Jennifer Teege was killing time before picking up her son from pre-k. Browsing the shelves in a German library, she found a book called I Have to Love My Father, Don’t I? Intrigued, she pulled it off the shelf. The Life Story of Monika Goeth, Daughter of the Concentration Camp Commandant from “Schindler’s List.” Monika Goeth was her mother.
Jennifer had been adopted when she was seven years old. She remembered her biological mother and grandmother, though her Nigerian father had long since ceased to be a part of her life. Life with her adoptive family was a happy and healthy childhood, and Jennifer enjoyed close relationships with her adoptive brothers and her caring adoptive parents.
After high school Jennifer spent time in Israel, eventually moving there for college and learning Hebrew. She married Goetz, and they now had two children of their own.
Then Jennifer found it. She checked the book out of the library, devouring its pages. This was certainly her mother—and her grandmother. But who was this grandfather it talked about? She had never met her mother’s father, but here he was: Amon Goeth. Nazi camp commandant at Plasgow. The Nazi camp commandant in Schindler’s List. She had seen that movie before. Was she really related to that monster of a man?
The next night a documentary aired on television about her family. Her family. The birth family of happy memories.
Jennifer plunged into a deep depression. She had long struggled with depression and negativity, and now she felt she understood why. She spent hours researching her grandfather, and traveled to Poland to visit the home he had shared with her grandmother, and the camp he had brutally ruled.
“I read book after book, looking for answers, to find out what drove the perpetrators to act the way they did, but in the end I gave up: Yes, I found some explanations, but I would never understand it completely.”
The story just kept getting worse. Amon Goeth heartlessly killed many inmates, brutally treated the inmates who worked in his house, and never seemed to show any remorse for even the most sickening cruelty.
“He in his black uniform with its death-heads, me the black grandchild. What would he have said to a dark-skinned granddaughter, one who speaks Hebrew on top of that? I would have been a disgrace, a —- who brought dishonor to the family. I am sure my grandfather would have shot me.”
Telling Friends and Family
At Christmas, Jennifer told her adoptive family about her biological ties to the Nazis. They had never heard this part of her story. Jennifer’s adoptive brother became a close ally as she continued to wade through her family’s past. Her adoptive parents tried to be helpful, but Jennifer didn’t find their efforts as comforting. She would struggle with her relationship with them, and with her Israeli friends. They kept asking her what was going on, why she wasn’t answering their e-mails…How could she tell them about her family? How could they still call her friend after the actions of her grandfather?
Jennifer wrestled with much of this for years. Her father was a heartless terror—what does that say about her? Is she capable of the same choices? Are any of us?
“Height, lines—those things are only external. But what about on the inside? How much of Amon Goeth do I have in me? How much of Amon Goeth does each of us have in us? I think we all have a bit of him in us. To believe that I have more than others would be to think like a Nazi—to believe in the power of blood.”
Throughout the book she traces her journey from shock to peace, culminating with her renewed relationships with her Israeli friends. “But there is so much to discover in the barrenness,” she writes. And she shares what she finds with us.