Book Reviews

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past by Jennifer Teege and Nikola Sellmair

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List Price: £8.99

 

Paperback: 240 Pages.

Published: 24 September 2015 by Hodder & Stoughton

ISBN: 1473616255

EAN: 9781473616257

When Jennifer Teege, a German-Nigerian woman, happened to pluck a library book from the shelf, she had no idea that her life would be irrevocably altered. Recognising photos of her mother and grandmother in the book, she discovers a horrifying fact: Her grandfather was Amon Goeth, the vicious Nazi commandant chillingly depicted by Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List - a man known and reviled the world over.

Although raised in an orphanage and eventually adopted, Teege had some contact with her biological mother and grandmother as a child. Yet neither revealed that Teege's grandfather was the Nazi "butcher of Plaszów," executed for crimes against humanity in 1946. The more Teege reads about Amon Goeth, the more certain she becomes: If her grandfather had met her-a black woman-he would have killed her.

Teege's discovery sends her, at age 38, into a severe depression-and on a quest to unearth and fully comprehend her family's haunted history. Her research takes her to Krakow - to the sites of the Jewish ghetto her grandfather 'cleared' in 1943 and the Plaszów concentration camp he then commanded - and back to Israel, where she herself once attended college, learned fluent Hebrew, and formed lasting friendships. Teege struggles to reconnect with her estranged mother Monika, and to accept that her beloved grandmother once lived in luxury as Amon Goeth's mistress at Plaszów.

Teege's story is co-written by award-winning journalist Nikola Sellmair, who also contributes a second, interwoven narrative that draws on original interviews with Teege's family and friends and adds historical context. Ultimately, Teege's resolute search for the truth leads her, step by step, to the possibility of her own liberation.

Reviews

5.0 Stars5.0 Stars5.0 Stars5.0 Stars5.0 Stars  by Anne

An absorbing story

The book is a memoir. It is the story of Jennifer’s discovery, when she was in her thirties, that her grandfather was a German Nazi war criminal who was hanged for his crimes. He was, in fact, Amon Goeth, the commandant of the concentration camp which is featured in the film “Schilndler’s List”. Jennifer, who had been adopted as a child, only discovered this when she saw a book in a library which featured pictures of her mother and talked about her as Goeth’s daughter.

This fascinating book, which I read in one evening, is told in an unusual way. Jennifer tells the story from her point of view emphasising how she feels and then the second writer, a journalist, fills in the facts and the history. The two sections lie side by side, are in slightly different type in my paperback version, and allow you a break from the emotions of Jennifer’s story as you go along. It works well in my opinion.

The story is compelling. No one has anything good at all to say about Goeth whom you will know well if you have seen the film or read the book on which it is based, “Schindler’s Ark” by Thomas Kenealley. Everything bad you have heard about him appears to be true and although he had a difficult childhood it doesn’t excuse his horrendous acts. His wife, Jennifer’s grandmother, denied his actions to the day she died although it became increasingly hard for her to do so or to continue to claim that she knew nothing of the camp. Their daughter Monika grew up a difficult young woman and had a brief liaison with a Nigerian man producing Jennifer who is obviously, from the pictures in the book, a child who shows in her bone structure and skin colour her African heritage. She was admitted to a children’s home and then forged her own life, spending a lot of time in Israel and having many Jewish friends.

The discovery of her background meant that Jennifer traced the locations of her family’s story and tried to find out more about her history by tracking down her mother and others who knew something about it. She also had to come to terms with what her recent ancestors had done and try to find some kind of peace. Not everything goes well but in the end she finds her own way. The book contains some details of the terrible things that Goeth and his compatriots did and also some information on how the children and grandchildren of other war criminals have dealt with the legacy as well as how the more recent German generations have handled the actions of the Nazis and those who collaborated.

I am really glad that I read this book which I enjoyed, despite its subject matter. It deals with war crimes, religion, adoption, bad parenting and race in a short and easy to read memoir.

 
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