Tag Archives: Nazi


Last week’s message ended with a teaser of sorts. I chronicled my initial investigation into a literary mystery involving two different accounts of life in the notorious women’s prison camp established by the Nazis during World War II called Ravensbruck. The narrative conflict, or more precisely an omission, occurred between Corrie ten Boom’s personal experience as a prisoner and a novel featuring the true life plight of Polish women, who were operated on at that same prison and became known as the Rabbits.

Corrie made no mention of this particular group, subjected to the agony of a scientifically bogus experiment. Her omission prompted me to speculate on a tendency I believe exists when Christians like Corrie “testify” about horrendous experiences, sanitizing the truth so as not to offend their audience. The differences in the two books also prompted the thought that it might be worthwhile retelling Corrie’s story by incorporating other narratives in order to provide a larger context against which Corrie and her sister Betsie’s time in prison could be appreciated.

To do this, I needed to know more about Ravensbruck, which I found in the book I hinted at but did not reveal at the end of my previous blog – just to add some drama and make my message a real page turner, with the turn coming a week later. An online search produced this beneficial result, which served to amplify my awareness about the malevolence that existed in this infamous camp. The book I discovered was Sara Helm’s 2016 work, Ravensbruck: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women.

The Helm’s book is primarily based on face-to-face interviews she had with women who survived the ordeal. It is an exhaustive, compelling, nightmare inducing work, which was just what I needed to solidify my desire to rewrite Corrie’s palatable account and let others know what it is truly like to maintain one’s spiritual principles, while residing in the demoralizing confines of a man-made Hell.

One example of what you learn from reading outside the ten Boom box concerns the induction process at Ravensbruck. Corrie’s version in The Hiding Place is brief and non-offensive – although I did hear her expound on this in slightly more detail when I heard her speak at a conference. Helm is far more explicit. The wretchedly demeaning process included standing naked in the presence of male soldiers making crude and abusive comments, while the women were examined for lice in both their head and public hair. The infected were subjected to being body shaved in the presence of their enemies.

Corrie’s crime of omission can easily be forgiven. Helm says the history of Ravensbruck was nearly lost because the survivors stayed silent for two reasons. The first was deeply personal. They did not want to relive the experience by answering questions from those salaciously intrigued by their plight. Second was the belief that the conditions were so incredibly macabre that no one would believe them even if they did speak out. Corrie did speak and write, but her stories were modified by a sense of decorum; hers and ours. Corrie’s account has an innate protective quality about it, protecting us from the sadistic ways of all that is evil. But this approach, I believe, is a mistake because it is misleading.

It’s time Christians learn to tell a complete and honest story despite the perceived delicacy of their primary audience, other Christians. We do ourselves and others a disservice by minimizing the difficulties and even the potential terrors at hand when we recite Jesus’ words to “pick up your cross and follow me” without acknowledging the full scope of the threats this entails. Following can be painfully lethal and we need to do our best to be equally painfully honest about such a possibility. Sugar coating should be taught as the eighth deadly sin.

My screenplay, In My Father’s House, is a work in progress. The setup is the merging of Corrie’s personal account with Helm’s history. The goal is to present a more comprehensive context in which to understand what Betsie and Corrie endured in the face of a bestiality few of us can imagine. Such an approach could legitimately earn my script an X rating for its graphic portrayal of conditions in Ravensbruck. I would not be surprised or ashamed if it did.

In My Father’s House

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.