"There is no Nazi gene," Jennifer Teege tells PEOPLE
There was shock and “trembling” when Jennifer Teege first learned the secret her biological family kept hidden: Her grandfather was the sadistic Nazi officer portrayed in Schindler’s List.
Now, after working with Holocaust survivors – and “so much work in therapy” – Teege, 44, is at peace that she is guiltless for the crimes of a monster she never knew.
“There is no such thing as inherited guilt,” Teege, who lives in Hamburg, Germany, with her husband and two young sons, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “A Nazi gene doesn t exist. We can decide for ourselves who and what we want to be.”
While Teege – the biracial daughter of S.S. commander Amon Goeth’s daughter, Monika, and a Nigerian man with whom Monika had an affair – can say emphatically of her grandfather, “I just reject him as a person,” her feelings for the grandmother she did know are more complicated.
Until Teege was adopted by another German family at age 7, she periodically visited her grandmother, Ruth Irene Kalder, who kept Goeth’s photo above her bed until the day she died, never telling Teege his story.
With Kalder, the young Teege “just felt home,” she recalls. “She was someone who would hold my hand and to this day, I’m addicted to holding hands … but if I say I love her, would it mean that I too close my eyes to what my grandfather did?”
These days, with the English translation of her memoir My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me being released in the United States, Teege makes a point of reaching out to Holocaust survivors and Jewish groups. As a college student in Israel, she read to elderly Holocaust survivors.
“When I do these talks, I realize I’m really myself now and being myself is completely enough,” she says.
But she’s not quite ready for her children to read her book.
“They’re too young for the whole story. I still feel that I’m the mother and I don’t want them to experience my weakness … and think they have to protect me,” Teege says. “So when they’re older … when they’re 16 or 17 or 18. Of course, it’s more distant for them. It’s not the grandfather, it’s the great-grandfather. They don’t have the same emotional connection.”
• Reporting by NINA BIDDLE
For more of Teege’s story, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands now