Book Review: My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me

By: Judy Levin

The subtitle of this international bestseller delivers its drama right from the start, setting the reader up for what is truly an amazing story of personal discovery and identity crisis. Jennifer Teege knew the bare bones of her background – born in 1970, daughter of Monika Goeth and a Nigerian father. At four weeks old she was brought to a Catholic orphanage, at three taken in by a foster family, and legally adopted by them at age seven. Growing up in this very ordinary German family –mother, father and two brothers, she knew she was different with her dark skin, dark curly hair, tall stature and angular features. From childhood she remembers visits with her biological mother, and especially fond memories of times with her maternal grandmother.

On one of her frequent visits to the central library of Hamburg, Jennifer finds herself holding a book in her hands titled "I Have to Love My Father, Don’t I?” with a photograph on the cover that she recognizes as her mother. The subtitle hits her like a punch – “The Life Story of Monika Goeth, Daughter of the Concentration Camp Commandant from Schindler’s List”.  This jolting revelation arrives when Jennifer is 38 years old, married, the mother of two young sons, seemingly well-adjusted, inquisitive, friendly and outgoing. She is sent into a tailspin of questioning everything about herself - both her biological and adoptive families, withdrawing from friendships and daily life, incapable of taking care of her two sons. 

As Jennifer researches the story of her mother, daughter of Amon Goeth, she is drawn to not only think of how her mother grew up in the shadow of a monstrous father, but also how the grandmother Jennifer had loved, could have stood by this man and lived with him right next door to the Plazsow concentration camp.  

The world knows this story from Stephen Spielberg’s film version of “Schindler’s List”, and Teege herself remembers clearly her feelings upon watching this film, before she knew about her connection to this man and this place and time.

Following Teege down this rabbit hole of anger, distress, discovery and depression is difficult, but handled very well with the additional details of reporter Nikola Sellmair setting the historical scene and record in short inserts along the way.

This book is an important addition to the testimony of children and grandchildren of the Nazis who have had to face the facts of their heritage when it became known to them, and decide how they would respond to the monstrous deeds of their direct ancestors, and how to carry on as a moral human being with dignity and a secure identity.

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JUDY LEVIN - Book Reviews

Judy Levin has been facilitating discussions with book lovers for nearly 35 years. With a teaching degree and an English major put to excellent use, Judy currently facilitates and moderates discussions for 30 groups including libraries, organizations and private groups. A life-long Chicago land girl, Judy is a daughter, wife, mother, and grandmother. Follow Judy on Twitter and Facebook and see what’s trending and newsworthy.