‘My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me,’ a book review

By Larry Johnson

Imagine going to the library, picking up a book, and learning that your grandpa was a Nazi death camp commandant.

That’s some heavy-duty family history.

So Jennifer Teege’s book “My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me” isn’t all puppy dogs and petunias, not would you expect it to be.

What is is, though, is an interesting read. It’s also not the best-written thing I’ve ever read, because it’s sometimes redundant and occasionally a bit self-absorbed. But it’s still worth reading, I think, because it is a fairly thorough rendering of the ways parents and grandparents can have an impact on their offspring. And to be fair, Teege is in advertising, not journalism.

Teege is bi-racial, the child of a German woman and a Nigerian man. Her mother, Monika, is the child of Amon Goetz, a Nazi commandant at a Polish work camp. Goetz reportedly shot Jews from the balcony of his villa, and shipped children, the elderly, and the infirm to death camps. Goetz was hanged for his crimes at the end of the war, so Teege never knew the man herself. Her mother surrendered Teege for adoption, so she really didn’t know her, either.

Goetz’s character, though, appears in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 Holocaust film “Schindler’s List,” so Teege has something to go on besides the book about her mother. What she finds, of course, is a monster. No surprise there, but she wonders if there’s some sort of Nazi gene that would make her susceptible to the same sort of evil perpetrated by her grandfather.

Before she discovered who her grandfather was, Teege was adopted. She had minimal, unsatisfying episodes of contact with her birth mother. And she spent a considerable amount of time in Israel, and formed perhaps her most lasting relationships (aside from her eventual husband) with friends there. So there is a lot going on in this book — adoption, depression, and family all play prominent roles.

The book is co-authored with Nikola Sellmair and translated from German, so it’s no wonder that it sometimes “reads” a little awkwardly. But I found it generally interesting, and I wasn’t at all sorry that I took the time to read it.

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