One day in a German library changed Jennifer Teege’s entire life and her sense of identity.
It was in the psychology section of the library on a normal day that she discovered a family secret that had been kept for years. Her grandfather was a Nazi.
The lecture first began with a statement from one of the staff members of the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Dr. Hank Knight who said, “This year for our 20th annual Holocaust Memorial Lecture we are going to have a story that is a little bit different than normal. We are having someone speaking that’s grandfather was a Nazi. Sometimes the most important history is the most difficult to address.” Dr. Knight then introduced Jennifer Teege to the stage to tell her story.
“If you saw me somewhere, what would be the first thing you would think of me?” Teege asked as she began her lecture on Monday in the Mabel Brown Room. “Certainly you would not think I am a German and especially not that you would think I am the granddaughter of a Nazi.”
Teege said that she is the daughter of a German mother and a Nigerian father. “At a young age I was put into an orphan institution. My parents split before I was even born and I became an orphan,” Teege said. Teege said she was adopted by a white German family at a young age and continued to stay in touch with her mother and grandmother until she was seven-years-old.
For the next several years, Teege said that she lived a pretty normal life having her foster parents taking care of her. Teege then showed the audience photographs of her in first day of school outfits and other pictures of when she was a young girl.
Then came a day in her life that she said changed her whole view of herself and her family. Teege said this led to asking herself many questions about who her family really is.
Teege said that that she noticed a book in which the title translates to “I Have To Love My Father Don’t I” by Matthias Kessler. A woman on the cover of the book caught her eye, Teege said, so she decided to look at the book a little more.
In the book, she noticed a photograph of a woman that looked just like her biological grandmother. To do some more investigating, Teege said that she looked in the back of the book and found information that matched her birth certificate. Teege said that this was the moment she realized the book was about her biological mother. The book was about a man named Amon Goeth who was a Nazi during World War II and in the book Teege’s mother questions how she can love her father despite the horrible actions that he made, Teege said.
Teege said that she could not leave the library alone after realizing this new information. “I called my friend and told her to come pick me up. The whole way home I did not say a word. Then as soon as I got home I collapsed into my bed. The I read the entire book from cover to cover in just a couple hours.”
Teege found out from reading that her grandfather worked in the concentration camp and had dogs that were trained to attack those staying in the concentration camps. She said that her grandfather, Amon Goeth, was a major part in the treatment against the populace in the concentration camps, that he was hung for being a war criminal. Teege said that she suffered depression for the next eight to nine months after finding out about the family secret and told so few people, not even her best friends.
“You have to imagine, being almost 40-years-old. You have an identity and you find out that you have a different identity. It is a lot of you. I always had a close relationship with the Jewish community. I couldn’t believe that someone in the same family line could be capable of doing something so cruel and capable of doing evil,” Teege said.
Teege said that she then looked in the mirror to find similarities in herself to her grandfather and she did. Teege said between her nose and her mouth she sees a slight similarity. However, Teege said, “Just because you have a physical similarity does not mean you are alike.”
Teege said that she then wanted to travel to the city in Germany near where the camp was that her grandfather Amon Goeth worked at. Teege said that she brought flowers and thought about the victims. Teege said that this trip was the first time she felt a little sense of relief since finding out about the secret.
“One of the hardest parts about the new revelation was finding out that my grandmother, who was always good to me and I have good memories of, could love and marry someone who does such bad things. Humans are more than just one dimensional. I am not saying what she did was right, but it shows that she is a human,” Teege said.
She went on to say that one of the most disturbing parts to her was that after her grandfather was hung for being a war criminal, her grandmother still kept a photograph of him right next to her on her desk until the day that she died.
Teege said that she feels better now after the day she found out about the major family secret. Teege said she has spoken to many Holocaust survivors throughout the years and they are typically very interested in speaking with her. Teege said that she thinks the fact that she speaks Hebrew helps to make the Holocaust survivors feel more comfortable with talking to her.
Teege said today she is feeling worried about the direction the world is going in terms of leadership. “If I look at today, I see a rise of populist leaders, racism and extremism. The warning signs are here and it is time to speak up, Whenever I hear the phrase ‘America first’ I worry,” Teege said.
Teege then finished her speech with a statement that she repeated several times throughout the evening.
“We need to learn from the past, so that we don’t repeat it in the future,” Teege said.
Many KSC students that are a part of the Holocaust and Genocide Studies program attended the lecture. Senior Victoria Todesco said, “It was a really emotional story that I have never heard anything quite like it. It was crazy to hear about just how much something could affect her in such a major way even though she had never met her grandfather.”
Colby Dudal can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org