Scrapbookpages Blog

April 3, 2010

Corrie ten Boom forgave a Ravensbrück SS guard

This morning I heard Kenneth B. McMillan, Presiding Bishop in the Mormon church, give a sermon on TV.  He told the story about a former SS guard at the Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp, who asked Corrie ten Boom to forgive him for his crime of being a camp guard.  She hesitated, but then held out her hand and forgave him.

Corrie ten Boom

Corrie ten Boom is second only to Anne Frank as a famous female person in the story of the Holocaust.  In 1971, Corrie wrote a book entitled The Hiding Place, which was made into a film by World Wide Pictures in 1975.

There is a Museum in the Dutch city of Haarlem, which is all about Corrie ten Boom’s work with the Dutch Resistance and her work in hiding Jews from the Nazis.

The Corrie ten Boom Museum in Haarlem, Holland. Photo credit: Florida Center for Instructional Technology

After World War II, Corrie ten Boom taught the Christian gospel all over the world, in 60 countries; her emphasis was on forgiveness. In 1974, Corrie wrote  Tramp for the Lord, in which she told about teaching the gospel in Germany in 1947.  She wrote that when she was approached by one of the cruelest former Ravensbrück camp guards, she was at first reluctant to forgive him.

In her book, Tramp for the Lord, Corrie ten Boom wrote:

“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”

Corrie ten Boom had been arrested, along with her entire family,  by the German Gestapo on February 28, 1944 after a Dutch informant turned them in.  According to Wikipedia, they were sent first to Scheveningen prison, where her father died ten days after his capture. Corrie’s sister Nollie, brother Willem, and nephew Peter were all released.

Later, Corrie and Betsie ten Boom were sent to the Vught  political concentration camp in the Netherlands, and finally to the Ravensbrück concentration camp for women in Germany on December 16, 1944, where Corrie’s sister Betsie died.  Corrie was released on December 31, 1944.

In the movie The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom narrates the section on her release from the Ravensbrück concentration camp, saying that she later learned that her release had been a clerical error. The women prisoners, who were her age, were killed the week following her release, which would have been in January 1945.

Women prisoners at work in Ravensbrück camp

Ravensbrück was not a death camp, but it did have a gas chamber, according to a confession given by Johann Schwarzhuber, the SS man who was the second in command at Ravensbrück.

Schwarzhuber gave detailed testimony in the British Military Court at Hamburg, where 16 staff members of Ravensbrück were put on trial from December 5, 1946 to February 3, 1947. Schwarzhuber testified that British SOE agents Violette Szabo, Lilian Rolfe and Denise Bloch had been executed by a shot in the neck shortly after Schwarzhuber was transferred to the camp on January 12, 1945. This would have been around the time that women the age of Corrie ten Boom were killed, according to her story.

Until British SOE officer Vera Atkins interrogated Schwarzhuber on March 13, 1946 and got him to confess to witnessing the murder of the women SOE agents, nothing was known about the fate of these three women who had been at Ravensbrück since August 22, 1944. Schwarzhuber filled in all the details that Atkins wanted to hear, about how the women had died bravely and how the SS men had been impressed with their bearing.

Schwarzhuber, who was on trial himself because he was an SS man at Ravensbrück, said in the deposition taken from him by Vera Atkins and repeated in the courtroom, that Ravensbrück Commandant Fritz Suhren had been annoyed that the Gestapo had not carried out these executions themselves.

Suhren was not on trial since he had escaped from custody. Schwarzhuber testified that Suhren had ordered him to organize a mass gassing of the women prisoners at the end of February 1945, at a time when sixty to seventy prisoners were dying each day during a typhus epidemic. Cecily Lefort was one of the women who died in the gas chamber on May 1, 1945, according to the testimony of Sylvia Salvensen, a former prisoner in the camp.

Schwarzhuber was the most important witness at the Ravensbrück proceedings; he had first told his story when he gave a deposition after being interrogated by Vera Atkins of the British SOE.  Vera Atkins was somehow able to get Schwarzhuber to confess to crimes for which he knew that he would surely be executed. After he was convicted, Schwarzhuber was executed on May 3, 1947.

I don’t know the name of the SS man who asked for forgiveness from Corrie ten Boom.  It could have been Schwarzhuber, but probably not.

In the same passage of her book, in which she wrote about forgiving the SS guard, Corrie wrote that, in her post-war experience with other victims of Nazi brutality, it was those who were able to forgive who were best able to rebuild their lives.

