Free Study Guide for The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom

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CHAPTER FOUR - The Watch Shop


Chapter four opens in 1918 when the dreadful Great War was finally over. Corrie’s mother was peeling potatoes for lunch, and Corrie noticed that she was allowing the water to run unnecessarily. Then, she heard her mother call her name, realized she was very ill, and with Tante Anna’s help, got her into bed. The family watched for over an hour as a cerebral hemorrhage slowly affected their mother. She lay in a coma for two months until unexpectedly, she opened her eyes and began to improve. She regained some of the use of her arms and legs, but she never regained her speech, other than the names of her family members and the words yes and no. By using process of elimination in question format, Corrie was able to deduce what her mother wanted. The elder woman would sit in the window for the next three years, partially paralyzed, but more able to love her family and those she saw out the window than ever before.

Meantime, Nollie had met a young man who taught at the school where she taught - Flip van Woerden. The wedding was planned, and because Mama couldn’t speak, Tante Anna climbed the steps the night before the wedding for the traditional mother-daughter talk. Even though the older woman had never been married, the tradition had to be followed! Somehow they all got through the embarrassment she felt, and the next day, Nollie was radiant at her wedding. However, Corrie couldn’t take her eyes off her mother who was as radiant as Nollie. She was sparkling with happiness over this great event, the only wedding that would ever take place in the ten Boom home. Years before, Betsie had been told that because of her own ill health, she would never be able to have children, so she had decided she would never marry. Corrie, of course, had lost Karel and decided there would never be another she could love as much. So, Mama was in her glory, and Corrie realized at that moment that spending the rest of her life in the Beje was a happy thought. Now she could ask God to bless Karel and accept what life had brought her.

A great miracle occurred at Nollie’s wedding: the final hymn of the ceremony was Mama’s favorite - “Fairest Lord Jesus” - and as it began to play, Mama began to sing. She sang every word to the end of the song and then never said another word. It was a gift from God in Corrie’s eyes, and even though they hoped it was a sign of Mama’s further improvement, she died with a smile on her face in her sleep four weeks later.

In late November of that year, Betsie came down with a cold, and because of her sister’s frail health, Corrie took over her work in the watch shop. She discovered that the bookkeeping system was a mess and began to develop a system of billing to truly figure out what profits they were making. The greatest discovery for Corrie was that she loved it. Then, she began to notice that Betsie, while supposedly sick in bed, had made a number of changes in the house to make it warmer and more inviting. Then, they both discovered that they really preferred each other’s jobs - Betsie wanted to stay in the house and Corrie wanted to be in the shop. Betsie began to make the house sing while Corrie soon became the first licensed woman watchmaker in Holland. This pattern became the one they would follow for the next twenty years.

In those twenty years, Corrie began to take on the persona of Betsie in how she handled the customers, and Father continued to use prayer to help solve even the smallest problem. They also took in foster children and watched their sister, Nollie, and brother, Willem, add to their families. Because of the beauty of the concerts they could hear on it, they began to save money to buy a radio. Unfortunately, Father became very ill with hepatitis and nearly died. However, when he returned home from the hospital, many Haarlem citizens, who had realized when he almost died how much he meant to them, had gone together with their pennies and bought him a radio. It was a large model that was destined to bring them many years of joy. Around that radio one evening, young Peter, Corrie’s nephew, commented on what he called a bad piano during a concert they were listening to. Then, as little as he was, he still was able to go to their piano and point out which note was wrong. Once he had pointed this out, everyone could hear that the B on the concert’s grand piano was flat. Corrie spent the rest of the afternoon giving Peter musical quizzes at the piano and discovered that he had a phenomenal musical memory and perfect pitch. He eventually outgrew what she could teach him and moved on to other teachers.

