Corrie Ten Boom and her family resisted the Nazis by hiding Jews in their home. They were ultimately discovered and sent to a concentration camp. Corrie barely survived until the end of the war; her family members died in captivity. Seared by this terrible trial by fire, Corrie’s faith in God also survived, and she spent much of her time in the post-war years traveling in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, sharing her faith in Christ.
On one occasion in 1947, while speaking in a church in Munich, she noticed a balding man in a gray overcoat near the rear of the basement room. She had been speaking on the subject of God’s forgiveness, but her heart froze within her when she recognized the man. She could picture him as she had seen him so many times before, in his blue Nazi uniform with the visored cap—the cruelest of the guards at the Ravensbruck Camp where Corrie had suffered the most horrible indignities, and where her own sister had died. Yet here he was, at the end of her talk, coming up the aisle toward her with his hand thrust out. “Thank you for your fine message,” he said. “How wonderful it is to know that all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”
Yes, Corrie had said that. She had spoken so easily of God’s forgiveness, but here was a man whom she despised and condemned with every fiber of her being. She couldn’t take his hand! She couldn’t extend forgiveness to this Nazi oppressor! She realized that this man didn’t remember her—how could he remember one prisoner among thousands?
“You mentioned Ravensbruck,” the man continued, his hand still extended. “I was a guard there. I’m ashamed to admit it, but it’s true. But since then, I’ve come to know Jesus as my Lord and Savior. It has been hard for me to forgive myself for all the cruel things I did but I know that God has forgiven me. And please, if you would, I would like to hear from your lips too that God has forgiven me.” And Corrie recorded her response in her book:
I stood there—I whose sins had again and again been forgiven—and could not forgive. It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it. I knew that. It was as simple and as horrible as that. And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. And so, woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me.
And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, and sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. “I forgive you, brother,” I cried. “With all my heart!”
For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.