BERLIN – A new and fascinating book landed on the shelves of the giant Dussman bookstore in Berlin a few months ago. On the cover is a picture of a black woman in her 40s with the words “my grandfather would have shot me.”
The new book appears alongside books about World War II and biographies of leading Nazis. But unlike them, this is not a history book. At least not an ordinary one. The author is a Hamburg resident, 43-year-old Jennifer Teege, who discovered a few years ago that she is the granddaughter of Nazi war criminal Amon Goeth, the commander of the Plaszow concentration camp in Poland whose notorious cruelty was made famous in the 1993 film “Schindler’s List.”
She may be the granddaughter of Goeth, who shot thousands of people, but she is also black. During her extensive PR tour for the book, Teege has been quoted as saying that her grandfather would probably have shot her, too. Rights to the book have been sold in several other countries and it was recently translated into Polish.
Teege was born in 1970 to a German mother and a Nigerian father, a student with whom her mother had an affair. She was sent to an orphanage when she was a few months old and was adopted at the age of seven, losing touch with her biological mother. She is married, the mother of two children and works in advertising.
“My childhood was normal,” she said in an interview on the Deutsche Welle TV program “Talking Germany.”
In 2008, when she was 38 years old, she came across the book that would change her life. She was browsing in Hamburg’s central library and happened to pick up a book with a red cover named “I Have to Love My Father, Right?” The book was a memoir by Monika Hertwig, Goeth’s daughter, published in 2002. Teege says that the woman pictured on the cover looked familiar to her. ”Something in her eyes made me wonder, So I went through the book… and came to the biographical details at the end. I knew those details from the paperwork surrounding my adoption. It was my mother.”
“I don’t know what happens in the brain, but it became clear to me that… the book was about my biological family, about my mother who I hadn’t seen for many, many years. Details that no one had told me,” Teege said.
Teege did not know her grandfather; he was hanged in 1946 near the Plaszow camp, which is not far from Krakow. However, she did know her grandmother, Ruth Irene Kalder, a German actress and cosmetician, who had been a secretary in Oskar Schindler’s factory. Schindler employed Jews from Plaszow and the Krakow ghetto and his association with Goeth made it possible for him to save many of them by having them classified as “essential workers.” It was Schindler who introduced Kalder to Goeth. The affair between them lasted two years, producing Teege’s mother Monika in 1945.
Teege said she remembers her grandmother. “The circumstances of my childhood were not of safe surroundings for children,” she said, citing the domestic violence her mother experienced. But her grandmother made her feel safe. “She opened the door when I came to visit and there was a smile on her face.” When Teege learned of Ruth’s relationship with Goeth, she found out about another side of her, which she didn’t know existed. “It was impossible to deal with this; it took me a long time to find a solution how to integrate this into my life.”
She says that her grandmother rented out rooms in her apartment to a black man, who was a friend of her father, and to a gay man, which she says was extraordinary at the time. “Thinking that my grandmother must have been a racist, it doesn’t really fit… You see how people are, they have good sides and bad sides.”
“There was a lot of evil in my grandfather, “she said, adding that he could “probably be defined as a psychopath.” But, Teege told the interviewer, “I don’t think pure evil exists. When you look at people, everyone is born blank and people become the way they are under many influences… With my grandfather, it’s quite easy because there was a lot of evil. With my grandmother it’s more complicated.”
Teege’s grandmother committed suicide in 1983, the day after she gave an interview in which she told of her relationship with Amon Goeth. She met with her mother Monika again about two years ago after learning the truth about her family’s past. She said she had many questions about the “black hole” in her family history and she had to process hard feelings ahead of the encounter, trying to see Monika not only as her mother, but as an older woman who had to deal with her own biography and was raised with family secrets herself.
They talked for a few hours, but then lost touch again, Teege said. She believes her mother wanted to protect her and thought it best that she not know about her family’s past.
In her early 20s, Teege lived in Israel for five years. That was where she saw “Schindler’s List” for the first time. “It was the same for me as for everyone; it was touching but it was not something I thought was connected to me. Why should I? It was so far from what I could imagine.” Since discovering the truth about her grandfather, she visited the Plaszow concentration camp, together with a group of teens from Israel. “My friend Anati, invited me because it was her son’s class… It was a very emotional trip... in the end you’re standing in front of the memorial and they asked me whether I’d like to lay a wreath for them and I did. I wasn’t sure that I was the right person but because they asked me, I did so and it felt right.”
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now