A courageous watchmaker’s daughter used her charisma, strength, and strong ethics to help save hundreds of lives during World War II.

The woman stood at the door, the hand holding her suitcase shaking so badly that the movement could even be seen in the dark. Her eyes were wide and her face very pale.

The light from the watchmaker’s shop shone on the yellow star sewn to the visitor’s coat. She was a Jew in Nazi-occupied Holland. She and anyone who aided her faced a death sentence.

Corrie Ten Boom swung the door open wide and welcomed the woman inside.

Such a response was second nature to Corrie. She was the daughter of a family of watchmakers whose faith formed the very core of their being. She and her family believed that all people are equal before God and thus deserve the same love, care, and charity. The Ten Booms lived that principle each and every day.

During her childhood, her father, Casper, and mother, Cornelia, modeled the family’s faith. They offered a room to any child in need of shelter, made care baskets for neighbors who were down on their luck, visited the sick with food and money, and literally offered others the clothes off their backs.

It wasn’t that the Ten Booms had money to burn—far from it. Casper got so involved in his charity ventures that he sometimes forgot to charge his customers. He taught Corrie the intricate workings of the watch trade, and she became the first Dutch female licensed as a watchmaker. She learned how each gear relied on the next to keep the mechanism working—much like people had to rely upon one another to keep the world running smoothly.

The mechanism by which the Ten Booms lived began to break down when Hitler invaded Holland in 1940. Soon, the Nazi policy of “racial purity” was being acted out on the streets. Anti-Semitic slogans were painted on Jewish-owned businesses; synagogues were broken into and defiled; Jewish people were forced to wear yellow stars on their clothing. The people wearing those stars began disappearing, never to be seen again.

Many Dutch citizens decided to let such outrages roll over them like Nazi tanks. “It’s none of our business,” they muttered. Others became sympathizers and proudly offered the Nazi salute to the German officers now found in every café. 

Still, others joined the resistance to fight against the evil spreading like a stain over their country. Corrie was one of those people.

The Ten Booms home turned out to be a perfect place for talking treason. With the shop in the front, a ramshackle addition built onto the back, and living quarters upstairs, the house was a hodge podge of rooms better suited to a rabbit warren that to house people—unless those people needed to stay out of sight.

Corrie and her family had collected money for the cause, and hid resistance fighters who were passing from one safe house to another. But their most dangerous activity began the night that Corrie answered the door to find the woman with the suitcase asking for help.

She was a Jew whose husband had been taken away and whose son had gone into hiding. She was afraid that occupying soldiers would come back for her.

Corrie let the woman inside and promised to shelter her. She did the same with the next person who knocked, and the next, and the next. The Ten Booms continued to shelter Dutch resistance fighters, but their house could only house so many and the cupboards were nearly bare.

Corrie and her family prayed for assistance. It came in two unexpected ways.

When Corrie went to collect her family’s rations, a worker asked how many she needed for her family. Instead of saying a sensible number that would not arouse suspicion like five or ten, the visionary blurted out “A hundred. I need a hundred ration books.”

And the official gave her what she asked for. It was enough to feed all the people currently hiding in her house and those who would come after.

The second surprise blessing came when the resistance sent an architect to design a secret room. The space would be able to hide six adults if they all stood still. Hidden behind a wall, the room could be reached within 60 seconds if the occupants moved quickly.

The room’s construction would come just in time.

On February 28, 1944, the Ten Boom family was betrayed and the Sicherheitsdienst (the Nazi Security Service) barged in, fanning out to search the house. A few days earlier, a man had come to the watchmaker’s shop asking Corrie for money to aid some Jewish refugees. She said she’d get the money and the man left. The man turned out to be a Nazi collaborator and turned Corrie into the authorities. Thanks to a secret buzzer alerting them, the six adults hiding at the Ten Boom’s at the time raced to the hidden room. 

The Germans did not find the people hiding upstairs, but they did find the extra ration books. The soldiers arrested Corrie, her sister Betsie, and her father on the spot.

The Ten Booms were sent to two different prisons and 10 days after their arrest, Casper died of mistreatment. Corrie and Betsie were sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, Germany’s most notorious women’s prison, where they were paraded naked before the sadistic guards. Starved and beaten, Betsie died shortly after her father passed. 

Corrie was completely alone now. She was thrown into solitary confinement, but clung to her faith like a raft in a storm.

Her faith was rewarded. She received a message saying, “All the watches in your cabinet are safe,” meaning all the people who had been in her hidden room had made it out. She would learn later they had stood unmoving for 47 hours before being rescued by the Dutch underground resistance movement. 

Then, because of a clerical error, Corrie’s name was placed on a list to be released. While all her fellow prisoners of her age group went to the gas chamber the next day, but Corrie was free.

After the war, Corrie returned to Holland to recover and to pray about what to do next. How was she best to serve others now that the biggest threat was over? The activist needed a new purpose; before long, Corrie had her answer.

It occurred to her that forgiveness was the greatest gift she had to give.

“God gave us love to enable us to pardon our enemies,” she said. And she did just that.

She embarked on a speaking tour throughout Europe, sharing what had happened to her and her family. She preached that forgiveness was the only answer to the cruelty she had witnessed. She told anyone who would listen, “There is no pain so deep that God’s love cannot reach it.”

In 1947, Corrie met the Ravensbrück guard who made Betsie and Corrie parade naked in front of him. The man offered his hand to Corrie, begging her forgiveness. She took his hand and told him he had her forgiveness and she meant it.

Corrie founded a convalescent home for other survivors (including collaborators) and wrote many books, the most famous of which, The Hidden Room, was a bestseller and was adapted into a feature film that showcased her transformational leadership during World War II. Her home became a museum dedicated to educating the public about wartime Dutch Resistance. To this day, a working watchmaker’s shop is open on the first floor.

In 1968, Corrie planted a tree at the Jerusalem Museum of the Holocaust, Yad Vashem, in remembrance of those who died. Israel also named Corrie as Righteous Among The Nations by Yad Vashem. She and her resistance colleagues are estimated to have saved 800 lives.

Corrie Ten Boom, now considered one of the most important women in WWII history, died on April 15, 1983 on the same day she had come into the world 91 years before. That was an honor, according to Jewish law, reserved only for those people most blessed by God.