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).