It seemed the young woman had been handed an assignment, one that in her mind was certainly not for her. The very thought of taking on such a task – the portrayal of Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom — made Susie Sandager’s knees tremble.
Looking back at that moment almost 20 years ago, little did the “40-something” know then what God had in mind for her future.
It had been in the 1990’s in Albuquerque, N.M., that Susie was first captivated by Jewish history and the book The Hiding Place, a story about Corrie ten Boom, a heroine of the Dutch anti-Nazi underground. Always interested in learning more historical information, she attended a solo performance where a professional actress portrayed Golda Meir. Immediately, the thought that someone should bring Corrie ten Boom’s courageous story to life touched Susie’s heart.
The more the idea resonated with Susie’s love for the Jews and her admiration for Corrie ten Boom who helped them, the more she was certain this same performer would be perfect in the role.
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“So I made an appointment and took her to lunch — and I even put headphones on the poor lady,” Susie said, remembering how she had brought numerous books about the Ravensbruck concentration camp survivor, including recordings of Corrie’s voice.
“My whole idea was for this actress to take on the role of Corrie ten Boom,” Susie said, a smile in her voice as she reflected on her eagerness. “So I laid out this whole plan for her life!”
But it wasn’t God’s plan.
Susie will never forget the moment when the Jewish thespian leaned in with deep sincerity and told her the story must certainly be told. But the actress unexpectedly added that it needed to be portrayed by a Christian who loves Israel.
“This is your role,” the actress said, promising to help her learn to act, but also assuring her the passion would come from Susie’s heart.
Already Susie fit the part about loving Israel — and she was passionate. There in her hometown she was actively involved with the Hadassah Hospital, and many of her close friends in the Jewish community worked hand in hand to raise money for the hospital, support The Holocaust and Intolerance Museum of Albuquerque as well as other Jewish organizations. She and her husband founded Yad B’Yad, an organization that nurtures Christian and Jewish fellowship through service and community activities.
But play the role of Corrie ten Boom? The notion seemed utterly ridiculous.
“I left dejected, and I’m kind of whining to God as I’m driving home,” Susie said, recalling her protests. “I don’t act, I have stage fright, I don’t do public speaking — and besides, I’m too tall!”
Totally frustrated, Susie made lunch and ate again — something she admits to doing when she’s upset. And it was there at the dining table that her objections were overruled. As she perused the literature she had intended for the actress, her eyes fell on a fact she’d never known.
“It jumped off the page,” Susie said as she remembered the excitement of the moment. “Corrie ten Boom wasn’t short! She was 5 feet 7 inches tall — and I’m 5 feet 7 inches!”
Then as Susie read more, another fact opened Susie’s mind to where it seemed God had been pointing all along.
“Corrie had a ministry to mentally challenged children before World War II,” Susie said, reflecting on another parallel. “And when I found out, I got a thump in my heart. My child has Down syndrome and mothering him has been my life work.”
At that moment of revelation, Susie felt she was being called to portray Corrie ten Boom. Pausing to look heavenward she said, “I will try.” It took her a year to perfect her Dutch accent, write the script and also overcome her fear of public speaking.
“A friend said to me back then, ‘Have you ever been an actress?’ Others probably thought, ‘Is she crazy?’” Susie said with a chuckle at the memory. “That was 18 years ago.”
Today Corrie Remembers is a dramatic one-woman performance that has been produced hundreds of times around the world. Set in the 1970’s when Corrie ten Boom was in her 80’s, Susie appears as the stooped, grey-haired senior who shares documented memories of how she and her Ten Boom family helped persecuted Jews.
“Her legacy, her example of how she loved the Jews isn’t a story only for the past but for today,” Susie said with conviction. “We need role models, people with true moral character who do the right thing against the odds.”
People like the Dutch spinster Corrie ten Boom, but also the once fearful woman who has brought this Holocaust story to life. For both, God has held their hand.
Isaiah 41:13 “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” (NIV)
If you go
“Corrie Remembers” ... The True Story of Corrie ten Boom
Starring Susan Sandager
When: 7 p.m. March 3
Where: Faith Assembly Auditorium
1800 N. Road 72, Pasco
No charge. A free-will offering will be taken.