It’s not been such a great week. I closed comments on Monday’s post. Then I realized I couldn’t respond to comments when they were closed. I don’t know why that is, but apparently that is how WordPress operates. But know that I read your birthday wishes and thank you for them!!!
I’m going to try to pretend that the week has suddenly and miraculously taken a turn for the better and just move on. (Nothing big wrong–just very disappointed in humans. Well, maybe that is big).
I haven’t reviewed a memoir in months, but I’m back doing it today. The story in a nutshell will show you why this book tells a sensational(istic) tale, but also why it’s an important book to read.
Here’s the nutshell. The daughter of a white German woman and a Nigerian man, Jennifer Teege was born and raised in post-war Germany. She was adopted at age 7 by a German family. She ended up in Israel where she attended college, learned Hebrew, and made lifelong Israeli friends. At age 38, she learns that her grandfather was a famous Nazi, Amon Goeth. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, think harder. Think of Ralph Fiennes in the movie Schindler’s List. THAT Amon Goeth. (Shudder).
Yes, Amon Goeth had a black granddaughter who was born in 1970, long after he died.
Teege’s memoir is a very important book because of its great historical, psychological, and philosophical consequence. I’ve read a lot of Holocaust memoirs, but most of them have been from the perspective of the Jewish survivors and sometimes, like Anne Frank’s diary, the dead victims. This book examines the consequences for the descendents of the Nazi perpetrators—both 2nd (like Jennifer’s birth mother) and 3rd (like Jennifer) generations
Additionally, Teege’s perspective is unique because she herself is biracial and grew up in a transracial household—the only non-white family member. Teege also carries the baggage of an adoptee who suffers from abandonment issues.
In this story, we see her life as a child with her mother, Monika, and her grandmother, Ruth Irene Kalder, the mistress of Amon Goeth. That would be the mistress who lived on the premises of Płaszów, the concentration camp where Goeth routinely tortured and killed people.
We see her life with her white German family. Although her parents suffered from parenting and post-war issues themselves, they were kind, but clueless about parenting an adopted biracial child. That makes for an ambiguous relationship. But one of the most heart-warming aspects of the book is the relationship Teege had with her two brothers, the biological children of her parents. She was close to them from the beginning—and the closeness has lasted, particularly with her brother Matthias.
We see her eventually search for her biological father. And we see her reconnect with her Israeli friends (who have lost family in the Holocaust) after learning about her grandfather.
We also see Teege visiting Płaszów twice. One occurs right after she learns about her grandfather and after she has miscarried. The second occurs after she has had time to process this terrible news about her origins and hours after her father dies.
How history has affected Teege’s life, both before she knew the truth and afterward, makes for a fascinating read.
On Goodreads, I gave the book 4 stars because it didn’t have the greatest structure. If you notice the intensity flag in the middle it’s because of how she goes back to talk about her childhood. It’s all important to the overall story, but after such heavy-hitting information about the Nazi camp in the first chapters, it feels like a book about adoption for a little while. That’s ok, though, because it helps to learn so much more about Teege.
This is a book that should affect every reader in profound ways. What a story Teege has!
I should mention that the book was co-authored by Nikola Sellmair, a German journalist. The book shouldn’t be read as a work of creative nonfiction in the way of Mary Karr books, but is interesting in how it gives two viewpoints throughout–that of Jennifer Teege in traditional first person memoir and a more objective viewpoint from Sellmair (differentiated by different font).
31 responses to “Memoir Review: My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me”
Hi, Luanne! I haven’t read the book, but I’ve read a couple of articles about her. I think there may also have been an NPR story? It is a strange and fascinating story. I think I remember that her grandmother–who I believe was rather young at the time–talked about the good life she had as Goeth’s mistress. (!) Weren’t some of the concentration camp inmates/house slaves interviewed, too? And I think Teege lived in Israel for a time?
Yes, you are right on all counts. She talks a lot about a documentary made earlier (before she knew about her origins) and also about her grandmother’s role in the house at the camp. Quite horrific to look at how two-faced humans can be. Teege went to college in Israel, again long before she knew her origins. What a unique position she is in.
I thought she had been in Israel before she knew her origins, but I thought maybe I didn’t remember correctly. I think then she went back and told people there. Yes, she’s definitely in a unique position!