The State of Israel has named Corrie ten Boom as a person who is Righteous Among the Nations. She was also knighted by the Queen of the Netherlands in recognition of her work with the Dutch Resistance during World War II. Because of her aid to the Dutch Resistance, Corrie ten Boom was technically an illegal combatant under the rules of the Geneva Convention of 1929 and her imprisonment in a concentration camp was legal.

The photo below shows a famous monument at the Ravensbrück Memorial Site.

Burdened Woman by Will Lammert. Bronze sculpture looks out over Lake Schwedt. 1959. Photo credit: Florida Center for Instructional Technology

10 Comments

  1. corrie ten boom must have been specially prepared by God for saving the Jews. I would like to see her in heaven by God’s grace.A great lesson of rescueing the perishing to all christians.

    Comment by ojadi chijioke — June 16, 2013 @ 2:15 pm

  2. I remember when I was a girl watching Corrie ten Boom (on Art Linkletters show) being introduced to a man who admitted being a guard at one of the camps and she embrased him and forgave him. Seems to me that this was the late 50s or early 60s.

    Comment by Janet Ross — November 21, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

  3. All of you are wrong. According to page 74, Corrie slaps the man and walks off. Corrie operated Auschwitz and killed many people. She’s still out looking for fresh flesh.

    Comment by Max Murphy — April 19, 2011 @ 12:30 pm

  4. [...] Corrie ten Boom forgave a Ravensbrück SS guard « ScrapbookpagesGeiser’s U.S. citizenship was revoked in 2006 after he admitted he was an SS guard at three Nazi concentration camps and under orders to shoot anyone attempting to escape, the department said. He immigrated to the United States in 1956 and was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1962. [...]

    Pingback by Ss garuds | TravelFareStrans — March 22, 2011 @ 8:11 pm

  5. Why is it a problem for a male guard to be at the women’s camp. It was common. Sure in some places women guarded women but also these women were guarded and raped by both men and women. Read your history closely and do not only read the histories influenced by the allies or the germans…read both so your questions are more roundly answered. Good article sir

    Comment by Tom — March 19, 2011 @ 6:54 am

  6. I have read the various comments on this web page. While I concur the SS Guard did not speak the words of forgiveness, it was implied. This meeting with the SS Guard takes place on page 247 & 248 of “The Hiding Place” (paperback, 35th anniversary edition).

    The story of Ms. Corrie Ten Boom was well known by that time. This is the story of Ms. Corrie Ten Boom’s life. It was not about the German SS Guard and, therefore, when he extended his hand, the hand of friendship, it was implied he requested forgiveness. He knew he was a German SS Guard!

    DKBJR

    Comment by DALE K. BARKER, JR. — March 9, 2011 @ 10:26 am

  7. I believe Corrie

    Comment by Walter — March 7, 2011 @ 2:09 am

  8. In her book, “Tramp for the Lord”, Corrie Ten Boom wrote of the account of the guard asking for forgiveness on page 56.

    Comment by kelli Skinner — February 18, 2011 @ 7:58 pm

    • I went to Amazon.com and looked this up on their “look inside” feature. The part about the guard asking for forgiveness starts on page 53 and goes on to page 54. She met the guard, who had previously worked in the Ravensbrueck camp, when he approached her after she gave a speech in Germany. Ravensbrueck was a women’s camp and there were 958 female guards there. There were also prisoners, called Kapos, who helped the guards. In Ravensbrueck, the Kapos would have been women. It is very strange that there was a male guard at Ravensbrueck and that he would have attended her talk in 1947 to ask for forgiveness for being a camp guard. Corrie makes it clear that she believed in the “common plan” definition of guilt, which was made up by the Allies after the war. She thinks that this guard was guilty because he was in the camp when her sister died. Even though he didn’t cause the sister’s death, this guard was guilty in Corrie’s mind because he had worked at the camp. This whole story sounds suspicious to me.

      Comment by furtherglory — February 19, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

  9. This story isn’t exactly correct. According to her book, “The Hiding Place”, the man simply smiled at her and said something about Jesus washing his sins away. The book gives no indication that he recognizes her or asks her for forgiveness. She did recognize him, though, and felt the Holy Spirit’s prompting to forgive him. She had just spoken at a church meeting and he came up and spoke to her afterwards. Again, with no indication that he recognizes her or asks her for forgiveness.

    Comment by Deborah — January 21, 2011 @ 6:37 am


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