Every family has a few skeletons in the closet, but Jennifer Teege discovered a whopper of a skeleton when she learned that her grandfather was one of the most villainous Nazis in history. When Teege first saw the Oscar-winning Schindler’s List on TV in the mid-1990s she had no idea that she had a close connection to it. It wasn’t until 2008 that she learned her grandfather was the ruthless Amon Goeth “butcher of Plaszow” who was played by actor Ralph Fiennes and known for shooting concentration camp inmates from the porch of his home.
Teege, who is the child of a German Jew and Nigerian man was given up for adoption at just one month old and adopted into a family, but went years without any communication from her biological mother or grandmother. This month, Teege is releasing the English version of her memoir, “My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past” which recounts her discovery at age 38 of her grandfather’s criminal past and the impact it’s had on her. Teege came to learn about her family’s horrifying history by chance after seeing a familiar photo of her biological mother on the cover of a library book titled, “I Have To Love My Father, Right?”
“The first shock was the sheer discovery of a book about my mother and my family, which had information about me and my identity that had been kept hidden from me,” Teege says. “I knew almost nothing about the life of my biological mother, nor did my adoptive family. I hoped to find answers to questions that had disturbed me and to the depression I had suffered from. The second shock was the information about my grandfather’s deeds.”
Upon learning about her grandfather’s past, Teege went to therapy to help process her feelings of the discovery and her therapist broke down in tears after first hearing her story. The mother of two dove into her grandfather’s history, learning about Amon Goeth’s crimes which included a trial after being accused of genocide and being found guilty of the murder of some 8,000 people at Plaszow and another 2,000 during the evacuation of the Krakow Ghetto. Goeth maintained that he was simply following orders, but was hung in 1946 with his last words being “Heil Hitler.”
Teege remembers from the contact that she did have with here biological grandmother — Ruth Irene Kalder who had an affair with Goeth — that she was a kind woman, more loving than her mother. Teege and her grandmother never discussed the subject of her grandfather, and Kalder denied knowing anything about Goeth’s crimes before committing suicide in 1983 while battling an illness.
To truly come to terms with her family’s dark past, Teege would have to visit the scene of her grandfather’s crimes. Obviously, doing such would be a difficult task, but the author felt it necessary to take back some of the power Goeth’s deeds had over her family.
“At the beginning I didn’t know that it was important to be close to Amon,” she replies. “I felt a powerful need to be done with this part, and I decided to visit Krakow and the memorial monument for the Plaszow camp, to place flowers there and honor the victims, so that I could resume a normal life. When I returned to Germany after the visit, I felt a certain release. I wanted to let go of the past but not to make it disappear. I didn’t want to be like my mother, who felt so tied to the family past and couldn’t disconnect herself from it. I managed to achieve distance.”
On an upcoming trip to Israel, where the book has been translated into Hebrew, Teege will meet with one of the Holocaust survivors, 88-year-old Rena Birnhack, who encountered Teege’s grandfather before she was saved by Oskar Schindler.