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.