Editor's note: The following is an exclusive excerpt from Larry Loftis's "The Watchmaker's Daughter: The True Story of World War II Heroine Corrie ten Boom," which is now available to pre-order. The forthcoming book details the heroic rescue of 100 Jewish babies to spare them from the Holocaust.
At a Jewish nursery in Amsterdam the Nazis planned to kill one hundred babies, their parents likely en route to concentration camps. Sickened by the scenario, Corrie longed for a way to help.
The Creche, as the nursery was called, was located across the street from the Hollandsche Schouwburg, a former theater the Germans used as a deportation center for sending Jews to Westerbork. The Hollandsche Schouwburg and Creche were closely linked, as the former held Jewish adults, while the latter kept babies and small children.
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Secreting the infants out under the nose of the Nazis, however, was easier said than done. The obsessively organized Germans kept detailed lists containing the names of every child coming into or leaving the center.
Those running the buildings, however, devised a plan. Walter Suskind, the thirty-five-year-old Jewish manager of the Hollandsche Schouwburg, started by recruiting Felix Halverstad, an associate at the theater who kept the books for both venues. Next Suskind brought in Henriette Henriques Pimentel, the sixty-six-year-old Jewish director of the Creche.
The escape would be enacted in two stages. First, Felix would alter the books of the Creche to eliminate names of babies taken out. If the Germans reviewed the records, there must be no trace that these children had ever been at the Creche. Second, Walter would coordinate with Henriette on transporting the infants. The scheme was tricky, though, as the German guards across the street at the Hollandsche Schouwburg monitored the Creche.
They needed a distraction, as well as couriers who could carry the babies. Corrie mentioned the matter to Hans and the others at the Beje, and everyone wanted to assist.
"We will save them," one of the boys said. Corrie asked how, and he said, "We will steal them."
The young man’s boldness and bravery impressed Corrie, but she knew that none of her boys could even safely leave the house.
Serendipitously, some days later a group of young German soldiers showed up at the Beje seeking help. How they heard about the ten Booms and their work, Corrie didn’t know.
"We don’t like to work any longer for Adolf Hitler," one of them confided. "We will not kill the Jewish people. Can you help us?"
The soldiers’ approach in broad daylight heightened danger, but Corrie accepted the risk and invited them in. Like her Jews and Dutch divers, these Germans needed a way to disappear. Corrie couldn’t believe her good fortune.
She could help, she told them, but in exchange they would have to give up their uniforms.
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The soldiers readily agreed; if they were to blend in, they’d need civilian clothes anyway. After Corrie gathered a shirt and pants for each, she passed along their uniforms to her Dutch boys so that they could appear at the Creche with Wehrmacht authority.
Still, the rescue was complicated. Walter, Felix, and Henriette—coordinating with Betty Goudsmit-Oudkerk, a seventeen-year-old nurse—planned to smuggle the children out in backpacks, boxes, shopping bags, or laundry baskets. From there they would need to be escorted to a close hideout where they could be housed for a few hours. Henriette enlisted the aid of Johan van Hulst, headmaster of the Reformed Teacher Training College next door, who agreed to hide the children in his building. He would then work with the underground, the plan went, to transport the children by train or tram to Limburg or Friesland, where they would be relocated to accepting families.
Corrie’s "soldiers" apparently provided the escort.
All one hundred babies were saved.
Adapted from "The Watchmaker’s Daughter" by Larry Loftis, published by William Morrow. Copyright © 2023 by Larry Loftis. Reprinted courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers.