Yesknopemaybe reviewed Jennifer Teege’s My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me a few weeks ago and was right when she said the premise would be hard to resist. I checked my local library and found the audiobook available for immediate check out. While this was a big change from cheery Patton Oswalt and the Harry Potter series the narration was beautiful and powerful (with added correct pronunciation of German and Polish words!)
Jennifer Teege is a mixed race German woman, her birth mother was German and her father was Nigerien, which was rare in 1970s Germany. She was put into foster care as an infant, where she maintained a relationship with her Grandmother and mother, but when she was adopted at age seven they lost touch. As an adult she came across a library book about her mother which rocked her world.
What would he have said to a dark-skinned granddaughter, who speaks Hebrew on top of that? I would have been a disgrace, a bastard who brought dishonor to the family. I am sure my grandfather would have shot me.”
Jennifer Teege’s mother was the child of Plaszów commandant Amon Goeth and his mistress, Ruth Irene Kalder. Goeth was the sadistic war criminal who Oskar Schindler rescued hundreds of Jews from and who Leon Leyson wrote about in The Boy on the Wooden Box. Ralph Fiennes’ performance in Schindler’s List was not an exaggeration; he was a horrible man who did inhuman things to Polish Jews during WWII. The man was a monster and Jennifer had no idea they shared DNA. This sends her into a deep hole of depression and self reflection. She stops calling her adoptive parents mother & father, she doesn’t returns emails from the Jewish friends she has in Israel, she reads countless books on Nazi descendants, watches numerous documentaries and visits Poland. She also seeks out her birth mother for clarity and discovers her grandmother committed suicide in 1983 after giving an interview discussing her relationship with Goeth!
It’s a gripping read and co-author Nikola Sellmair does a wonderful job blending a more analytical perspective into the emotional memoir.
Her birth mother, Monika, is a mess but Jennifer is so desperate for a relationship with her, and for answers about her family, that a lot time is spent trying to reconcile. Teege makes some strange choices (like visiting Plaszów to talk about her experiences the day after her adoptive father died) that I don’t necessarily agree with but since it’s a real woman’s journey (a point Badkittyuno mentions this whenever she reviews a memoir) I tried not to let that cloud my judgement of an otherwise fantastic story.