Yes, she isn’t able to tell her Israeli friends at first, though. It’s too upsetting.
This sounds like an interesting memoir, Luanne. I’m happy you’re back at it. I always enjoy your reviews. I hope you had a great birthday!
I would not say I had a great birthday, but I did have a birthday and it is over. The plus side is that my daughter recorded me a few covers (something I have been bugging her for) and my son and his girlfriend gave me some beautiful earrings and I got Nakana. Thanks re the memoir, Jill. It’s fun to talk about a book I read!
Sounds like a good birthday to me! 🙂
Sounds like a fascinating book told from an interesting vantage point. Sorry your week has been crummy. Hope things improve for you soon.
Thanks, Carrie. I hope so, too. Ugh. Jennifer Teege has such a unique perspective. I doubt there is anybody else in quite the same position she is in.
An important book, indeed
Truly. Teege’s position is so unique that we can’t help but learn from reading about her life.
What a strange situation Teege is in.
So strange. Can you imagine? From so many “layers” of identity.
A belated Happy Milestone Birthday, and I’m sorry humans have disappointed you. It’s sometimes hard to bounce back from that.
Thanks for a comprehensive review. i’ve had this book on my wish list because it is such a unique relationship with horrors of the past as well as continuing race relation issues.
It’s well worth the read to examine so many different issues. Thanks, Sammy on both counts. Sigh re the latter.
Very interesting critique, Luanne. I knew the name Amon Goeth right away, mostly because of Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of him. What must this granddaughter feel like to know she is descended from him? It’s not her fault of course, but what a thing to live with.
I can’t even imagine what it was like for her to go through this “learning experience.” But it’s clear that the burden is heavy.
I’ll add it to the list. It sounds fascinating.
Her story is amazing, Elyse. It’s just so unexpected. And so long after the war that we are learning of this. She wasn’t even born until 1970.
I shall definitely add this to my goodreads want to read list. The possibility of her life…that she exists gives me hope that there are far finer and better human beings out there than we realize. I try to combat my disappointment with some human beings by recalling and appreciating all the people that intend and do good despite circumstances, chaotic and abusive childhoods and family histories. Teege’s life sounds very interesting. Thank you for the comprehensive review. K 🙂
Thanks for stopping by, Kathleen! So well put: “the possibility of her life . . . that she exists gives me hope that there are far finer and better human beings out there.” YES! Beautiful! Thank you for this!
Yay, I love your memoir reviews even if they make my own TBR tower threaten to topple 😉 Hope these are improving for you this week.
Marie, I haven’t done my last assignment yet! Have you? Getting nervous now that we’re near the end and I have nada. Yikes!
Oh, my goodness, no, not even close. I’ve only read the essay on the hermit crab essay yesterday. I doubt I’ll have my assignment done before Sunday evening. My husband is looking forward to the class being over 😉
Hah, I know what you mean! I can’t even think of what form to use. Everything looks so daunting.
This sounds like an amazing story. I can’t imagine what it would be like to uncover a family history like this. I’ve seen other reviews of this book and have been meaning to read it. Thanks, Luanne and I hope things are looking up for you now ;D Have a lovely weekend xxxx
Dianne, isn’t it incredible?! It’s wilder than fiction, I think! I would love to hear what you think of it when it’s done!! You have a great weekend, too! xoxo
What a history, it must have been difficult to come to terms with a background like that.
Andrea, I can’t even imagine dealing with that. Although she does experience a lot of emotional trauma in her life, and she did have a breakdown, she seems incredibly strong to me.
What a fascinating read, thank you for your wonderful, indepth review. I keep thinking what it must have been like for Teege to discover that about her grandfather. Wow. That’s some skeleton in the closet.
I am catching up as per and wanted to leave a comment on your previous post that firstly, I never really knew what a Kewpie doll was when I lived in the States but heard people talk about them. So now I know! Also, I wanted to wish you a belated happy birthday and hope you enjoyed the day 🙂 xoxo
Yes, that is SOME skeleton in the closet. About the biggest!!! Thanks re the birthday wishes, Sherri!
What do you think of the Kewpies? They have never been my thing, but they are certainly collectable!