In 2008, Jennifer Teege was strolling around a library in her native Germany for books on the depression she’d been struggling with when she spotted a cover photograph that looked strangely familiar: her biological mother.
So began a shocking odyssey in which Teege would learn the painful truth: Her maternal grandfather was Amon Goeth, the infamous Nazi war criminal portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning film Schindler’s List.
Now Teege, a German-born black woman who was given up for adoption as a child, has chronicled her journey in a memoir due out in the United States in April titled My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past.
“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, 44, told Israeli newspaper Haaretz in a story featured on NPR.
Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List
“I knew almost nothing about the life of my biological mother, nor did my adoptive family,” she said. “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.”
Known as the “butcher of Plaszow” for his horrific rule over the Plaszow (Krakow) concentration camp in Poland, Goeth famously shot prisoners from his porch every morning. After WWII, he faced trial in Krakow for genocide, including responsibility for the death of more than 10,000 people. He was hanged in 1946.
“I am first of all Jennifer and not first of all Amon Goeth s granddaughter,” said Teege, whose parents were Goeth’s daughter Monika and a Nigerian man with whom she had a brief affair.
As an infant, Teege was placed in a Catholic children’s home, then transferred to foster care at age 3 and formally adopted at 7 – at which point she lost touch with her biological mother and grandmother.
She later moved to Israel, where she received a degree in Middle Eastern and African Studies from Tel Aviv University and worked at the German cultural Goethe Institute.
“Germans who come to Israel never know what kind of reception they will get,” she told Haaretz. “I was welcomed with open arms. My German origin generated interest – not because of the Holocaust or Nazism, but mainly because of [then] recent events, such as the toppling of the Berlin Wall and the unification of Germany. In any event, I didn’t represent the German stereotype.”
Since her book’s publication in Germany, the mom of two says she has spoken with a number of Holocaust survivors.
“I am so different from the figure of my grandfather,” she said, adding that some survivors “responded very warmly and said that reading my story was a kind of closing of the circle for them.”