Tante Ditha – A Modern Woman

Editha von Moers (b. Koenig) in the middle flanked by her sisters Käthe (left) and Hildegard, my grandmother (right). 1915

Editha (Ditha) von Moers (b. Koenig) considered herself a modern woman. She was my mother’s aunt and born in 1890 in Zanzibar, then a British colony where her father, a navy physician, was stationed. Her father promised each of his three daughters either a dowry or a university education. Ditha was the oldest sibling and she wanted to study. While a university student, she married her first husband, a geologist.  They enjoyed trekking in the Alps with little hammers that they tested the different geologies with. Soon, however, Ditha grew bored with the geologist and dumped him for Egon von Moers, an accomplished lawyer who was older than her and had a thriving career.  In addition, Egon von Moers was a member of the German aristocracy and definitely a step up in the society. As Frau von Moers, Ditha’s status was considerably higher than as Frau geologist.  Egon von Moers was stationed in many different places and thanks to her university studies Ditha found teaching jobs in some of the towns where they lived.

Ditha was a fervent believer in the Rudolph Steiner educational methodology, my aunt Christa recalls. In letters Ditha wrote to her parents, she came across as a popular and accomplished teacher.  My mother recalls how Ditha’s letters were read aloud at the dinner table during the years she, her sister and brother and their mother lived with her grandparents in Berlin, Germany in the 1930s. “Wir haben eine feine Lehrerein. DIE kann erzählen” (We have a fine teacher. SHE can tell (stories)), Ditha quoted a student’s writing about her in one of her letters.

Modern woman as she was, Ditha decided early on that dentist visits and childbearing were not for her. She had all her healthy teeth removed and replaced with fake ones so that she would not have to endure the pain of having cavities drilled and filled. She was petite and slim and thought her physique was ill suited for pregnancy. In addition, she did not like little children and through her father she found a doctor who performed an elective hysterectomy on her.

Egon von Moers had a son Horst from a previous marriage who was 12 years old when Ditha married his father. Ditha found his age  perfect: “Children should enter this world at age 12,” she used to say. Sadly, Horst died of blood poisoning while interviewing for jobs after graduating from college. He had an infected pimple and was told not to shave. In order to look good for his interview, he ignored the advice and shaved and that, supposedly, triggered the blood poisoning. This was before development of antibiotics. After Horst passed away, Ditha and her husband adopted Eno, a teenage son of one of Egon’s relatives in Brazil, whom they gave the middle name Horst in honor of Egon von Moers’ diseased son.

During World War II, it is believed that von Moers continued to work as a lawyer. From being born in Zanzibar Ditha had a British passport, which saved her and her husband from being interrogated and imprisoned after the war. Her passport, however, was not enough for her adopted son to avoid being drafted into the German army. Eno was mortally wounded early on in World War II and soon  died from his injuries.

My aunt recalls visiting Ditha and her husband when they lived in Elsass, which now is a part of France known as Alsace. Egon was very fond of Christa and brought her with him to the work so that she could watch him argue court cases. He introduced her as a junior law students to his colleagues and did his best to ensure she had a positive learning experience. Christa also remembers Tante Ditha as a pleasant woman.

Tante Ditha was my uncle Heye’s godmother. He remembers her as impersonal and perhaps a bit thrifty. Whenever she came to visit her parents while he lived with his grandparents in the 1930s, her first question would always be: “May I use the phone?” She would then be on the phone for hours. Telephone calls were expensive back then and rather than paying for long distance calls, Ditha waited to call her Berlin friends until she visited her parents and could make local calls at their expense.

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