Saturday, April 16, 2016

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me - by Jennifer Teege

I have always had a morbid curiosity with the Holocaust.  OK, not just THE Holocaust, but any sort of situation where people can do horrendous things to each other. I make no excuses: I am looking for answers. I want to know WHY people the things that they do.  It helps me to process things that are very difficult and emotional for me. So when I saw this book, I was excited. I was hoping it would give me answers and it provided a woman's account of her struggle to come to terms with who her family members were/are.
Teege discovered, at the age of 38, that her maternal grandfather is Amon Goeth (the Commandant of Plazow and who was made famous by Schindler's List). As a result of her discovery, Teege decides to research her family by traveling to Poland and Israel and attempting to reconnect with her mother Monika (Amon's daughter). Teege writes the book with historian Nikola Sellmar.  Teege documents the personal memoir part of her journey while Sellmar provides us with the historical context in which Teege is courageously struggling. Teege is the daughter of Monika Goeth and a Nigerian student that was living with Monika at the time.  Teege was given up for adoption shortly after her birth. Interestingly, Teege had regular contact with Monika and Monika's mother Ruth but no one ever spoke of the family's history and there is no doubt that Jennifer was loved by her biological mother, biological grandmother and adopted family very much. Obviously, Jennifer never knew Amon, who was executed in the 40's after his trial.

I LOVED how honest and direct this book was. It's hard enough to tell a story like this but to do it as they did was absolutely a wondrous thing to behold. The story starts with Teege's discovery and quickly moves past that salaciousness. She grapples not with how she characterizes her grandfather - she has a really easy time categorizing him as pure evil - but she really struggles with how to characterize her mother and grandmother, and her feelings towards them. They love each other - that much is obvious - but Teege has a difficult time reconciling that love with the seeming apathy both her mother and grandmother had towards the terrible things that her grandfather did.  At times they seem to make excuses for him at best and don't do ANYTHING to stop him at their worst. She struggles with her alienation from her adoptive family and then about how she will be able to face her Israeli friends, who had family members that died in the Holocaust. Were they going to cut her out completely when they realized who her grandfather was and the awful things that he did? What I loved about this book isn't necessarily the answers or lack of answers that it gave.  The beauty was in the journey and it can be a tremendous teaching tool or comfort for anyone that is struggling with the issues that Teege seems to still struggle with.

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