Writing about my writing has given me the pleasure of celebrating, in a sense, my own imaginative achievements, marketable or not. It has also provided me with a topic that allows me to draft web log messages and post them weekly in accordance with my own self-imposed deadline. There is a joy in keeping one’s promise to one’s self, which has the unique value of maintaining one’s faith in the pragmatic use of optimism.
I closed last week’s message with the logline of my current work in progress a feature length screenplay entitled In My Father’s House. And as with my series on Angel Unaware, my goal now is to reveal the backstory and the process of another personally compelling project.
This is another true story as is Angel Unaware, which concerned the decision made by Dale Evans and Roy Rogers to keep and raise their daughter Robin at a time when the common practice was to have a child born with Down syndrome committed to an institution. The focus of In My Father’s House is on two sisters, Betsie and Corrie ten Boom, whose Christian ethics prompted them to aid in the protection of Jews during the Nazi occupation of Holland during World War Two.
My introduction to their story occurred the first time I heard Corrie ten Boom speak at a Christian conference some fifty-plus years ago. My recall, given the expanse of time between then and now, is not the best but I believe it was at this event that I first learned about her book, The Hiding Place. Written in cooperation with Elizabeth and John Sherrill, the book provides wonderful insights into the ten Boom family, how they came to be involved in the Dutch underground, their arrest and imprisonment, and the ultimate costs for living with respect for their convictions.
Corrie wrote other books providing further details about her experiences. These include In My Father’s House, A Prisoner and Yet, Tramp for the Lord and Prison Letters. The popularity of her work resulted in the film production of her book, The Hiding Place, in 1975. It starred Jeanette Clift George as Corrie, Julie Harris as her older sister Betsie and Arthur O’Connell as their father Casper.
After that Corrie’s books remained on the shelf, for me at least, where they gathered dust until I read a book review in the Wall Street Journal. I believe the year was 2016 and the book was The Lilac Girls, written by Martha Hall Kelly. The centerpiece of her novel was the ordeal suffered by a select group of Polish women in Ravensbruck, the Nazi prison camp for female political prisoners. These women were operated on in a tortuous experiment, which left them physically maimed and visibly impaired. The damage to their legs earned them the sobriquet of the Rabbits for the way they limped or hopped about the camp.
Reading The Lilac Girls brought to mind my earlier absorption of Corrie ten Boom’s writings. I was stumped in trying to remember if she and Betsie were also imprisoned in Ravensbruck. And if so, why did I fail to remember any mention of the Rabbits in The Hiding Place? It only took a quick glance at Corrie’s table of contents to see that, yes, chapter thirteen was entitled Ravensbruck. Betsie and Corrie were there. It took a reread of that chapter and the next to realize the omission of something that qualifies as being truly horrific and worth mentioning, if for no other reason than providing the greater context of human suffering within which the light of God’s love was revealed by these two devout and faithful women.
Kelly’s account of the camp was far worse than what Corrie ten Boom described. It solidified my personal belief that we, as Christians, often sanitize our testimonies in order not to offend the sensibilities of our Christian audience. At the same time it prompted in me a greater appreciation for what Corrie and her sister Betsie endured as they strove to live their lives in keeping with the spiritual principles learned at home in the nurturing shelter of their family.
This did not lead to a firm resolve on my part, but the seeds were sown for writing a retelling of Corrie and Betsie’s experiences, this time with an infusion of historic depth to provide an honest counterpoint to a story of faith and sacrificial love. The problem was how to uncover that history without making a career out of the pursuit. The answer came in the form of another book, another female author, and a host of malevolent revelations about the Nazi prison system and the specific horrors of Ravensbruck.
This new read made my commitment sure of writing a screenplay merging Corrie’s discrete account with a more detailed and objective history of this notorious but little remembered prison camp for women. And the project must be a screenplay for a feature film, because what I discovered deserves to be conveyed in a visceral, visual display. You won’t want to miss it.