My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family's Nazi Past

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family's Nazi Past

4.7 3
by Jennifer Teege, Nikola Sellmair, Carolin Sommer

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Now in paperback: The New York Timesbestselling memoir hailed as “haunting and unflinching” (Washington Post), “unforgettable” (Publishers Weekly), and “stunning” (Booklist)

When Jennifer Teege, a German-Nigerian woman, happens to pluck a library book from the shelf,


Now in paperback: The New York Timesbestselling memoir hailed as “haunting and unflinching” (Washington Post), “unforgettable” (Publishers Weekly), and “stunning” (Booklist)

When Jennifer Teege, a German-Nigerian woman, happens to pluck a library book from the shelf, she discovers a horrifying fact: Her grandfather was Amon Goeth, the vicious Nazi commandant depicted by Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List. The more Teege reads about 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, on a quest to fully comprehend her family’s haunted history—and her own identity.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this unforgettable memoir, Teege, writing with journalist Sellmair, discovers secrets about her family during WWII. Teege, a part-Nigerian German working in the advertising industry, shakes up her quiet married life after discovering a book, Matthias Kessler’s I Have to Love My Father, that inspires her to unravel her convoluted family history. She’s horrified to learn that her biological mother’s father was infamous SS leader Amon Goeth. As depicted in Schindler’s List, Goeth liquidated the Krakow ghetto in Poland, ran the Plaszow death camp, and was captured by Americans and hanged in 1946. Teege’s travels in Poland, Germany, and the Middle East further expose her family’s troubled legacy. Her biological mother, Monika, became pregnant with Teege after an affair with a Nigerian student, and placed the baby for adoption; Monika’s unapologetic mother, Ruth, makes excuses for Goeth, who was her lover. Teege’s quest to discover her personal history is empowering. (May)
From the Publisher
New York Times Bestseller

“Jennifer Teege’s new memoir traces the pain of discovering her grandfather was the real-life ‘Nazi butcher’ from Schindler’s List.”—People magazine

“Haunting and unflinching . . . . A memoir, an adoption story and a geopolitical history lesson, all blended seamlessly into an account of Teege’s exploration of her roots.”—Washington Post

“A stunning memoir of cultural trauma and personal identity.”—Booklist, starred review

“Unforgettable. . . . Teege’s quest to discover her personal history is empowering.”—Publishers Weekly

“An important addition to narratives written by descendants of war criminals. A gripping read, highly recommended for anyone interested in history, memoirs, and biography.”—Library Journal, starred review

“[A] journey of self-discovery.”—Metro US

“[An] amazing story of horror and reconciliation and love.”—John Mutter, Shelf Awareness

“The high quality of the writing helps to convey this incredible but amazingly true story.”—Association of Jewish Libraries

“This book is not for the faint of heart, but it is fascinating and fair. There are no easy answers to the issues raised in this book, but they exist for both groups of descendants. Readers will be challenged to think about a major event in world history from a perspective that is rare but surely significant.”—Gerhard L. Weinberg, History Book Club

“A powerful account of Teege’s struggle for resolution and redemption, the book [is] itself a therapeutic working-through of her history, as well as a meditation on family.”—The Independent (UK)

“Courageous. . . . the memoir invites rereading to fully absorb Teege’s painful search for answers, for a sense of identity and belonging and for inner peace. Readers won’t help but feel for her. Teege discovers, however, that history’s shattering truths have the potential to make us more whole.”—Seattle Times

“[Teege’s] message is an important one—that we have the power to decide who we are.”—Seattle Weekly

“In honest, direct, and absorbing prose, Teege and coauthor Nikola Sellmair confront highly personal repercussions of the Holocaust. . . . The book’s real triumph is in its nuanced, universally appealing portrait of an individual searching for her place in the world. Just as Teege’s chance encounter with a library book led her to question the fundamental assumptions of her life, so too the reader. . . will be forced to reconsider the wide-ranging impact of past injustices on present-day relationships.”—The Jewish Book Council

“A discomfiting but clear-eyed journey of self-discovery and identity reconciliation that first-time author Teege relates with admirable straightforwardness and equanimity.”—In These Times

