CHAPTER ONE - The One Hundredth Birthday Party


The story opens in 1937, in Haarlem, Holland, with the 100th birthday party for the watch shop. Corrie is the narrator who tells about the house where she lives - how she can't see anything but the walls of the buildings beside her room until she looks straight up and sees that it's going to be a sunny day. She was 45 years old at this point in her life and unmarried. She bemoaned the loss of her waistline while commenting that her sister, Betsie, in spite of being seven years older, still had the same slender grace that made people turn and look after her in the street.

The house where she lived was a curious old house - known as the Beje (pronounced bay yay) - which was three stories high, two rooms deep, and one room wide. It was actually two houses that had at one time been separate, after which their back walls had been knocked out and a narrow, twisting staircase added in between.

It seemed as if all of Haarlem was coming to the party, even the delivery boy who brought flowers from Herman Sluring, an enormously wealthy customer whom she and Betsie called Pickwick, because he looked so much like the illustration of that character in their copy of Dickens' book. Corrie carried the flowers into the workroom to find an artful spot to place them. Corrie mentioned how much she loved this room behind the customer part of their shop, where there was the sound of the thousands of ticks of the many clocks in there.

The party was for the shop which opened in January of 1837 by Corrie's grandfather, but it was also for her father whom everyone in Haarlem seemed to love, calling him Haarlem's Grand Old Man. We learn just what a kind man he was when Corrie mentioned their saleslady-bookkeeper, Toos, who had such an ill temper that she could never hold a job until Casper ten Boom hired her and disarmed and mellowed her.

Corrie went to the heart of the house - the dining room - for breakfast and we see from her description of that room and the people who were no longer there except in spirit - her mother, her two aunts, her other sister, Nollie, and her brother, Willem - that this was a very loving family. Here they had all sat around the table and enjoyed each other's company. She marveled that somehow her father had managed to feed, dress, and care for eleven more foster children after his own four had grown up. She and her sister, Betsie, reminisced about their mother and aunts who had always worn only black from head to toe and yet who would probably have loved the new styles and colors of 1937. Corrie wondered to herself as the narrator how either of them could have guessed at that moment how just around the corner was anguish and horror and even heaven. She wondered, too, how at the time,she could never have imagined that her white-bearded father - called Opa, or Grandfather, by all the children of Haarlem - would be thrown by strangers into a grave without a name. She wondered how she could ever have imagined that her conservative, loving sister would stand naked before a roomful of men. On this day, on the 100th birthday, such thoughts were not even thinkable.

We learn further about the deep faith of the ten Boom family who met every morning at 8:30 for Scripture reading and opened their devotionals to any and all, including their employees, who included Hans the apprentice, Toos, the saleslady-bookkeeper, and Christoffels. Christoffels was an itinerant clock mender who had once trudged all over Holland repairing tall pendulum clocks in every Dutch farmhouse.

Eventually, Betsie sent Corrie to the home of their younger sister, Nollie, for her cups, because a steady stream of guests began to find their way to the ten Boom home to congratulate their father. She rode her bicycle there and once again stops, as the narrator, to wonder how she could have foreseen that day how on a summer day in the not so distant future, she would brake her bicycle once again in front of this house, daring to go no further for fear of what was happening inside. While waiting on the cups, Corrie introduces the readers to her nephew, Peter, who at thirteen was a musical prodigy and the pride of her life.

Later in the chapter, Corrie introduces us to other people who would come together again and again in the future under very different circumstances: the policemen, Pickwick, Mr. and Mrs. Kan, the owners of the other watch shop, and of course, Willem, her older brother. She notes that these characters were all so very different from each other and yet, in her father's eyes, all alike. That was his secret: he not only overlooked the differences in people, he actually had no idea they were there. She tells us more about Willem, who was the only one of the children to go to college and had become an ordained minister. She felt he was so much more observant than other people, because back in 1927, in Germany, where he had completed his doctoral thesis, he had written about a terrible evil that was taking root there, the seeds of contempt for human life such as the world had never seen. At that time, the few who read his paper had merely laughed. Now, of course, in 1937, they weren't laughing anymore, for some of the businesses owned by Jews, with which the family had done business for years, had simply vanished.

As a result, Willem had scrimped and saved enough money to open an old folk's home for elderly Jews and then, opened it, also, to younger and younger Jewish refugees from Germany. With these people came tales of a mounting madness. That day, Willem brought with him a man named Herr Gutlieber, a young Jewish man whose face had been severely burned. He had just arrived from Germany that morning and his burns were the result of a group of teenage boys in Munich who had set his beard on fire. As Corrie struck up a conversation with the newcomer, she overheard the watch salesman say that the police in Munich would catch up to the young hooligans, because Germany was a civilized country.

Corrie observes that the shadow of war fell only lightly over them on that winter afternoon in 1937. Nobody believed the shadow would grow until it was too late and blocked out the sky. She knows now that the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work He will give us to do. Now she can think back to how events of the past stand out in perfect focus against the blur of the rest of her life as though they were unfinished, as though they had something more to say.


This chapter is one of introduction for the reader to the members of Corrie's family and all of their friends who will have a profound impact on the events which are waiting just around the corner. It helps set the stage for the sad events which affect such a highly loved group of people who will become victims of the Nazi war machine. We, too, will be affected, because it's obvious what a devout, decent family the ten Booms are. They accept anyone, no matter what faith or what class, into their homes, and so we can begin to understand that they would willingly make it a hiding place for anyone as well. There are some interesting ironies, many examples of foreshadowing, and symbolic moments as well. Corrie's commentary about how they could never have known what was awaiting them just around the corner on that winter afternoon prepares us for the horrific experiences that await them. The watch salesman's comment that Germany is a civilized country, is ironic, given that all readers must now know how uncivilized they actually were. And the dear old watch shop, with its many ticking clocks, which brings Corrie such comfort and joy, is actually the ticking of a symbolic time bomb leading to the horrors they will face.

It is also important to note that now Corrie sees how the events of her life were all intended by God to help her find something significant that He wanted her to do.


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