Through My Mothers’ Eyes

In this guest blogpost, Katie Laine, my childhood friend, tells the story of her German stepmother, whose family faced Fascism during World War II.



All that came to be in my life began with what occurred to my two mothers.

In 1949 my birth mother, paternal grandmother and paternal great-grandmother were killed in a car accident.  They were buried on my second birthday.  My father, a WWII veteran (paratrooper), left after her death.  When he returned, he had married a German woman, and she became my stepmother.  They arrived in America, the promised land, on July 4, 1951, the nation’s birthday.

My stepmother, Hannelore Moses, was born in Germany on June 24, 1928.  Her family and friends called her Hanni.  To put her life into context, Anne Frank was born on June 12, 1929, so my mother was one year older than Anne.  Both were born in Germany, but because one was a German Lutheran and the other was a German Jew, they experienced vastly different Germanys under Nazi rule.

I was only two when my birth mother died, and I was not told until I was older that my stepmother wasn’t my birth mother, so I thought of her as my mother.  I refer to her as my mother from now on.


My mother was born into a country that was a democracy, the Weimar Republic.  Adolph Hitler was part of a political coalition in the early 1930’s and came to absolute power in 1933.  By the time my mother was five years old, Hitler had transformed a democratic Germany into a Fascist State. 

My mother was in the Hitler Youth, which was required of all German children.  It was used to indoctrinate children in absolute obedience to Hitler.  They were told that they were a master race and that all other races were inferior to them.  They were also taught, as everyone in Germany was, that their loyalty had to be to Hitler and the Fatherland, even more than to their friends and family.

Some of her first memories at the beginning were those of any young girl.  She and her friends would tease the youthful Nazi soldiers by raising their hands as though they were going to do the Nazi salute and then run their hands over the top of their heads, pretending to smooth their hair.  The young men would be flustered, and the girls would laugh. There was little awareness at this point of what was to come.


It was when I went to college and majored in History that I began to ask about my mother’s experiences during the war.  I was fascinated by WWII and particularly interested in learning about the U.S. and Germany.  Like a lot of people who have been in a war or fought in a war, she didn’t speak of it often.  

One of the most poignant things she ever said was that she would rather see all her children dead than for them to have to experience war.  I think it’s impossible for any of us who have not experienced war and fascism ourselves to understand the devastation to the human spirit by a force that asks us to be our worst selves: to hate and to be violent and to harm our fellow humans.

As the war progressed and the Allies began to bomb Germany, it became very dangerous to live in the city as that is where most of the bombing occurred.  My mother’s family lived in Neumunster, which is not far from Hamburg. My mother was upset when her parents said she would be sent to the country to live with relatives so that she would be safe.  She begged to stay at home, but they believed they were doing the best thing for their child’s safety.  As soon as she arrived in the country, she hid on a departing train and went back to her family.  Her parents tried several more times to send her to the country, but each time she found her way home.  Finally, they realized it was futile.  The need to be with family was stronger than any fear. 


She developed an amazing ability to concentrate during the many hours her family spent in bomb shelters.  As they heard the roar of the airplanes over head, and the bombs exploding, her father taught her to play chess and to think only of the chess game, not about the fear surrounding them.  She learned to think many moves ahead.  She could see it all in her mind as she learned to tune everything else out.  

As the war progressed, food became very scarce.  To dull her hunger pangs and to help tune out the bombing, her father gave her cigarettes to smoke in the bomb shelter, when he was able to obtain them.  The next time you watch a WWII movie, notice how everyone is smoking.

This time in bomb shelters proved to have a lifelong impact on my mother.  She became Chess Champion of Texas from 1955-1958.  She was so good that the women eventually wouldn’t play her, and she had to compete in the men’s division.  Each year in Corpus Christi, Texas there would be a Pirate’s Day celebration.  One of the newspaper pictures we have is of our mother as chess champion playing a game of chess with actress Jayne Mansfield as part of the Pirate’s Day celebration publicity.  


My mother was smart and beautiful and her English (required in all German schools) was excellent, so when the war ended, she was hired by British Intelligence as an interpreter.  Part of her job was to watch the films of the American soldiers bringing freedom to the occupants of the Nazi death camps, from Dachau to Buchenwald and beyond.  The truth depicted in the films was horrific and heartbreaking and shattering.  The average weight of the adult prisoners was 85 pounds.  Most of the soldiers were filled with grief as they worked to help the remaining few who were alive.  The prisoners would crawl to the soldiers, crying and thanking them for rescuing them, kissing the soldiers’ hands and feet.  The soldiers were distraught when they realized that the ovens were still warm.  The Nazis killed as many people as they possibly could right up to the last minute, even though they knewin fact, because they knewliberation was imminent.  Being a Nazi meant violence and fear and erosion of your truest nature.  My mother would get sick to her stomach from witnessing what humans would do to other humans. She had to quit her job.  

It was the beginning of a fuller awakening to the truth about the Nazis.  It is always difficult to know how much the average German knew about what went on in the Nazi concentration camps and about what Hitler and his supporters had done.  Before the war ended, it was difficult to find anyone who would admit that they did not support Hitler.  This is understandable, as everyone was in danger of being imprisoned or killed if they dared to say they didn’t support the Nazis.  And, after the war, it was difficult to find anyone who would admit to having supported him.


