The Power of Forgiving
Who hasn’t heard the phrase, “To err is human, to forgive, divine”? One of the most striking examples of forgiveness occurred in the heart of a little Dutch watchmaker shortly after World War II.
As German tanks rolled across Holland in the spring of 1940, the Dutch queen hastily escaped to London. Holland’s army had no choice but to surrender, leaving the country under German occupation.
While it affected all citizens, it largely touched the Jewish population. Entire families found themselves rounded up like cattle and whisked off in train boxcars, never to be seen again.
One family, the ten Booms, joined a quiet movement to shelter those unfortunate people. The ten Booms developed a hiding place off an upstairs bedroom in their house in Haarlem, where Jewish people of all ages took refuge.
The plan worked well for a while. Corrie, her sister Betsie and their aged father, Casper ten Boom, smuggled several refugees into their house under the guise of their watch repair shop.
Things were going well until they were betrayed by a stranger.
Corrie, Betsie and their 84-year-old father suffered the trauma of a house raid by the German military. The sisters were forced onto a train which took them to Ravensbruck, a concentration camp. Casper died in prison before being transported.
The two sisters faced unspeakable suffering at Ravensbruck. They were humiliated, made to strip off their clothes in front of the guards, nearly starved, and forced to perform hard labor.
One day the imprisoned sisters discovered who had betrayed them. Corrie was livid.
She wished she could kill the man who had caused so much horror for herself and others.
Betsie had a different attitude. “I pray for him whenever his name comes into my mind,” she said. “How dreadfully he must be suffering!”
What? PRAY for the perpetrator of their suffering?
Betsie realized she couldn’t change her circumstances, but she could change the way she responded. She chose to forgive the one who had destroyed all she held dear.
While Corrie fumed, Betsie prayed. Eventually Betsie’s attitude began to seep into Corrie’s mind and heart. She chose to join Betsie and forgive.
It didn’t make treatment at Ravensbruck less severe. They still had to endure filthy, lice-ridden barracks and sleep on wooden platforms. They continued to shiver in extremely cold temperatures and suffer harsh treatment. In contrast, though a prisoner on the outside, Corrie became free from the prison on the inside, no longer confined by bars of bitterness.
Eventually, Corrie found herself released from Ravensbruck by mistake. A week later, all the women her age were sent to the gas chambers. The little Dutch watchmaker spent the next 30 years traveling the world, telling people her story.
Corrie had a chance to put forgiveness to the test at one public speaking event.
After her talk, a man who had been a guard at Ravensbruck came to her, identified himself and reached out to shake her hand. She could have shrunk back in horror as dark memories flooded her mind. Instead, Corrie experienced a defining moment. Choosing forgiveness, Corrie reached out and took his proffered hand.
This saintly woman reminded her listeners, “Forgiveness is not an emotion. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”
Corrie died on the day she turned 91, thus fulfilling a tradition of the Jewish people she loved so well. They believed only those especially blessed have the privilege of dying on their birthday.
Because she had chosen forgiveness, Corrie breathed her last breath and stepped into the presence of God.
Your turn. Have you read any books about Corrie ten Boom? Tell us about it in the comment box below.