Hiding Places

A few years ago, Claude and I traveled in Belgium and Holland. We were surprised to see how evidence of World War II peppers nearly every type of structure, from commemorative etchings on canal walls to official monuments and museums. A little over eleven miles apart stand two buildings turned into museums. These buildings and their exhibits—the Anne Frank House (located in Amsterdam) and the Corrie Ten Boom House (located in Harleem, a smaller city just outside of Amsterdam)—declare the stories of two different people who came to symbolize “hidden” Jews during World War II. These two stories, both juxtaposing tragedy and heroism, leave a profound impact on visitors. The Frank and Ten Boom dramas bear many similarities, but after touring the two museums back-to-back on a sunny Tuesday in May, it is their differences in overall goal and mission, and the effect that has on various aspects of the museum and its take-home message, that have left me in deepest reflection.

SIMILARITIES: Not only did the events recounted in each museum unfold a relatively short distance from one another, they were occurring simultaneously much of the time, over the course of approximately two years. Both involved active resistance against the Nazi Regime, specifically hiding and helping Jews. The Ten Boom’s betrayal and arrest occurred on February 29, 1944 while August 4 of that same year marks the Frank’s betrayal and arrest. In the end, only one person from member of each family survived the unspeakable horrors of Nazi concentration camps, destined to tell their stories.

DIFFERENCES: The Franks were Jewish. Thus, their only hope of survival once the Nazi’s arrived in Holland was to go into hiding, dependent on aid of others who did so at great risk to themselves. On the other hand, the Nazi Regime had no interest in the Ten Booms, Dutch Christians, as long as they did not resist them. However, instead of taking the safe route, the Ten Booms inserted themselves into the line of fire in order that others—specifically Jews and those in the Dutch underground resistance movement—might live. At the end of the ordeal, only one of the eight Jews hidden in the Frank house survived the betrayal, arrest, and subsequent imprisonment. In contrast, although Corrie was the only Ten Boom family member to survive the betrayal, arrest, and subsequent imprisonment, it is estimated that more than 800 people gained passage, through the Ten Boom hiding place, out of the Nazi’s grasp.

The Anne Frank House Museum came into being through the efforts of Otto Frank, Anne’s father and only survivor of the hidden eight. Otto’s driving motivations are purposefully expressed throughout the tour, i.e., tell their story; honor those with whom he hid and the friends that aided them during hiding; see his daughter’s dreams as a writer fulfilled; and challenge the culture, specifically by promoting an attitude of tolerance so that something like the Holocaust never happens again. The somber, self-guided tour through Otto’s “front” jelly business and then into the “back” hidden annex, is well worth the $12+ entry fee. But please, no pictures once inside the professional-quality museum, with its artifacts preserved behind glass. Everyone moves quietly and respectfully through the somber space, reading plaques and watching an occasion video clip of first-hand accounts. One of the saddest moments for me came just before exiting the tour. Here participants watch a less-than two-minute video of Otto’s reflections of Anne’s diaries. Despite having a self-proclaimed good relationship with his daughter, upon reading Anne’s diaries, Otto comes to the conclusion that, “…most parents, really, don’t know their children.” And with that, the tour ends. All I can taste is profound loss, sincere sorrow, and unimaginable tragedy.

I do not know whose heart-dream it was to turn the Hiding Place, aka the home behind the Ten Boom Watch Shop into a museum. Yes, like the Frank Museum, there are memorable photographs and documents preserved behind glass. But, pull out your camera during this free tour guided by a volunteer, who clearly shares the heart and vision that compelled the Ten Boom family to take their place on the front lines. Some of the furnishings are original. Go ahead, run your fingers along the piano or the pages of Papa’s Bible, opened to Psalm 91, his favorite. In Corrie’s room, don’t just gaze into cut-out in the wall that reveals the 30” deep hiding place. Get on your hands and knees and crawl through the secret passage at the base of the linen closet, and then shut the trap door. Shhhh quietly though, you don’t want to give yourself up. Oh, and don’t knock over the potty pot in the corner like the last six visitors who sat, cramped, in the stale air with a small can of biscuits and no water for forty-seven hours after the Ten Booms were arrested for hiding them. Listen as your guide recounts the story of Betsie’s admonishment to Corrie to “…not hate but forgive.” Then, imagine Corrie walking from Ravensbruck into freedom because of a “clerical error.” Finally, be in awe of Corrie’s determined forgiveness as she spends the next thirty-three years of her life proclaiming the love of God, the victory of Jesus, and the real hope that, “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” Leave The Hiding Place with the lingering taste of hope and amazing love and proof that, with God, tragedy is transformed into beauty. 

Two stories birthed from the same horror of World War II, both of them worthy to be and needing to be told. Two stories relaying the struggle to preserve life—one desperate for self-preservation, the other denying self to preserve the life of others. Two stories seeking to make someone known…one, a teenage girl (with hopes and dreams and a promising future) tragically robbed of life; the other, an infinite God who takes broken pieces (whether shattered by others or our own doing) and weaves a beautiful tapestry with them. Two stories hoping to affect personal and social change…one by challenging fellow human beings to be tolerant of the differences of others; the other by offering an encounter with the God who more than tolerates our differences. He love us unconditionally, “differences” and all.


 

Remembering...

My dear friend, Robert Brenner, recently conveyed a story from his 2018 visit to Rwanda about a woman named Grace. I cannot stop thinking about Grace, her story, and her remembering. You might recall the horrific events that rocked that small African country in 1994. In four short months, more than 800,000 people were murdered.

 After touring her small, home-based seamstress shop, Grace asked Robert if she could tell her story, sharing “It helps in my healing. It reminds me Jesus is enough, and that I must continue to forgive.” On the horrible night the genocide began, Hutu neighbors, that had formerly been good friends, invaded Grace’s home with knives and clubs filled with nails, killing every member of her family and throwing them into a ditch. Grace lay, alive, covered by the bodies of her kin. After three days, a man passing by noticed movement. This man pulled Grace out of her living grave, nursed her back to health, and became her husband. Three years later, even though the intensity of the genocide had ended, rebel bans of Hutus would come in the night and attack innocent Tutsis. In one of those attacks, the husband that had saved Graces’s life was killed.

This is Grace’s story. This is the story that sustains and promotes her healing, reminding her Jesus is enough and to forgive. Grace’s story is hard. Her story is the kind nightmares breed. Her story is filled with the sort of memories people long to wipe from their slates. And yet, the way Grace remembers is life-giving and healing. Through Grace, her story, and her remembering, I am realizing that

How we frame our remembering determines what our remembering births.

Do we frame our remembering in bitterness or in thanksgiving? The pain of the event or the provision of God in the midst of the pain? The lack encountered or the ever-present love of God sustaining? By what robbed us or by what God redeemed? In fury or in forgiveness? 

Grace chose to frame her story with the love God and the provision of God, and, in return, her story has birthed in her the power to forgive and heal and love and trust.

How do you frame your story? What does your remembering birth in you, empower you to do?