“My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me” by Jennifer Teege and Nikola Sellmair
c.2015, The Experiment $14.95 240 pages
You’ve heard the stories. Great-Grandpa made hooch in the basement during Prohibition. Grandma was arrested for protesting back in the ’60s. Your great-grandma once chased a man off with a gun.
Scandalous then, maybe, but quaint family stories now. You cherish those rebel-rousing ancestors of yours – but in “My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me” by Jennifer Teege and Nikola Sellmair, some tales may lie buried.
At 38 years old, Teege had everything she wanted: a degree, success, a husband, two healthy sons and a bright future.
And then, while idly browsing in a nearby library, she says, “I found the book.”
Photos inside it seemed familiar – then recognizable. They were pictures of her birth mother and the grandmother she loved. And between the pictures was a story that was “the key to my family history, to my life”: the mother who gave Teege up for adoption was the child of one of Germany’s most notorious Nazis.
The grandmother who cared for Teege as a child was the mistress of Amon Goeth, commandant of Plaszów concentration camp.
Did her adoptive parents know the truth? Teege had contact with her mother until she was 7 and she knew her father was Nigerian; why didn’t anyone say anything about the bigger secret of their lives? And how could Teege ever reconcile the gentle grandma she loved with the woman who surely knew what was going on at the camp, but who chose to ignore it in favor of a life of comfort?
Though it felt like picking at a painful scab, Teege needed to know everything about her grandfather, a man she understood would have been outraged at her very existence. She toured his home near Plaszów and visited sites of former concentration camps. She looked hard at old photos and contacted her birth parents to find closure.
“I want to walk upright, to live a normal life,” she says. “There is no such thing as inherited guilt. Everybody has the right to their own life story.”
Think that’s impactful? Just wait.
Half of “My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me” is what you just learned – which is so powerful, so striking a tale that it’s impossible to tear yourself away.
Except there’s more.
Teege tells about her experiences, her memories and her heartbreaking repugnance for her ancestry, but Sellmair acts as a sort of narrator, filling in the historical gaps among Teege’s tale. Sellmair’s part of this book puts Teege’s words into perspective, in short, and so we see modern personal anguish side-by-side with past brutality and horror.
We read about warm-fuzzies, followed by breathtaking inhumanity and, in the juxtaposition of the two, we become just as baffled as is Teege about events that don’t make sense. Wow.
Without Sellmair’s half of this book, I think this would be just another biography; with her half, it’s just incredible for World War II scholars, students, and biographers. Now out in paperback, “My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me” is one amazing story.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Her self-syndicated book reviews appear in more than 260 newspapers.