Thursday, February 11, 2016

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me

            An international bestseller—the extraordinary memoir of a German-Nigerian woman who learns that her grandfather was the brutal Nazi commandant depicted in Schindler’s List. My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me is Teege’s searing chronicle of grappling with her haunted past. Her research into her family takes her to Poland and to Israel. Award-winning journalist Nikola Sellmair supplies historical context in a separate, interwoven narrative. Step by step, horrified by her family’s dark history, Teege builds the story of her own liberation. (Goodreads)

            Growing up in post-war Germany, particularly as an adopted child of Nigerian and German descent, was a difficult row to hoe. Add to this the complexity of feeling an innate sense of abandonment, and you have a fairly accurate assessment of Jennifer Teege’s childhood. Although Jennifer was placed with a fabulous, middle-class family, Jennifer always felt like the odd one out—she was of darker skin tone than her adoptive family, she stood head and shoulders above most children her own age, not to mention the glaring realization that she had been given up by a mother that she can vividly recall.  Even though she felt the deck had been consistently stacked against her, Jennifer courageously pushed through these barriers to become a successful and productive member of society.

            At the age of 38, Jennifer was perusing through the library when she was drawn to a book with a familiar face on the cover—the face of her biological mother. She quickly takes it from the shelves and opens the pages much to her own shock. After devouring the information inside, Jennifer is alarmed to find that her biological grandfather was none other than Nazi Commandant Amon Goeth, of Schindler’s List fame.

            Armed with this new found knowledge of her familial history, Jennifer spirals into a deep depression.  Drowning in her own self-imposed guilt, she clings to what she thought she knew about her biological family. She struggles with what she remembers and what she now knows, prompting her to reach out to her natural mother and sister. These meetings, while essential to her healing, do not go as planned, causing Jennifer to fall deeper into despair. How can it be that she descends from such evil? Is this malevolent nature hereditary? Will her Jewish friends shun her once they find out the truth?
           Before she can find the answers that will create a deliverance from this vile torment, Jennifer must face her darkest, most terrifying fears. Jennifer’s journey of understanding and eventual reinvigoration will lead her to Israel, Krakow, and deep within the nadirs of the death camp overseen by her heinous Grandfather.  Through the written word, Jennifer and her co-author, Nikola Sellmair, offer an intimate look into a complete mental and physical breakdown, while showing that in life, your genetics do not define you. You are, instead, a product of who you choose to be, and for Jennifer, that was a survivor.

           I thoroughly enjoyed this short read. It runs the gambit of emotion, from the utter devastation of discovering your family’s murderous history to the psychological liberation of learning to let it all go. I was pleasantly surprised to be so beguiled by this story that shows the Holocaust from a new and unique perspective that is typically missing in most historical accounts of that period in time. I give this book four stars for its raw, visceral nature. Through the internal digestion of her family's past, Jennifer was able to humanize such a callous and unimaginable evil that was Amon Goeth, while reconciling that the monster did not reside within her own soul.

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