“The alternating narrative between Teege and co-author Sellmair offers a refreshing and ultimately impartial analysis. Teege’s heartfelt commentary and Sellmair’s objective narrative produce a layer of balanced interpretation and insight.”—New York Journal of Books

“Teege’s story is at times heart wrenching, and yet, full of her own stark honesty and surprising wisdom as she ponders the impacts of one’s family history.”—Manhattan Book Review

“Jennifer Teege has a fascinating story.”—Washington Independent Review of Books

“Teege’s story is one of questions as much as answers. Her honest self-examination makes for a provocative, unpredictable story of an understanding still in progress.”—Columbus Dispatch

“As spellbinding as any horror fiction, but it’s true, and grippingly filled with personal details that ensnare the reader. . . . Fascinating.”—Jacksonville Clarion-Ledger
Library Journal
★ 05/15/2015
What if you pulled a book with an intriguing title off the shelf in your local library and discovered that your grandfather was Amon Goethe, the Nazi commandant made infamous in Steven Spielberg's movie Schindler's List? When the author does, she questions everything about herself, her biological and adoptive families, and all of her other relationships. After she starts to get over her initial shock and depression, Teege, a German Nigerian woman whose mother, Goethe's daughter, put her up for adoption, begins a harrowing journey of self-discovery. She shares her nightmares, heartbreaks, and triumphs throughout an emotional quest. Award-winning journalist Sellmair's parallel narrative provides historical background on Nazi concentration camps and the Holocaust in addition to biographical information gained through interviews with Teege's friends and family. Includes 19 black-and-white photographs and a section for further resources. VERDICT Originally published in German as Amon: mein Grossvater hätte mich erschossen, Teege's account is an important addition to narratives written by descendants of war criminals. A gripping read, highly recommended for anyone interested in history, memoirs, and biography. [See Prepub "Midwinter Galley Preview," 1/12/15.]—Venessa Hughes, Buffalo, NY

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Experiment, The
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5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Jennifer Teege worked in advertising for 16 years before becoming an author. For four years in her twenties she lived in Israel, where she became fluent in Hebrew. She graduated from Tel Aviv University with a degree in Middle Eastern and African studies. Teege lives in Germany with her husband and two sons. A New York Times and international bestseller, My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me is her first book.

Nikola Sellmair graduated from Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich and has worked in Hong Kong, Washington, DC, Israel, and Palestine. She has been a reporter in Hamburg at Germany’s Stern magazine since 2000. Her work has received many awards, including the German-Polish Journalist Award, for the first-ever article about Jennifer Teege’s singular story.