My mother’s mother remained a kind and loving human being, aware of her inner self, even during the reign of the Nazis.  She went to a detention camp that was near their town and left food at the fence for the starving prisoners.  My mother said she was furious at her mother at the time, because if her mother had been caught, she and potentially the entire family, could have been arrested, killed or put in a concentration camp. Neighbors would disappear and everyone knew they had been taken by the Nazis.  It was one of the many tactics used by the Nazis to control and terrorize the entire population. My mother said that as she got older she came to appreciate the incredible courage and goodness that it took to do what her mother had done–she refused to hate people simply because their leader said to hate them.  It is an inspiring story that reminds us that no matter how violent and oppressive a leader and his followers are, it is possible for us to maintain our humanity.


One of the most memorable of all my conversations with my mother about war and fascism was this.  We were talking about how a country can go from being a democracy to being a fascist state.  It was incomprehensible to me that a leader, in this case Hitler, could seemingly get an entire country to follow him when he made clear his hatred for and blame of Jews, and his intention to purge them from Germany.  He came to power in 1933 but he had been part of German politics since the 1920’s.  

Hitler always expressed his hatred and desire for revenge, and his willingness to use violence to achieve it, so this was not unknown to the German people.  He was, however, extraordinarily gifted at stirring people’s emotions and calling forth a nationalistic populism that he defined as patriotism.  In fact, the reason he was appointed to the position of absolute power by his party was because of his ability to draw forth the darkest impulses in those who then worshiped him.  My mother said, “This can happen anywhere.”  I said, “Yes, but not in the U.S.”  She said “Anywhere.” 

Katie Laine is the owner of ‘Discover Consulting.’

Thank you so much, Katie!



I welcome your comments:

{Thank you to my niece, Addie (Liechty) Kogan, for taking the picture that is this blog’s featured image. Her blog is:}

Best wishes and have a good week.


Posted in

Greta Holt


  1. Ann Nofziger on September 8, 2020 at 10:53 am


    What a timely piece to share!!! I enjoy reading your prose and miss sharing moments with you and Tim. Hope you are staying well! Blessings, Ann

    • Greta Holt on September 8, 2020 at 11:04 am

      Thanks, Ann. Katie Laine, who wrote this post, has always been thoughtful. What a good friend she was to me in Bluffton. We miss you as well. Looking forward to and end to Covid.

  2. mike tarpley on September 8, 2020 at 11:17 am

    I wish I could have has more time with your mom. She loved America, and was a true patriot.

    • Greta Holt on September 8, 2020 at 1:06 pm

      Mike, thank you for your comment. It is a privilege to call Katie my friend.

  3. Darcy Wells on September 8, 2020 at 4:30 pm

    Katie, we’ve never met, but I do know a little about your early life thanks to Suzanne Hilty Lind and Addison Myers. I’m grateful Suzanne shared your blog with me. Addison knew your birth mother and Hanni. I’ve heard his stories about these two women many times over almost 40 years together. Suzanne has gone over the complicated (but amazing) family tree with us. You brought Hanni to life in this blog and I’m grateful to know more about her early life and your life with her. Hanni shared an important life lesson with you…this could happen anywhere. Take care, Katie. Darcy Wells

    • Greta Holt on September 8, 2020 at 9:54 pm

      Darcy, thank you for reading Katie’s post and for your caring and personal answer. I have passed this on to Katie.

      • Darcy Wells on September 8, 2020 at 10:37 pm

        Thanks so much, Greta. Take care. Darcy

  4. Emilie Hamman on September 8, 2020 at 8:36 pm

    Living in Germany for five years has stirred my interest in the question of how a civilized country could end up creating the Holocaust. Only once did I hear someone say “I wish we were back in the Hitler era” and she said that because she thought young people had more respect for their elders at that time. Everyone I talked to claimed they had no knowledge of what was happening in the camps but I found that hard to believe at Dachau because the town sits on a hill overlooking the camp. Unfortunately it seems to me that what happened in Germany during the early 1930’s is beginning to happen here. Thank you for sharing Katie’s story. We need to hear more of these stories.

    • Greta Holt on September 8, 2020 at 9:53 pm

      Emilie, thank you for reading Katie’s guest post and for your thoughtful comment. I have passed it on to Katie.

  5. Judy Reed on September 9, 2020 at 8:33 am

    I will share as much as possible. Any venue to let people know true history

    • Greta Holt on September 9, 2020 at 9:31 am

      Thank you, Judy. Katie’s mother lived through a time worthy of a second look.

  6. Diane Gottlieb on September 10, 2020 at 1:07 am

    Thanks for sharing Katie’s words Greta. I don’t think it’s possible to read this powerful piece without thinking about the precarious place our country and the world is in right now. This can happen anywhere–it’s terrifying. All I can say is November 3.

  7. Del Gratz on September 18, 2020 at 6:55 pm

    Thanks Greta and Katie for posting this. I knew nothing of Katie’s stepmother and life outside of Bluffton. What a fascinating story. I would love to chat sometime.

    • Greta Holt on September 18, 2020 at 8:32 pm

      Del, I didn’t know the story, either. Fascinating background. I’ll pass you comment on to Katie.

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