I would hide you

At the end of November, coming out of a cold-induced fog, I read the words of a Jewish man I did not know, Max Goldberg. “Would you hide me?” he asked.

The question shook me. These are the times we live in. (How are we living in these times?!) The reasons innocent people would need to ask “Would you hide me?” wrung me out.

My eyes wandered around my San Francisco-sized apartment. If I were to hide people, where would I hide them? Under the bed would be too obvious. Could I build a hiding place in my closet? What are the tricks of hiding people?

My mind landed upon the book that was my favorite when I was a young teen, Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. I’d read it more than 15 times. Maybe I should read it again. I pulled my worn paperback from the shelf, looking for answers, looking for hope.

The Hiding Place is about the life of Corrie ten Boom, the first Dutch woman to become a watchmaker. During World War II, she lived with her older sister Betsie and aging father Casper, who was a well-known watchmaker and Christian in their city.

Corrie, Betsie, and Casper ten Boom (photos from tenboom.org)

When Holland fell to the Nazis, the three of them were unable to turn away anyone in need. They ended up building connections to get ration cards and had a 30-inch-deep hiding place built in their tall, narrow, Dutch house.

A diagram of the ten Booms’ house, from the back of my copy of The Hiding Place.

The ten Booms and their guests learned how to quickly make it look like only three people lived in the house and then get all the Jews to the hiding place. Eventually, Corrie, Betsie, and their 84-year-old father were arrested while six Jews sweated in the hiding place until they were rescued some days later.

Shortly after arrest, Casper was offered the chance to return to his home if he promised not to cause “any more trouble.” He replied, “If I go home today, tomorrow I will open my door again to any man in need who knocks.” He died within two weeks.

Betsie and Corrie were sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, where Betsie helped Corrie see the good in everything, even the fleas, which turned out to be the reason the guards avoided going into their barracks and never caught them with banned items, such as medicine and a bible.

Betsie died at Ravensbrück. Corrie was released (which was later identified as a clerical error) shortly before the new year in 1944.

Again, as in every other time I’ve read the book, I marveled at Bestie, Casper, and Corrie’s strength during heartbreak, belief in a better world, love for strangers, respect for others’ beliefs, and bravery as they defied hate.

I’d admired the ten Booms for years. This time was different, though — this time, I had to think about if I’d really be able to do all the things they did in our modern times with the additional difficulty of the internet.

My spouse said he’d want to know if the person was a good person first, if they’d steal.

“There’s no way to judge that,” I replied, “And people do desperate things in desperate times. I believe human lives are inherently valuable. I believe most people want to do good.”

“What if they murdered you?” he pressed.

To the stranger who asked the question — yes, I would hide you. Or, to be more modern and to publicly declare my care for you: #IWouldHideYou.

Yes, I would do my best to hide you or any of your Jewish family members or friends if needed and until I could get you to a safer location.

Yes, I would hide you, my Latinx siblings.

Yes, I would hide you, my Muslim siblings.

Yes, I would hide you, my Black siblings.

Yes, I would hide you, my LGBTQIA+ siblings.

Yes, I would hide you, my disabled siblings.

Yes, I would hide you, my refugee siblings.

Yes, I would hide you, my siblings in need.

Though re-reading The Hiding Place was to find answers to help me protect targeted individuals in need, I came to an even more difficult situation, if that’s possible.

While at Ravensbrück, Betsie ten Boom spoke often of the work that needed to be done when the war was over. She and Corrie spoke of opening a place for people to heal after the war was over. It took a while for Corrie to realize that her sister wasn’t just talking about healing for the Jews and others who had been targets by the Nazis; she was also talking about healing for the Nazis. (Corrie later opened homes for both sides and patiently encouraged forgiveness.)

So I arrived at the harder question: when “this” (whatever it is) is all over, if I’m still around, will I be able to forgive Trump supporters? Will I be able to forgive people who spoke badly about others, who turned a blind eye to evil, who were not only blinded by their privilege, but empowered by it?

What about the neighbors who refused to do anything as their neighbors were taken away? What about the man who’d betrayed the ten Booms? What about Corrie and Betsie’s merciless guards in the concentration camp? Would the ten Booms have forgiven them?

I think of the end of The Hiding Place, where Corrie looks her former captor (who does not recognize her) in the eye, shakes his hand, and forgives him in her heart.

Corrie would have, yes. Can I be like Corrie, a heroine of mine since my early teenage years? I hem and haw.

I imagine turning away a bellowing, proudly discriminatory, cis, white man and think, “It serves him right.” It’s stooping. I know that.

I imagine turning away the same man along with his family. That’s harder.

I know I need to be able to forgive, but I’m not there yet. Is that okay?

To be clear, it’s not enough to think about what will happen at the end of all this. It is not okay to pretend things are right in the world when they’re not for our fellow humans. It is not right to say that you allow others to do awful things because you are a forgiving person. Forgiveness comes after; prevention is better, especially when actions will negatively affect and even take the lives of millions of people.

In The Hiding Place, even the ten Booms who ended up doing what was right wanted to believe that they could wait and hope that things would fix themselves:

When letters to Jewish suppliers in Germany came back marked “Address Unknown,” we still managed to believe it was primarily a German problem. “How long are they going to stand for it?” we said. “They won’t put up with that man for long” (58).

Eventually the ten Booms allowed themselves to acknowledge the horrible new reality.

I know stepping out of our comfort zone can be tough and it’s easier to “wait and see.” I also know that we can feel a moral dilemma. The ten Booms wrestled with that, too:

We knew of course that there was an underground in Holland — or suspected it . . . The rumors tended to get more spectacular with each repetition. But always they featured things we believed were wrong in the sight of God. Stealing, lying, murder. Was this what God wanted in times like these? How should a Christian act when evil was in power? (70–71)

Another Dutch Holocaust rescuer, Marion Pritchard, said, “Most of us were brought up to tell [the] truth, to obey the secular law and the Ten Commandments. By 1945, I had lied, stolen, cheated, deceived and even killed” (read more: A Mighty Girl).

Corrie ten Boom and Marion Pritchard would have punched a Nazi if they’d needed to. Are you ready to, if needed?

We all want to believe that by doing the “right” things, we’ll be able to trust everyone else to do the same. But when others are trying to normalize targeting our innocent fellow humans, we must do what we can to stop that.

As Martin Luther King Junior wrote, “One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

If you haven’t already been readying yourself to do what’s right, even in the face of the law, old or new, get ready, and get to work. These are not normal times. Abnormal times call for abnormal action.

Corrie ten Boom and the hiding place in her room. (Source: Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center)

Could it be dangerous to resist? Yes. But in the end we’ll all be better off.

Like Corrie ten Boom, we can hide our fellow humans. Let’s act before it gets to that point. The sooner we decide to stand up against legalizing crimes against refugees, the right to healthcare, speech suppression, neighbors, the environment, and others, the more of a difference we can make. Can you imagine how different history would be if people had stopped waiting to see how things worked out and instead resisted publicly, loudly, together, and early? How many people would have been saved?

Let us learn from the past and stop the rampant hatred as soon as possible. Instead of banning people we do not understand, let us welcome them and learn to live with and love them. Let us stand together to protect our fellow humans.

Join me: #IWouldHideYou.