass back to Holland. After a long, hard journey, she arrived back among friends in her own country.
Afterwards she learned that she had been released by mistake. A week after her release all the women of her age in the camp were killed.