A Thanksgiving Story of Fleas, Nazi Germany and JOY

‘”Fleas!’ I cried. ‘Betsie, the place is swarming with them!’

“We scrambled across the intervening platforms, heads low to avoid another bump, dropped down to the aisle and hedged our way to a patch of light.

“‘Here! And here another one!’ I wailed. ‘Betsie, how can we live in such a place!’

“‘Show us. Show us how.’ It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.

“‘Corrie!’ she said excitedly. ‘He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!’

“I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. ‘It was in First Thessalonians,’ I said. We were on our third complete reading of the New Testament since leaving Scheveningen.

“In the feeble light I turned the pages. ‘Here it is:  “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…’” It seemed written expressly to Ravensbruck.

“‘Go on,’ said Betsie. ‘That wasn’t all.’

“‘Oh yes:’… ‘”Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.’”

“‘That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. “Give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’ I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.

“‘Such as?’ I said.

“‘Such as being assigned here together.’

“I bit my lip. ‘Oh yes, Lord Jesus!’

“‘Such as what you’re holding in your hands.’ I looked down at the Bible.

“‘Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all these women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.’

“‘Yes,’ said Betsie, ‘Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!’ She looked at me expectantly. ‘Corrie!’ she prodded.

“‘Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed suffocating crowds.’

“‘Thank You,’ Betsie went on serenely, ‘for the fleas and for–‘

“The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’

“‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’ she quoted. It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.

“And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.”

The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom

images-2Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch woman from Holland who suffered and survived the atrocities of a Nazi concentration camp.  Her story is one of amazing faith, and if you haven’t read The Hiding Place, I highly recommend it.

From this excerpt, Corrie tells of the wretched living conditions of the barracks, and her sister’s insistence that they give thanks in all circumstances.  I can’t imagine a more unfair, more horrific situation than what the Ten Boom sisters endured.

Yet her sister Betsie gave thanks for the fleas.

Who does that??

Ravensbruck was a Nazi concentration camp for women, a place where the inmates suffered greatly, many were gassed, shot or worked to death.  Here, Corrie and Betsie spent their nights in cram-packed barrack and their days working painfully miserable tasks at a nearby factory.  


Despite their desperate circumstances, they secretly and timidly began to hold evening meetings where they would read from their smuggled Bible.  Night after night they would meet, and women would press in to be there.  So many would come that they had to have a second meeting.  

Corrie and Betsie continued these meetings because for some reason, they had little to no supervision in their area of the barracks, known as the dormitory.  Guards and police were everywhere but they rarely, if ever, came back to the dormitory.  They could not understand why.   

Until one afternoon.  There was a request for a guard to come back to the dormitory to settle some confusion.  The guard refused.  He said he wouldn’t go back there because “that place is crawling with fleas!”  

Corrie remembered.  

“My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.” 

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.’”

Stories of women like Corrie and Betsie, their incredible faith and love for the Lord, encourage and challenge me to my core.  My life is no where near the intensity of theirs, yet they found strength in the truth of God’s Word, clinging to His instructions to give thanks in everything.

The Ten Boom sisters learned the joy of giving thanks.  

I read a quote recently that completely grabbed my attention:

“It’s not happy people who are thankful.  It’s thankful people who are happy.”

Is that true?  Does being thankful really impact a life like that?  What if I tried that?  What if I became (so much more) intentional about being thankful in every single thing?

Thankful.  In the beautiful and messy of it all.

Thankful, for the mound of laundry, and the clothes I have and the water available for use.

Thankful, for the appointments and the schedule, and every opportunity at each one.

Thankful, for the toys around my house, and the children that play with them.

Thankful, for the smudges on the windows and the people whose hands put them there.

Thankful, for the dishes to be put away, and the food that made them dirty.

Thankful, for the “fleas” in my life, those areas that seem to have nothing good in them, knowing that God will use every last one of them for His good and His glory.

Because giving thanks ushers in His JOY.   

Giving thanks changes us from the inside out.

Giving thanks realigns everything.

THANKSGIVING ushers in His JOY.  

“Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…the Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped.  My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to Him in song…O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”  Ephesians 5:20, Psalm 28:7, Psalm 30:12

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18


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  1. Mary Lawson on November 26, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    What a beautiful reminder of the many blessings we have and the desire to give Thanks. For everything !!

  2. Daphne on November 27, 2014 at 11:57 am

    Thanks, Julie! I’m printing this to read at our family Thanksgiving celebration today.

    • womenwhobelieve on November 28, 2014 at 10:46 am

      Thank you Daphne, such a wonderful story to remind us of this season of thanksgiving!

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