Jennifer Teege, granddaughter of Nazi war criminal, speaks in Vancouver

Jennifer Teege, an African-German woman who stumbled upon a shocking family secret, speaks at the Chutzpah Festival April 2.

Teege is the author of 'My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers her Family's Nazi Past'

Amon Goeth (left), in a mugshot from 1945 and his granddaughter Jennifer Teege. (Wikipedia commons/Thorsten Wulff)

Jennifer Teege still isn't sure if it was coincidence or fate.

Teege, who was adopted at seven years of age after her mother had a brief affair with a Nigerian man, was browsing through books in a library in her hometown of Hamburg, Germany one day several years ago when a specific book caught her attention.

As Teege, then 38, began leafing through the book, titled I Have to Love My Father, Don't I?, she was stunned to recognize her biological mother and grandmother in some of the photographs.

"At that specific moment, I understood that the book I was holding in my hand was not just a random book, but it was the book that told the story of my biological mother, my biological family, and here was also my biological grandfather," Teege told host Stephen Quinn on The Early Edition.

'The butcher of Plaszow'

Her biological grandfather, she discovered, had been a Nazi — and not just any Nazi, but Amon Goeth, an exceptionally cruel SS captain known as "the butcher of Plaszow."

Goeth was also said to have trained his two dogs Rolf and Ralf to tear inmates to death. (Wikipedia Commons)

It was a massive shock for Teege, who has written about the process of uncovering and coming to terms with her family's history in the book My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers her Family's Nazi Past.

Teege, now 43, will be speaking about her book at the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre in Vancouver on April 2 as part of the Chutzpah Festival.

Teege said the discovery was "extremely frightening," and sent her into a long depression. She was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Suddenly, I was confronted with this family secret, and I was really petrified by the monstrous figure of Amon Goeth," she said.

Goeth, the commandant of the Plaszow concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, was known for his sadistic treatment and murder of the camp's prisoners. He also oversaw the killing of thousands of Jews during the clearing of the Krakow Ghetto.

After the Second World War, he was tried as a war criminal and hanged in 1946.

Portrayal in Schindler's List

Teege said it took many years to come to terms with her family's legacy.

"I'm related to him and I'm part of the bloodline, [but] it doesn't say anything about my character, about who I am," said Teege, who described Goeth as a "war criminal" who "truly deserved" to be executed.

Ralph Fiennes portrayed SS captain Amon Goeth in Steven Spielberg's film 'Schindler's List' (Universal Pictures)

Goeth and his wanton cruelty entered the public consciousness through Ralph Fiennes' portrayal of him in the 1993 movie Schindler's List — which referenced the Nazi captain's practice of shooting prisoners from the window of his office.

"Most of the people know him through the movie Schindler's List, and he became a symbol of evil. But in reality, it's not that simple, because evil is not something that is like an external power that is laid upon a person," she said.

"Everyone is responsible himself for what he does."

Grandmother was Goeth's mistress

Also challenging for Teege was coming to terms with the fact that her grandmother, Ruth Kalder, was Goeth's mistress.

Though she was sent to an orphanage at four weeks old, Teege still maintained some contact with her biological mother and grandmother, whom she said she "dearly loved."

"When I found out that she was not only my grandmother that I had good memories of, but also a woman who was capable of living together with a man as cruel as Amon Goeth, this was devastating to me," she said.

Teege said she was 12 years old when her grandmother committed suicide, but the note she left behind had "no word about the victims."

Teege said that now, years after discovering her family's dark legacy, she is "in a good place."

She said she travelled to Israel last year when her book was released there and received a warm reception from Holocaust survivors, who were pleased to see that Goeth's family line had turned into something positive.

"Today I feel very good, because I was able to make something good about it," she said.

"When I'm with them, I see that the story of my life is not only my individual life, but it really has a symbolic meaning and I feel grateful and I feel truly blessed."

With files from CBC's The Early Edition


To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Black German woman who discovered her grandfather was an infamous Nazi captain speaks in Vancouver

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story said the Plaszow concentration camp was located in Poland. In fact the Plaszow concentration camp was located in Nazi-occupied Poland.
    Apr 06, 2016 12:19 PM PT