Nazi war criminal Amon Goth's headshot.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
PROVIDENCE (Tribune News Service) — Jennifer Teege did not learn about her family's dark secret until she was close to 40 years old. It happened in the central library in Hamburg, Germany, her hometown.
Separated from her mother shortly after birth, Teege lived in a Catholic orphanage until she was taken in by a foster family, who later adopted her. Her biological mother was German, and her father had been a student from Nigeria. Although she had seen her mother and maternal grandmother intermittently when she was a young child, her adoptive parents cut off her contact with them after the adoption.
In the library on that sunny August day, a book with a red cover caught her eye. A photograph looked vaguely familiar. Upon further inspection, she saw that the book told the story of her mother, the daughter of a sadistic Nazi war criminal.
Teege discovered she was the granddaughter of Amon Goth, who was portrayed by actor Ralph Fiennes in the 1993 Steven Spielberg film, "Schindler's List." Goth had been commandant of the Kraków-Plaszów concentration camp in German-occupied Poland during World War II. After the war, he was tried in Poland and hanged.
The discovery felt "surreal," she said.
Teege walked outside the library and had to lie down on a bench. She called her husband and asked him to get her. She had brought her car with her to the library after dropping off her children at preschool, but she was unable to drive herself home.
In the following months, Teege fell into a deep depression. She said it was impossible to get out of bed or cope with mothering her children.
This knowledge had "plunged me into the largest crisis of my life," she said.
Teege would hold a photo of Goth next to her face, and look into a mirror. She could see some resemblance, and wondered if his capacity for evil had also been passed down to her. Later, she would wonder how her maternal grandmother, whom she had loved as a child, and who was in many ways open-minded, could have lived next to a concentration camp and accepted what the Nazis were doing.
Teege told her story Sunday night before an audience of more than 300 people at the Jewish Community Center on Elmgrove Avenue. After her talk and a question-and-answer session, she signed copies of her book, "My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me," during a reception.
She said it took the support of her husband, friends, and a therapist to come to terms with the truth about her grandfather. She traveled alone to Krakow to visit the memorial for the victims. "I had to honor the victims to somehow let go and get on with my life," she said.
Today, Teege is committed to telling her story and telling the truth about the Holocaust. She said she has been "frightened" by the "lack of knowledge in the US about the Holocaust."
"It is something that we have to look at, and learn from it," she said.(c)2017 The Providence Journal. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.