On September 13, 1946, Amon Goeth, the former commandant of the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp, is executed for his actions during World War II after a trial and conviction by the Supreme National Tribunal of Poland. Goeth was brought to life on the silver screen in Steven Spielberg’s classic film ‘Schindler’s List’ in which he is played by actor Ralph Fiennes. The film is moving and one of the most haunting to have even been produced about the Holocaust. Survivors of the Holocaust vividly recalled memories of the remorseless killing committed by Goeth and those under his command. Several decades later, his life is revisited, not by a random author, but by his granddaughter Jennifer Teege, a child of a German mother and Nigerian father who discovers her family’s past and struggles with her own identity in this biography that is bound to leave the reader speechless.
Jennifer’s story and those of other descendants of Third Reich leaders, most notably Gudrun Himmler and Niklas Frank, shed light on an often overlooked part of the second World War. Following the Allied victory and occupation of Germany, the families of Nazi officials were often in turmoil. Hunted by the Allies, many Nazis fled to other countries, some committed suicide, others were executed and under the CIA’s Operation Paperclip program, some were even relocated to the United States. Their descendants were left to confront the individual’s past actions and the policies of the Third Reich under Adolf Hitler. And it is this past which haunts not only Jennifer, but her mother Monika, Goeth’s daughter who was only 10 months old when he was executed.
The book begins in Hamburg, and we are with Jennifer in the library as she discovers a book about Amon Goeth. Recognizing the last name, she begins to ask herself questions and puts together the puzzle that is her past. And as she learns about her grandfather, the man who struck terror in the hearts of thousands of Jews, she is faced with the grim reality that yes, her grandfather would have shot her during his reign of terror. In her youth, the remaining link to her grandfather was her grandmother Irene, who until her own death from suicide in 1983, remained loyal to Goeth. Having lived with Goeth at the camp, she conceived Monika while Goeth was still legally married to another German woman. The inner battle she fights regarding her feelings toward her late grandmother whom she loved dearly, is heartbreaking and reminiscent of the struggle of many others whose parents and grandparents committed horrific crimes under the banner of the Third Reich.
Teege’s story is an amazing one, filled with many trials and tribulations. We follow her as she struggles with depression, how to tell her Israeli friends about her past, establish relationships with both of her biological parents, love, a family of her own and ultimately, her acceptance of her family name. To the generation of today, World War II is something that’s mentioned in textbooks. But a large number of people around the world who are still alive, memories remain fresh from a time in history when the security of the world as we know it, was in danger of being completely destroyed. For people such as Monika Goeth and Jennifer Teege, the war always remains in the present in the form of Amon Goeth, whose deeds and name will continue to live in infamy. And as we learn Jennifer’s story, we are forced to ask ourselves what would we do if we were in her place? It’s an answer I’m sure many of us would struggle to find.