They were moved to a permanent quarters the second week of October. There, amidst the other bedraggled, forlorn group of women they marched, ten abreast. As they walked, numbers were called out and those women whose numbers were read stepped out of line to stand before the Barracks they had been assigned.
When Corrie and her Sister Betsie’s numbers were called, along with many other women, they stood before the long front side of Barracks #28. This would be their home, or rather prison, for as long as they could survive.
The moment they walked in the smell of the Barrack assailed their senses. The putrid odors of feces, the rancid bedding that lined the many bunks, and the smell of body odor mixed with the undeniable smell of what could only be described as “death.”
As their eyes adjusted to the dim light within, they noticed the beds stacked three levels high. It seemed to be miles of nothing but flat, straw covered stacks, lining the Barracks, hardly an aisle between. A claustrophobic sensation gnawed at them as they began to walk among the many bed stacks. Finally, arriving somewhere in the middle of the maze of bed stacks that rose like towers around them, they stopped. The guide, barely registering a look at them, pointed to the second stack in the rising shelves; this would be their bed.
Standing on the bottom bunk, hauling themselves up, they climbed across at least three other platforms, finally reaching the one the guide had pointed out. At that point there was only herself and her sister; how many more would they have fill this one platform?
Laying back, bodies seeming to convulse with the pain of the recent trials of moving here, they fought the stench that met them from the filth-saturated straw beneath them. Suddenly, Corrie shot up with alarm, grasping at her leg. “Fleas! Betsie, Fleas!” Sure enough, the place was infested with fleas.
It was all Corrie could take. Groaning, seeming to give up all hope, she fell back upon her filthy, straw covered platform. The vicious bites of a myriad of fleas beginning the torturous agony of their prison. “Oh, Betsie, how can we live in such a place?”
“Betsie,” Corrie queued when no response was forthcoming. Then, amidst all the other groans surrounding them, other women finding out the terrible predicament of their prison, Corrie heard Betsie praying. “Show us Lord, show us how to live in such a place.”
Suddenly, causing Corrie to jump slightly, Betsie shot up. “That’s it Corrie! God has given us the answer!”
Confused, Corrie looked quizzically at her sister. “What do you mean, Betsie,” she asked, scratching fervently at each bite of the fleas.
“Quickly,” Betsie replied with excitement, “read that scripture you were reading this morning!”
Making sure that no guard was present, Corrie reached down and drew a little bible from a pouch, turning to I Thessalonians. Flipping through the pages, struggling to see in the dim light, she finally arrived at the place they had left off.
With her voice low, Corrie began to read: “Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all…” she paused, “Betsie?”
“Go on,” Betsie exclaimed…“there is more!”
Shaking her head, Corrie continued to read, “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.”
Clapping her hands, Betsie exclaimed, “Corrie, that’s the answer! That’s it!”
“What are you talking about,” Corrie pressed?
“Give thanks in all circumstances,” Betsie exclaimed! “We need to start thanking God right here and right now for everything!”
Dumbfounded, Corrie stared at her sister. She must be crazy she thought to herself. Thank God for this Barracks? Thank God for the stench? Thank God for the disgusting, filthy place?
“Betsie,” Corrie asked with a quiet voice, “what exactly is there to be thankful about?”
“Well, how about the fact that you and I are together?” Betsie interjected.
Corrie hesitated, Betsie had a point. “Ok, Betsie, I see where you are going.”
Laying back down on the straw-covered, filthy platform, the two sisters began to interchangeably thank God.
“Thank you Lord that we are together, “voiced Corrie.
“Thank you Lord for the Bible that Corrie has,” Betsie chimed in.
“Thank you Lord…,” Corrie hesitated, what else was there to be thankful for?
“Corrie?,” Betsie inquired.
Scrunching her face, fighting the stench, feeling the fleas biting at her, Corrie finally said, “Yes, thank you Lord that there was no inspection when we entered. Thank you for all the women that are here that we can introduce to You.”
“Yes,” Betsie exclaimed! “Thank you Lord for the overcrowding in this Barrack! Being so close more can hear!”
Corrie had had about enough of this. “Yeah, thank you Lord for being jammed, crammed, stuffed, and packed into this suffocating crowd!”
Seeming to ignore the frustration of Corrie, Betsie picked up again… “also, thank you Lord for the fleas and…”
“Enough,” Corrie exclaimed! “The fleas? Thank God for the fleas? Are you crazy Betsie! How can you thank God for the fleas?”
“In all circumstances Corrie,” Betsie replied. “Fleas are a part of this circumstance.”
Shrugging, not convinced that this was even rational, Corrie lay back and begrudgingly thank God, along with her sister, for the fleas that were biting at his skin that very moment.
Fast forward now, this is the story of Corrie Ten Boom, and Betsie has now since died. There laying on the straw-covered bed, fleas biting, and the stench and filth of the Barrack so pervasive one can almost feel it, Corrie lay, tears running down her cheek. Betsie was gone…she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t make it any more. Why did God allow so much pain? How could she be thankful any more for anything? Laying there, Corrie wept, shuddering uncontrollably, whispering strained prayers into the night.
Suddenly, she sat up! “The fleas,” she exclaimed to herself. “The fleas!” Whispered hushes around her met her exclamation, though unfounded. The entire time that they had been in this Barrack #28, not a single guard had entered. Not a single search. Not a single inspection. She had always wondered why they never entered this Barrack, but had heard the late night inspections in the other Barracks. She had seen the punishment meted on other women for things found during inspections. But not here…not this Barrack! For months they had been able to read in her little Bible. For months she and Betsie had been able to encourage and pray with the other women.
The fleas…yes…the fleas. This was Corrie Ten Boom’s revelation. The biting, gnawing, pestering fleas that infested Barrack #28 was what kept the guards out. The guards knew the Barrack was infested and so they never entered. Oh, if only Corrie could have seen the end from the beginning, and understood that even the fleas can have a purpose in God’s grand plans. So truly, laying back down on the bed, tears of joy streaking down her cheeks, “thank God for the fleas…”
Let this story impact you, as it has impacted me. “In all things give thanks,” the scripture declares. Those things you are battling now may be nothing more than fleas used by God to fit into a Divine purpose we cannot yet understand.
This small story has been adapted from the book “The Hiding Place,” written by Corrie Ten Boom.