Most of the stories we have of Casper ten Boom come to us by way of his famous daughter, Corrie, whose best-selling book, The Hiding Place, was made into a film in 1975. The ten Boom family was part of the Dutch Resistance during World War II, and it is estimated they saved the lives of more than 800 Jews by concealing them in their home, coordinating their escape elsewhere or feeding them with ration cards.
Larry Loftis’ new biography of Corrie, The Watchmaker’s Daughter, sheds light on the most formative person in her life, her father, Casper. Already 81 years old when the Nazis invaded his homeland, he refused to compromise his convictions or succumb to fear. Until his children convinced him not to, he even insisted on wearing a yellow star of David to show solidarity with Jews who were forced to do so during the Nazi occupation.
Eventually, the family was betrayed by a Dutch informant, and the Gestapo came pounding on their door on February 28, 1944. Although 84, Casper was arrested, along with his three daughters, his son and his grandson. Due to his age and failing health, the Gestapo interrogator told him he would be released so he could die at home in his bed.
“If I go home today,” he responded, “tomorrow, I will open my door to anyone who asks for help.”
This elderly man posed such a threat to the Nazi regime that he could not be released. He died on March 9, after only nine days in prison.
The quiet heroism of people like Casper and his family was inexplicable to their Nazi captors, whose only frame of reference was the attainment and preservation of power and control. But they were not the only ones who could not grasp the ten Booms’ motives. When the family requested a minister take a Jewish woman and her baby into their home outside the city for safekeeping, the minister refused, asking them if they understood they could lose their lives for protecting the baby.
“You say we could lose our lives for this child,” Casper responded. “I would consider that the greatest honor that could come to my family.”
Due to the ubiquity of superhero movies in our culture, heroism is typically portrayed as a “superhuman” quality. Heroes are, therefore, people who can do things normal humans can’t. Typically, heroic qualities include physical, intellectual and even supernatural abilities unattainable to the general populace.
Casper ten Boom is unique in that it is precisely his humanity that causes us to see him as a hero. Anything but a “super human,” he is instead everything a human being should be: compassionate when he had no personal incentive for being so, courageous when he had no physical strength to back it up and bold when the truth would only get him into deeper trouble.
Whether in 1944 or 2024, that’s what it takes to be a hero.
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