My Grandfather the Nazi


Jennifer Teege
Photo by Thorsten Wulff, with permission from Experiment Publishing

What would you do if you learned your grandparent was a war criminal? Nick Page and Liz Waid tell the story of a woman who learned a troubling thing about her past.

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Transcript


Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Nick Page.

Voice 2  

And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 3  

“Over a year has gone by since I first found the book about my mother in the library. Since then I have read everything I could find about my grandfather and the Nazi era. I am troubled by the thought of him. I think about him all of the time. Do I see him as a grandfather or as a character from history? He is both to me. He is the Płaszów camp leader: commandant Amon Goeth. And he is my grandfather.”

Voice 1  

These words are from a book by Jennifer Teege. Teege is a German woman. At the age of 38, Teege discovered that her grandfather was a famous war criminal. For her, it was the beginning of a journey to find her identity. She wrote a book about her experience. The English title is “My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me”. Today’s Spotlight is on Jennifer Teege and how she has responded to her family’s past.

Voice 2  

In the 1940s, Krakow Poland was a very dangerous place. Europe was in the middle of World War II. The ruling German party, the Nazis, were very dangerous. They especially focused on people who followed the religion of Judiasm. The Nazis forced Jews, and other people they did not like, into prison camps. Millions of people were killed in these camps. This was called the Holocaust.

Voice 1  

One camp near Krakow, Poland was called Płaszów. Płaszów camp was famous as a place where very terrible things happened. There is a famous film about this camp called “Schindler’s List”. The characters in the film were real people in the 1940’s. Teege describes one of them in a video about her book from The Experiment Publishing.

Voice 3

“There is a scene in Schindler’s List where the concentration camp commandant is standing on the balcony. He is shooting prisoners for no reason. That was my grandfather Amon Goeth.”

Voice 2  

Jennifer Teege did not know about her family history when she was a child. Teege was adopted. Her birth mother could not raise her. Teege’s mother left her at a church when she was still a baby. A family raised Teege and adopted her as their own child. She sometimes met with her birth mother and grandmother. Life was not easy for her. Her birth father was Nigerian. Teege’s skin was darker than everyone else’s in her town in Germany. She always felt like there was something in her life that she could not understand. Later, Teege grew up and travelled. She studied in Israel and learned Hebrew. But even as an adult, she struggled with depression.

Voice 1  

One day, Teege went to the library. She was looking for books about how to deal with depression. Teege saw a book with a red cover and a picture of a woman on it. As she read it, she was amazed. The book was written by her biological mother! Teege did not have much contact with her birth family. And the book contained some shocking information.

Voice 2  

Teege discovered that her grandmother had lived with the commandant of Płaszów camp as his mistress. The Nazi commandant was Amon Goeth. He was known as a man who killed many people. Worse, he seemed to kill people for fun. At the end of World War II the courts hanged him for war crimes. This man was Teege’s mother’s father. And she was his granddaughter.

Voice 1  

Discovering this family history was very difficult for Teege. At first she was very depressed. She slept all the time and did not talk. She wondered about who she really was. Then, she decided to find out more. Teege travelled to Poland. She visited her grandfather’s house near Płaszów camp. She was trying to discover what this meant for her life.

Voice 2  

Teege had many questions. She thought about her mother and grandmother. How could her grandmother love such a terrible man? Teege’s grandmother never talked badly about Goeth. But in 1983 she killed herself. Teege felt her grandmother must have had feelings that she did not talk to anyone about.

Voice 1  

Teege was able to meet her birth mother. She says that her mother felt “inherited guilt” for the things her parents did. Teege told CNN:

Voice 3  

"The second generation had a lot of trouble dealing with the Holocaust. My generation, we are different. We know the difference between responsibility and guilt. Everyone has the right to his or her own life story.”

Voice 2  

Jennifer Teege knew that she was not responsible for the terrible things her grandfather did. But she was still not sure how to feel. She asked herself if she was really so different from him. She explores this idea in her book:

Voice 3  

“Do I look like him? I imagine myself standing next to him. We are both tall: I am six foot. He was six foot four — a giant in those days. He is in his black uniform with its death-heads - me the black grandchild.

What would he have said to a dark-skinned granddaughter, who also speaks Hebrew, the language of the Jewish people? I would have brought dishonor to the family. I am sure my grandfather would have shot me.”

Voice 1  

Teege has continued to think about her family history. She talks to her friends about it. Many of them cry with her. But they do not change how they feel about Teege. She now has two young sons of her own. She tells them about their family history. She told the BBC:

Voice 3  

“I have tried not to leave the past behind. I put it in a place where it belongs. I do not forget it, but I do not let it ruin my life.”

Voice 2  

The most important thing Teege has learned is that who and where she comes from does not make her who she is. She may look like her cruel grandfather. But she has her own experiences and her own spirit. She asks a question that every person can ask:

Voice 3  

“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. They believe only in the power of blood.”

Voice 1  

How has your past and your family influenced you? You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. You can also comment on our Facebook page - just search for Spotlight Radio.

Voice 2  

The writer of this programme was Rena Dam. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this programme and voiced by Spotlight. You can hear this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This programme is called ‘My Grandfather the Nazi'.

Voice 1  

Look for our listening app in the Google Play Store and in iTunes. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight programme. Goodbye.

Question:

How has your family influenced who you are? Is it a good influence or a bad one?

Comments


Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on October 29, 2017

Unfortunately, I have a bad influenced from family because the tribal wars.
I think that the Holocaust against the Jwes people was a bad crime.
I think that the children not carrying resbosibilities of parents.
GOG bless you

Avatar Spotlight
Giant
said on November 01, 2017

Undoubtedly , my gray family had their influence on my personality, I was raised as a hard-working guy , specially my Mom who lmplented in me to work hard on my study , and to be always proud who I am . My parents weren’t perfect but they had a big struggle trying to raise me in perfect manner .
Frankly , it was very good influence .
Thank you for your efforts too !

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on November 17, 2018

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: to answer to the questions below
Date: Saturday 17, November 2018
São Paulo city, São Paulo Brazil

Dear Liz Waid, Nick Page, Rena Dam, and Michio Ozaki:

First, I want to thank you for bringing us this excellent article, thank you.
Question 1 - How has your family influenced who you are? Well, I am a mirror of my father. He was a quiet man and he never lost his temper. So, he always kept in silent and calm. Of course, he spoke when it was necessary and when someone asked him to speak.
Question 2 - Is it a good influence or a bad one? I think it is good because sometimes, it is better to think than speak. But there is a good thing about him that I do not have. He was expert in mathematics but I am not goog in it.
Your regards,
Severino Ramos
From Brazil

Avatar Spotlight
Honneur
said on November 18, 2018

I do not believe in this story that the younger generation has any kind of responsibility for acts and facts of the past. First because the historical moment is completely different and the people are also different. I am not responsible for what my grandfather did, because I am not my grandfather and I did not live the world he lived. I can, at any rate, regret some of his attitudes, but I can not condemn or even acquit him. I can not, also, believe in reports from other people, because any report always has a personal and non-transferable bias.
Thank you for more this wonderful text and lesson.