The radio also changed something else in their lives: Father discovered that the chiming of Big Ben in London on the BBC exactly coincided with their clocks and so eventually, he traveled less and less to the Naval Observatory each week to get the exact time. He even decided he could set the astronomical clock by Big Ben. The ten Boom family continued to live their lives within these new patterns while to the east, their neighbor - Germany - was gearing up for war. They would hear Hitler screaming on the radio and hurry to turn it off, believing that Germany would not put up with that man for long. But they were wrong.

Soon, a young man named Otto came to apprentice under Father. He was German and proudly proclaimed he was a member of the Hitler Youth. He was very critical of the Dutch and constantly reminded them that the world would see what Germany could do. He even watched Father read from the Old Testament and declared it “a Jewish book of lies.” Later, the landlady who ran the rooming house where Otto lived came to Father and the other ten Booms and showed them a knife with a curving ten inch blade she found in his room. Even with all these things, father tried to put a good interpretation on the boy’s behavior, claiming that he had just been taught wrong and that they should pray for him. However, Father eventually did fire Otto-the first apprentice he had ever fired in sixty years in business - because of the way he treated Christoffels. Otto was very brusque with the old man and showed him no courtesy or respect. Willem, who understood the new German mentality better than the rest of the family, insisted that Otto’s behavior towards Christoffels was deliberate, because the Germans no longer valued the old people of their country.

When Father questioned Willem’s interpretation, pointing out that Otto was unusually courteous to him, Willem replied that this behavior was the sign of respect the Germans felt for authority. Father was the boss and so was treated deferentially. The old and the weak in the new German State were intended to be eliminated. The ten Booms later learned that Otto was even more insidious towards Christoffels outside their house, physically attacking him in small ways to and from work. The old man was too proud to tell the ten Booms he was under attack until finally one morning in February, 1939, he stumbled through their door with a bleeding cheek and a torn coat. Even then, Christoffels said nothing, but was saved when a group of witnesses to the attack came to the shop and told the ten Booms that Otto had deliberately shoved Christoffels into the wall of a building and ground his face against the bricks. After Father fired Otto, he tried to explain to him why such behavior was wrong. However, Otto never said a word, only turning around at the door as he left, giving the family a look of the most utter contempt Corrie had ever seen.


This chapter is a study in contrasts. Corrie shows the reader the many small miracles and good events in her life from 1918 until 1939, contrasting with events that were not so good. We see the unfortunate stroke that leaves her mother disabled, but at the same time, we see how God now gives her the time to feel and show even more love for her family and friends. She even somehow sings an entire hymn at Nollie’s wedding even though she hasn’t been able to speak more than a few words since the stroke. Even her death was a study in contrasts - a moment of pain and perhaps fear was a calm slipping into sleep and not waking up. She even had a smile on her face.

Furthermore, Nollie meets Flip and falls in love. It might have been a very distressing moment for Corrie to watch her sister plan her wedding, but instead, Corrie realizes that Karel will always be the only man for her, and now she can give her love to God instead.

Another contrast can be seen in the switch in household jobs that comes about between Corrie and Betsie. Betsie comes down with a bad cold, and Corrie must take her place in the shop. In the time she’s sick, they both come to realize that Betsie prefers to be in the house, and Corrie loves to be in the shop. So what had begun on a bad note - Betsie’s cold on top of her weak health - ends in a much more comfortable way to live.

Later, Father becomes very ill with hepatitis and nearly dies. But out of that fearful moment came the radio, given by the people of Haarlem who were grateful he had survived. The radio brings them music and the discovery that Peter is a musical prodigy. It brings them news of the outside world, and it means that Father will no longer have to take the weekly trip to the Naval Observatory for the correct time, because the chiming of Big Ben is exact.

Unfortunately, the chapter ends on the bad side of these contrasts with the case of Otto who is the ultimate example to the ten Booms of the horror that is emerging from Germany. The utter contempt with which he leaves them foreshadows the coming invasion of their country and the fear they will live under for the next several years. It is also significant that, in spite of the fact that Corrie can show the good in all the unfortunate things that happened to her family, there is no good to alleviate the bad effect Otto has on the watch shop.


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