Corrie Ten Boom’s memoir, The Hiding Place, and her courageous testimony of hiding Jews from the Nazis in WWII has been cherished by millions of people for decades. The Rabbit Room, a non-profit creative collective, has brought this story to contemporary audiences with the stage production and film, which will be screened in cinemas across NSW, Victoria, ACT, Queensland and South Australia for one day only on Wednesday, 16 August.
Eternity interviewed screenwriter A.S. Peterson to talk about the process of adapting this beloved memoir for the stage and film, as well as the enduring themes which permeate Ten Boom’s testimony and life story.
“It was such an important story with so many interesting angles that I was attracted to as a writer. It felt like the story of a previous generation that was in danger of maybe fading into the background,” says Peterson.
“Visiting Ravensbrück was a powerful, dark experience. It was so much bigger and darker and more evil than I had ever imagined.” – A.S. Peterson
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In 2017, Peterson was approached by a theatre company in Houston founded by Jeanette Cliff George, who played Corrie in the original 1975 film adaptation. They were opening a major theatre and commissioned Peterson to write a stage adaptation of The Hiding Place in George’s honour.
After accepting the project, Peterson felt immediately terrified. “I had this descending realisation that not only had I agreed to write this play that was so important to Jeanette Cliff George, but I had taken on the whole legacy of Corrie Ten Boom,” says Peterson.
The power and historical significance of Ten Boom’s story and the exciting challenge of bringing it to a new generation using a new medium buoyed Peterson as he tackled the task. He also wanted to share this Christian story with broader multi-faith and secular audiences without stripping it of its commitment to the testimony of Christ.
Peterson and his wife travelled to Amsterdam to visit the Ten Boom family’s house in Haarlem. They also visited Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany, where Corrie and Betsie were interned and where Betsie died. “That was a powerful, dark experience. It was so much bigger and darker and more evil than I had ever imagined. I felt a deeper burden to honour the six million murdered Jews – not to mention all the other people who died in the Holocaust – in this story,” says Peterson.
“I approached the whole process with a lot of fear and trembling, a lot of prayer. Wanting to carry this account into a new generation, so that it can remain part of our witness to history.” – A.S. Peterson
“The Holocaust is such a monumental watershed moment in Jewish history. We didn’t want to tell the Christian version of the Holocaust,” he says Peterson, emphasising they wanted to tell history as it happened. “Corrie, Betsie, and Casper were part of that, but the murder of Jews was always front and foremost in our mind when we’re making this film.
“I approached the whole process with a lot of fear and trembling, a lot of prayer. Wanting to carry this account into a new generation, so that it can remain part of our witness to history.”
One of the Jewish actresses in the film shared a stunning revelation in her audition. “Her mother and uncle had been hidden during the Holocaust, so this production meant a lot to her,” Peterson reveals. She informed the shape of the show, helping to bring the Jewish people and Jewish culture to the fore in the story. “The Jewish people that were hidden were not just part of Corrie’s story. She was part of their story,” says Peterson.
“Her mother and uncle had been hidden during the Holocaust, so this production meant a lot to her.” A.S. Peterson
Peterson reminds us that in the context of a war in which “people are being killed and carted off to death camps, the Ten Boom family’s weapon of choice was hospitality.” They didn’t only protect hundreds of Jewish people; they cooked for them, made them feel welcome and built relationships with them. “It’s a beautiful witness of what I think a Christian should be in the world. They had fundamental differences with these people, but they saw them as inherently valuable children of God and worthy of hospitality,” says Peterson.
Peterson notes that in the book, Corrie is not the centre of the story, but Betsie is, in fact, the hero. “She is the spiritual centre of it that Corrie learns from. She comes to conclusions that I can’t comprehend. She’s walking through a concentration camp, she’s been tortured and starved and she’s thanking God for her own nakedness,” marvels Peterson. Corrie is stunned as she watches her sister come to these extraordinary conclusions about God and the present reality and loving people who are seemingly unlovable.
“I wanted to be able to tell a story about that character to help me understand her. It became an exploration of the question of theodicy, of how we can believe in a good God who permits evil and suffering,” says Peterson.
“She’s walking through a concentration camp, she’s been tortured and starved and she’s thanking God for her own nakedness,” A.S. Peterson
Somehow, in the horror of the concentration camps, there are these women whose faith is unshaken by their experience. “They are grateful and they find joy in the midst of this hell,” says Peterson.
Having wrestled with these questions, Peterson found the key that finally unlocked it all at Ravensbrück. “They have a lot of drawings by former prisoners hung on the walls. In one of these drawings, there was a group of women taking communion with wafers that had been smuggled in.
“My general interpretation of the Communion moment is that not only am I remembering Christ, but there’s this mysterious sense of participating in the life of Christ through communion.
“In the context of suffering, I wondered if it is also Christ participating in our life. If, in the moment of communion, we are really in community with the body of Christ; that means that Christ is suffering in the same way that we’re suffering.
“That reframes how I view the darkness of the Holocaust, if that’s possible. God participates in our suffering because he is in it with us.”
Betsie talked about the light that the darkness cannot overcome. “Christ is present in this darkness and that is the light that Betsie sees, and that is the light Corrie testifies to,” says Peterson.
“Christ is present in this darkness and that is the light that Betsie sees, and that is the light Corrie testifies to.” – A.S. Peterson
At Ravensbrück concentration camp, Peterson stood in front of the oven where Betsie was cremated. “It was a deeply emotional experience to look into the throat of this iron abomination that had seen the end of so many people,” says Peterson. In the film, Corrie encounters that deepest darkness at that place where her sister’s body is being destroyed. Peterson wanted Corrie to see through that into the light that exists beyond death.
There’s an essential mystery at the heart of this story. A mystery that Betsie and Corrie have seen and understood and attested to. Corrie’s most famous quote is, “No pit is so deep that he is not deeper still; with Jesus, even in our darkest moments, the best remains and the very best is yet to be.”
“The Bible tells us that we’re surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. That’s a legal term. A witness is a person who stands before the court and testifies to the evidence that they alone have seen,” says Peterson. He highlights that “Betsie and Corrie are part of that cloud now of people who have gone places and seen things that we have not, and they stand up in front of the court and say, this is what I saw.”
For Peterson and The Rabbit Room, telling these stories is essential. “Stories are the means by which we remember. If we fail to tell true stories, then we are destined to forget what’s happened and that’s dangerous,” he emphasises.
“As a movie lover, I’ve always thought that the mark of a good movie is it drives somebody to the source. The best thing that could happen with this film is that it would drive someone to go discover the truth of Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom. To study the Holocaust in a deeper way and carry that forward so that, 50 years from now, somebody else is adapting it for another generation. That’s what I hope for.”
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