My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me
A Black Woman Discovers Her Family's Nazi Past
At age 38, Jennifer Teege happened to pluck a library book from the shelf—and discovered a horrifying fact: Her grandfather was Amon Goeth, the vicious Nazi commandant depicted in Schindler’s List. Reviled as the “butcher of Płaszów,” Goeth was executed in 1946. The more Teege learned about him, the more certain she became: If her grandfather had met her—a black woman—he would have killed her.
Teege’s discovery sends her into a severe depression—and fills her with questions: Why did her birth mother withhold this chilling secret? How could her grandmother have loved a mass murderer? Can evil be inherited?
Teege’s story is cowritten by Nikola Sellmair, who also adds historical context and insight from Teege’s family and friends, in an interwoven narrative. Ultimately, Teege’s search for the truth leads her, step by step, to the possibility of her own liberation.
Praise For My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family's Nazi Past…
2015 INDIEFAB Honorable Mention for Autobiography & Memoir
“Jennifer Teege’s new memoir traces the pain of discovering her grandfather was the real-life ‘Nazi butcher’ from Schindler’s List.”—People magazine
“Haunting and unflinching . . . . A memoir, an adoption story and a geopolitical history lesson, all blended seamlessly into an account of Teege’s exploration of her roots.”—Washington Post
“A stunning memoir of cultural trauma and personal identity.”—Booklist, starred review
“Unforgettable. . . . Teege’s quest to discover her personal history is empowering.”—Publishers Weekly
“An important addition to narratives written by descendants of war criminals. A gripping read, highly recommended for anyone interested in history, memoirs, and biography.”—Library Journal, starred review
“[A] journey of self-discovery.”—Metro US
“[An] amazing story of horror and reconciliation and love.”
—John Mutter, Shelf Awareness
“[Jennifer Teege’s] memoir has much to teach us about the ordinary, intimate conditions in which political violence—and the reckoning that follows—take place.”
—Michael Rothberg, Public Books
“The high quality of the writing helps to convey this incredible but amazingly true story.”—Association of Jewish Libraries
“This book is not for the faint of heart, but it is fascinating and fair. There are no easy answers to the issues raised in this book, but they exist for both groups of descendants. Readers will be challenged to think about a major event in world history from a perspective that is rare but surely significant.”
—Gerhard L. Weinberg, History Book Club
“A powerful account of Teege’s struggle for resolution and redemption, the book [is] itself a therapeutic working-through of her history, as well as a meditation on family.”—The Independent (UK)
“Courageous. . . . the memoir invites rereading to fully absorb Teege’s painful search for answers, for a sense of identity and belonging and for inner peace. Readers won’t help but feel for her. Teege discovers, however, that history’s shattering truths have the potential to make us more whole.”—Seattle Times
“[Teege’s] message is an important one—that we have the power to decide who we are.”—Seattle Weekly
“In honest, direct, and absorbing prose, Teege and coauthor Nikola Sellmair confront highly personal repercussions of the Holocaust. . . . The book’s real triumph is in its nuanced, universally appealing portrait of an individual searching for her place in the world. Just as Teege’s chance encounter with a library book led her to question the fundamental assumptions of her life, so too the reader. . . will be forced to reconsider the wide-ranging impact of past injustices on present-day relationships.”—The Jewish Book Council
“A discomfiting but clear-eyed journey of self-discovery and identity reconciliation that first-time author Teege relates with admirable straightforwardness and equanimity.”—In These Times
“The alternating narrative between Teege and co-author Sellmair offers a refreshing and ultimately impartial analysis. Teege’s heartfelt commentary and Sellmair’s objective narrative produce a layer of balanced interpretation and insight.”—New York Journal of Books
“Teege’s story is at times heart wrenching, and yet, full of her own stark honesty and surprising wisdom as she ponders the impacts of one’s family history.”—Manhattan Book Review
“Jennifer Teege has a fascinating story.”—Washington Independent Review of Books
“Teege’s story is one of questions as much as answers. Her honest self-examination makes for a provocative, unpredictable story of an understanding still in progress.”—Columbus Dispatch
“As spellbinding as any horror fiction, but it’s true, and grippingly filled with personal details that ensnare the reader. . . . Fascinating.”—Jacksonville Clarion-Ledger
The Experiment, 9781615193080, 240pp.
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
About the Author
Nikola Sellmair graduated from Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich and has worked in Hong Kong, Washington, DC, Israel, and Palestine. She has been a reporter in Hamburg at Germany’s Stern magazine since 2000. Her work has received many awards, including the German-Polish Journalist Award, for the first-ever article about Jennifer Teege’s singular story.
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. The Washington Post describes this book as equal parts “memoir, adoption story, and geopolitical history lesson.” As Jennifer Teege researches and reflects on the Goeth family, Nazism, and her own adoption and childhood, which do you think affects her the most? Which was most interesting to you?
2. The book is presented from intertwined perspectives: Jennifer’s first-person and Nikola Sellmair’s third-person. Discuss how the two authors complement and complicate one another’s views.
3. On crossing the boundary between fiction and history, Jennifer writers, “Slowly I begin to grasp that the Amon Goeth in the film Schindler’s List is not a fictional character, but a person who actually existed in flesh and blood” (7). How has your view of the Holocaust been shaped by popular culture? Has this book changed your perspective?
4. Jennifer has trouble reconciling her memory of a beloved grandmother with the truth of a woman who lived with Goeth and ignored his atrocities. What does Jennifer’s attitude towards Ruth, and Ruth’s towards Goeth, suggest about love? Is it possible to love one part of a person while rejecting another?
5. Monika Goeth, named for a father she never met, belongs to the first generation of descendants of Nazi perpetrators. She believes it was “Goeth’s story that shaped her identity” (99). How was her experience with the family history different from Jennifer’s? How will that experience change for Jennifer’s children? Can family trauma be passed down through generations?
6. In an interview Jennifer says, “Today I see [Monika] not only as my birth mother, but also as a woman with her own story and history. She suffers from the weight of the past.” What do you think motivated Monika to put Jennifer up from adoption and to conceal the family secret from her?
7. After living in Israel, Jennifer has strong ties to its culture and people. She feels guilty about her family history and is reluctant to share it with her Israeli friends. Discuss her fears and their reactions. How would you have acted in Jennifer’s place, or reacted as her friend?