I lapsed into silence, I slept a lot and I wasn’t really functioning. Only afterward did I begin to analyze the situation and try to understand the characters of my mother and my grandmother. I only started to learn more about my grandmother at the end. Today I understand that I went through the process step by step, peeling away layer after layer. But in the first months I had no idea what to do.
Imagine how you would feel if you were to find out that Amon Goeth was your grandfather. He was the sadist Nazi Commandant at the Plaszow concentration camp near Krakow from 1943 to 1944 whom Ralph Fiennes portrayed in an Oscar worthy performance. I remember the scene in the movie where he would be on the verandah with his rifle and would randomly shoot people as if it were a sport.
This man murdered prisoners on a daily basis and actually trained his dogs to tear inmates to death. He shot people his office window if they appeared to be moving too slowly or resting in the yard. He even shot to death a Jewish cook because the soup was too hot. He brutally mistreated his two maids, Helen Jonas-Rosenzweig and Helen Hirsch, who, along with the other inmates, lived in constant fear for their lives.
In the movie he was attracted to Helen Hirsch, looking at her and wondering “is this the face of a rat?” At one point in the movie, Helen had resigned herself to idea that Goeth was going to kill her. “He will. I see things. We were on the roof on Monday, young Lisiek and I and we saw the Herr Kommandant come out of the house on the patio right there below us and he drew his gun and shot a woman who was passing by. Just a woman with a bundle, just shot her through the throat. She was just a woman on her way somewhere, she was no faster or slower or fatter or thinner than anyone else and I couldn’t guess what had she done. The more you see of the Herr Kommandant the more you see there are no set rules you can live by, you cannot say to yourself, “If I follow these rules, I will be safe.””
It’s hard to believe that a person could be capable of such horror. And it’s even harder to accept that you are related to such a person. This was the shocking reality for Jennifer Teege, a bi-racial woman who found out quite by accident that Amon Goeth was her grandfather. She plucked a book from a library shelf and recognized photos of her mother and grandmother in the book. It was then that she discovered the horrifying fact that her grandfather was Nazi butcher, Amon Goeth. His daughter, Monika Hertwig was Jennifer’s mother. Monika had met and fallen in love with a Nigerian man. Their relationship didn’t last. Monika’s own experience in dealing with the truth about her father’s role in the Holocaust is showcased in the 2006 documentary film, The Inheritance. In the movie, Monika meets Helen Jonas-Rosenweig at the scene of the former concentration camp, the latter at first unwilling to meet the daughter of the man who terrorized her and so many others.
I am not clear on how Jennifer Teege came to be adopted. Apparently she was close to her grand-mother who committed suicide not long after she did an interview. Jennifer is convinced that had she been around when her grandfather was alive, he would have shot her because she was not a member of the master race–she didn’t have blond hair and blue eyes. Many of us would not have survived. Jennifer shares her story in the book, My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me which she co-wrote with award-winning journalist Nikola Sellmair.
If you are interested in hearing Jennifer’s story, listen here.
Sources: The Current; Jennifer Teege; Jennifer Teege’s Longreads