My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me
(2013) is a work of nonfiction by Jennifer Teege and Nikola Sellmair, originally published in German and later translated into English. Teege—a mixed-race woman adopted when she was seven years old—discovers at the age of thirty-eight that her grandfather was none other than Amon Goeth, the infamous Nazi portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in the film Schindler’s List
. Using a mixture of first-person accounts written by Teege and third-person reporting by Sellmair, the book traces Teege’s discovery of her family legacy and her attempts to understand her estranged birth mother and the grandmother—Goeth’s lover—she remembers so fondly.
As the book begins, Teege is in a library in Hamburg. A book with her mother’s photo on the cover catches her eye; it is I Have to Love My Father, Don’t I? The Life Story of Monika Goeth, Daughter of the Concentration Camp Commandant from “Schindler’s List.”
Teege used the name Goeth until she was adopted at age seven; she recognizes many of the people and photos in the book. She checks the book out of the library in stunned silence, wondering if it’s possible she is descended from a man who was executed for crimes against humanity and never informed.
Teege then recounts her own personal history, born to Monika Goeth and a Nigerian man in 1970 and put up for adoption a few weeks later. At age three, she was placed with a foster family, who formally adopted her four years later.
Her husband picks her up from the library. The book then switches to Sellmair’s journalistic account of Teege and the history of Amon Goeth. Teege’s first-person account returns as she discovers that a documentary about her mother meeting a concentration camp survivor will be shown on television; she and her husband watch it. A clip from Schindler’s List
prompts Teege to recall seeing the film and her distant reaction to its horrors, now seems much more personal. Teege becomes gripped by depression, finding it nearly impossible to function or care for her family as usual. Teege and Sellmair grapple with Goeth’s history, the physical traits Teege inherited from him, and the nature of evil.
Teege and Sellmair turn their attention to her grandmother, Ruth Irene Kalder, who was introduced to Goeth by Oskar Schindler himself and quickly became his mistress, living with him next to the concentration camp, and taking Goeth’s name after his execution. Teege wrestles with the fond memories she has of her grandmother and with Irene’s declarations, when approached, that love excuses her behavior.
Teege contacts her mother, Monika; they are estranged and rarely speak. Monika talks of her struggle as a descendant of such a man, how she did not know for much of her life the true story of her family, and how her mother—the grandmother Teege remembers so fondly—was cold and often hit her when she asked too many questions. Yet, Monika abandoned her first daughter but cared for her subsequent child, working to distance herself from the Goeth family.
Teege embarks on a journey to Israel to do research and meet the descendants of those who survived Goeth. Teege had attended school in Israel and is fluent in Hebrew. She has many friends in Israel from her school days; the thought of telling them what she has learned sends her spiraling into depression and anxiety. She meets with an Israeli historian who interviewed her grandmother, learning that Ruth lived in luxury as Amon Goeth’s mistress and expressed no regrets.
Believing she must find a way of dealing with her depression and guilt before facing her friends, Teege travels to Krakow to visit the ghetto that Goeth so expertly “cleared” when the concentration camps were put into effect during World War II. She visits the Plaszów camp Goeth administrated; she had visited once before as a student and laid flowers there in private, but now she does so with a group of young students, feeling some comfort from the act. She also tours the elegant villa where her grandmother lived with Goeth in luxury. Teege is able to begin putting the revelation of her family history into perspective and sees a chance to feel liberated from the knowledge.
Teege and Sellmair combine a personal memoir and emotional journey with a more journalistic approach recounting the history of the Goeth family and Amon Goeth’s role in the Holocaust specifically. The result is a book where a detailed knowledge of history is unnecessary, and only the information necessary to understand Teege’s personal journey is offered, making this a book that anyone with any level of historical knowledge can appreciate.