Saturday, 29 August 2015
Author: Jennifer Teege and Nikola Sellmair
Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: The Experiment
First Published: April 2015
First Line: "It is the look on the woman's face that seems familiar."
Book Description from GoodReads: 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.
“I am the granddaughter of Amon Goeth, who shot hundreds of people—and for being black, he would have shot me, too.” In an instant, Jennifer Teege’s life turns upside down; the shock of discovering her ancestry shatters her sense of self.
Teege is 38—married, with two small children—when by chance she finds a library book about her grandfather, Amon Goeth. Millions of people worldwide know of him through Ralph Fiennes’ chilling portrayal in Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List. Goeth was the brutal commandant of the Plaszów concentration camp—Oskar Schindler’s drinking buddy, and yet his adversary. Responsible for the deaths of thousands, Amon Goeth was hanged in 1946.
Goeth’s partner Ruth, Teege’s much-loved grandmother, committed suicide in 1983. Teege is their daughter’s daughter; her father is Nigerian. Raised by foster parents, she grew up with no knowledge of the family secret. Now, it unsettles her profoundly. What can she say to her Jewish friends, or to her own children? Who is she—truly?
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.
My Review: The title of this book piqued my interest immediately. And when I found out that it was a memoir written about a bi-racial woman who finds out her grandfather was one of the most brutal Nazis I knew I wanted to read this book because it took a look at the effects of WWII from a totally different viewpoint. It brings to light the question of how the family members of Nazi war criminals came to terms with their family member's horrific past deeds.
Teege gives her readers a glimpse into the history of her birth family. I assumed going in that I'd get a better picture of her grandfather, Amon Göth, the notorious commandant of the Płaszów concentration camp in occupied Poland (who was also one of the main characters in the movie Schindler's List). But this book isn't about Teege's grandfather because she was adopted at a young age and had never met Göth.
Instead the book focuses on how Teege comes to terms with her grandfather's past, her emotional abandonment by her birth mother, her feelings about being adopted (which never felt overly positive) and her time in Israel. I appreciated how Teege struggled to come to terms with the grandmother she loved who had also been Göth's girlfriend. I would have loved to have gone deeper into why and how the grandmother ignored the horrific situations (shootings, beatings ...) that she saw when she lived in an elegant home with Göth just ouside the concentration camp.
Unfortunately the pace throughout the book was very slow and I found that quite a lot of the book was reiterated to the reader. In the end, although the book was written sensitively and thoughtfully I thought that the information given could have been written in a short story format. I appreciated the addition of pages of documentary style information that author Nikola Sellmair provided. It added to the story and gave me a broader idea of the history as well as how others in similar situations dealt with this type of revelation.
Teege brings up some interesting points - If our grandparents commit heinous crimes do we have to share in their guilt? - but i'm not sure that she really got to the heart of the issues. In the end I wanted more from this book and finished it feeling let down. It didn't feel like Teege herself got a lot of closure from her family history. She still felt lost to me at the end of the book and I never felt connected to her while reading her story. In the end I struggled to finish this book and although the author brings up some interesting points I don't think that enough information was given to the reader to make it a compelling read.
My Rating: 2.5/5 stars