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Ravensbruck concentration camp and fleas of hope

Written By | Apr 23, 2015

FORT WORTH, Texas, April 21, 2015 — With dashed hopes the inmates boarded overcrowded trains that took them away from Vught Prison and the Allies who were coming to rescue them. Their next stop was the notorious Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany.

Yet Corrie held onto hope, literally. Her sister Nollie managed to smuggle a small bible that hung from her neck in a small bag.

The Nazi guards processed the prisoners as soon as they arrived at the camp. Heroes of History says as the guards moved down the line, inmates had to give up their pillows and blankets, one of the few comforts they possessed. But it would be worse if the sisters lost the little Bible that gave them courage to face another day. The Nazis considered it a book of lies and would have taken it way, and Corrie would have been executed for having one in her possession.

Read Part I: Corrie ten Boom: The price of helping Jews in WWII

How was she going to hide it? She desperately prayed, “Oh please, Jesus, allow us to keep your precious word. Amen.”

Suddenly Betsie doubled over. “Don’t shoot,” Corrie told the guard. “She has diarrhea.”

He snarled in disgust. “Well, don’t let her do it over here. Take her in there, he said, pointing to the shower rooms.

In there, Corrie hid the book behind a wooden bench infested with cockroaches. When Betsie cleaned up, they got back in line. Next they had to strip off their clothes and head back into the shower room, where they bathed in ice-cold water.

They received new prison clothes, and Corrie was then able to retrieve her Bible from behind the bench. Once in line again, there was another body check. Corrie once again prayed, “’O Lord, send Your angels, that they surround me.’ But then I thought, Yes, but angels are spirits and you can look through a spirit and these people may see me, so I said, ‘O God, let your angels this time not be transparent.’ God did it.”

Prison guards skipped over Corrie. Remarkably, the illegal Bible and the sisters entered the camp.

According to Soon Online Ministries, the prison lived up to their expectations. Death was all around them through starvation, beating, torture, hanging and shooting. Prisoners being buried alive or worked to death were an everyday sight. The stench of burning human flesh hung over the camp. Medical experiments performed on prisoners caused disfigurement and infection. Nazis also forced the better-looking inmates into prostitution at camp brothels.

World War II Remembered reports, “The treatment by the SS women in Ravensbruck was normally brutal.”

Corrie and Betsie endured. They lived in Barracks 28. The building, meant to house 400 women, held 1,400. The sisters faithfully comforted the dying and told the good news of Jesus. The barracks had no supervision. Guards never came in. Corrie thought that odd but was grateful. She was not, however, grateful for the fleas that infested the hay that they slept on.

When she complained to Betsie, all she got was, “Be thankful for the fleas.” Her ever-faithful sister was positive those fleas were good for something. Corrie could not imagine fleas being good for anything.

The sisters led others in worship each night. New World Encyclopedia says,

“So many now wanted to join us that we held a second service after evening roll call … (These) were services like no others…..A single meeting each night might include a recital of the Magnificat in Latin by a group of Roman Catholics, a whispered hymn by some Lutherans and a sotto-voce chant by Orthodox women.”

Hope began to spread through the barracks. “With each moment the crowd around us would swell, packing the nearby platforms, hanging over the edges, until the high structures groaned and swayed. At last either Betsie or I would open the Bible. Because only the Hollanders could understand the Dutch text, we would translate aloud in German. And then we would hear the life-giving words passed back along the aisles in FrenchPolishRussianCzech, and back into Dutch. They were little previews of heaven, these evenings beneath the light bulb.”

Read Part II: The Hiding Place: Saving Holland’s Jews during WWII

Betsie started having visions that they would both be free by the New Year. She told Corrie they were going to help people recover from the atrocities of the war. “There has to be a plan, Corrie. We must go everywhere and tell everyone. They will believe us because we were here. There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.” Her vision proved to be true.

Betsie ten Boom died Dec. 16, 1944. Corrie ten Boom gained her freedom on Dec. 31, 1944. She later found out that a clerical error enabled her release. Soon afterward the Nazis executed all the women in her age group.

Betsie’s admonition to “be thankful for the fleas” also came back to Corrie. Sometime later she learned that the brutal guards never caught them in the praise and worship that gave such hope because they refused to enter the flea-ridden barracks.

Come back next week to find out how Corrie ten Boom handles such horrific loss and where it leads her.


Read more of Claire’s work at Feed the Mind, Nourish the Soul in the Communities @ The Washington Times and Greater Fort Worth Writers.

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Claire Hickey

Claire Hickey was born the last year of the Baby Boom and spent the first half of childhood in Chicago. She has always loved to write but wanted to create pieces worth reading. Her curiosity and love of research lead her to create her column based on the “garbage in garbage out” theory to provide interesting and thought-provoking pieces that enrich her readers. She also believes life is a banquet and loves to learn new things. Her professional pedigree includes Cosmetology, Surgical Technology, and the Culinary Arts. When not working she loves to spend time with family and friends. She lives in Fort Worth.