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My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family's Nazi Past 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Teege's heartwrenching journey of self discovery encompasses possibly every single human emotion whilst providing a glimpse of her own vulnerability and heartache. Sadness, joy, depression, wrath: there is an amalgamation of emotion as the reader literally shadows her journey from a frightened, angry, confused, betrayed woman who has discovered quite possibly one of the most horrific family secrets one can imagine. Yet, there is hope here, an ethos and pathos she discovers within the fragile walls of her heart and soul which somewhow goad her into delving deeper still into the murky depths of man's inhumanity. Teege's journey of self discovery takes on an almost transcendental quality, one of epic porportions, an evolution. Jennifer begins with a black pit of unanswered questions, & slowly, painfully, she learns (almost seemingly unwillingly at times) of her familial links to her grandfather. Truly striking are the thematic elements of a generation of German shame, silence, and misplaced defiance of the terrible genocide- which hover, wraith like, above her. Though, what Teege COULD HAVE done- reached out, clung to, used these elements to hide and buried her shame-actually seemed to assist and drive her towards her ultimate acceptance and understanding. A novel of self-discovery, discovery, at once unapologetic AND apologetic. A wonderful, exceptional read-a treasure of literature, one that reminds us inhumanity can be overcome and nightmares and cruelty exist, but so do positivity, passion, and the determination of the goodness in the hearts of humans as well.
MerryWifeofWindsor 4 months ago
It all started for Jennifer Teege as she was in the library. She was at the library searching for books about how to cope with depression. All of a sudden, she discovered a book written by her very own biological mother (Monika Hertwig) called "I Have to Love My Father, Don't I?" Flipping through the pages with the pictures, she immediately knew that it couldn't be any mistake. It was her mother's book. What must have been Twilight Zone moment for Jennifer grew steadily worse as she soon learned the truth about her maternal grandfather and his violent life as a camp kommandant. Later on, when she made her horrifying discovery, she felt that her friendships with her Israeli friends, Noa and From what I've seen or heard about family members of Nazi perpetrators, it's never an easy burden to bear. There seems to be a strong feeling of guilt on the part of the Nazis' children, relatives, and descendants. Bettina Goering, the grand-niece of Hermann Goering chose to have herself sterilized in fear of carrying on the blood of someone who was so monstrous and reviled. Others have attempted to do what they can to condemn what their relatives and parents have done. Josef Mengele's son, Rolf Mengele knew his father was in hiding and never revealed his whereabouts to the authorities and Nazi hunters. He appeared on Phil Donahue and spoke of meeting his father in the 1970's. Many wonder why exactly he didn't turn his father in. I feel like "My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me" is an unrate-able book. It's one of those books that leaves you jarred and at the same time, saddened. No amount of words can exonerate the Nazi perpetrators from what evils they committed. In a different vein, many children of Nazis tend to live under this shadow and continue to suffer from guilt to this day. In her book, she asks a very profound question, "What is family? Is it something we inherit, or something we build?" (Teege, 199). You can't choose who you are related to. You are born into the family that you are born into. Then begs the question: Can guilt be inherited? I view "My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me" as Jennifer's personal journey and as a way for her to cope with the horrific revelation of her maternal grandfather. From start to finish, she reflects on her life, struggles with the issue of the guilt that weighs on her shoulders, and tries to find a way of dealing with the truth. Sometimes the truth of life can be unbearable. Towards the end of the book, she finally makes a visit to Plaszow at the behest of her friend Anat. She doesn't go alone but with a group of Israeli school children and while there, she has the opportunity to speak to them. She explains who she is and where she comes from, telling her story to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who survived the camps. At this part in the book, I found myself tearing up and found the ending to be very touching. Jennifer Teege is a brave woman to do such a thing. She shows that now she knows where she comes from, she is a stronger person who wants to make a difference in the world. This quote just about sums up Jennifer's thoughts, "I want to walk upright and to live a normal life. There is no such thing as inherited guilt. Everybody has their own life story" (Teege, 142). Book Review by the Merry Wife of Windsor. ****
TRFeller More than 1 year ago
In Germany, there is a whole genre of books by the children and grandchildren of Nazi war criminals, and this is the latest addition. When she was 38 years old, Teege, whose father was Nigerian and mother German, learned that her maternal grandfather Amon Goeth. If that name sounds familiar, it is probably because he was the man portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List. Her grandmother, Ruth Irene Kalder, was a minor character in the film. Her most memorable scene was the one in which Goeth takes potshots at the prisoners from the balcony of his house. Kalder is shown in bed trying to cover her head with a pillow so that she cannot hear the gunshots. Teege never knew her grandfather, because he was hung by the Russians in 1946, but she did know Kalder. One chapter is devoted to her attempts to reconcile the notion of a mistress of a war criminal with fond memories of a loving grandmother. Kalder committed suicide in 1983. Her grandparents married towards the end of the war, but Goeth never saw his daughter Monika. Teege was the result of a brief affair between Monika and a Nigerian student. They never married, and Monika placed Teege in an orphanage when she was four weeks old. She visited her and even occasionally took her home for weekends until Teege was adopted at the age of seven. After that, she did not see her mother again until she was 21 and infrequently since then. She eventually met her father with whom she stays in contact. Teege grew up in Germany, attended Tel Aviv University in Israel of all places and learned to speak fluent Hebrew, married, and started a family before learning about her grandfather. Then she visited the Krakow ghetto, the Plaszow concentration camp, Israel to visit old friends to break the news about her grandfather, saw a therapist, and intensely studied the Holocaust. She also had to re-evaluate her relationship with the German family that adopted her, especially one of her adoptive grandfathers. He had served in the Afrika Korps under Rommel, was captured, and sat out the war in a POW camp. I found the book quite fascinating and highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago