Describing Jennifer Teege’s family history as unique might be something of an understatement.
The German-born Teege, who is of German and Nigerian ancestry, is a direct descendant of infamous Nazi concentration camp commandant Amon Goeth – the same Amon Goeth portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in the 1993 film "Schindler’s List."
It was especially difficult to come to terms with the revelations, Teege said in an interview Friday, because they came out of the blue. When she was a child, no one told her about her heritage, about the acts her grandfather had committed.
"One could say it was a shock in the beginning," she said. "It took me quite a long time – years, in fact – to come to terms with the new situation, and it divided my life into a before and an after."
On Monday, Teege will be in downtown Fort Wayne at the Allen County Public Library.
Teege, author of the international best-seller "My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past," will speak about the journey through her family history.
Her appearance is sponsored by the IPFW Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Department and the Congregation Achduth Vesholom Holocaust Education Committee.
"Her book is an amazing read," said Carl Witcher, manager of the Genealogy Center at the library.
"She switches between a first- and third-person recounting of her family history journey and coming to deal with all of her background – being given up for adoption and finding out that her birth mother’s father was this infamous Nazi concentration camp commandant." In her book, Teege describes how she found out about her unique family history. While at a library in her hometown of Hamburg, Germany, in 2008, she came across a book that featured a photo of her birth mother on the cover. The book, "I Have to Love My Father, Right?," was based on an interview Teege’s mother had given about Goeth. Teege was 38 years old when she found the biography.
Since then, she’s been able to come to terms with her family history and notices how her story resonates with people who come to hear her speak.
"The story makes people think, and very often I’ve heard that when they come out of the evening, they leave with more than they came with," she said.
"For them, they learned something."
Witcher said Teege’s appearance Monday will be significant because there are many present-day ties to World War II that still exist in Fort Wayne and elsewhere.
"This is another opportunity to talk about that mid-20th-century experience of that horrific war, where so many people from all over the world died and we unleashed a bomb that we hoped we would never have to use again," he said. "A war after which we said never again will we allow a country to participate in genocide, and yet there have been instances since World War II where countries have participated in genocide."
Steven Carr, associate professor of communications at IPFW, agreed. Carr is head of the Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
"We still continue to see genocides occurring, or at least the potential for genocides today," Carr said. "Under very different contexts, we still see kind of disturbing precursors to the kinds of persecution people witnessed in Nazi Germany."
But more than that, Carr said, the questions about identity and family history that Teege addresses in her book tend to strike a chord with people today.
Witcher agreed, noting that history can be more interesting – especially for children – when learned from a personal perspective.
"When you read the letters of someone who wrote home during World War II or wrote to his wife during the Korean War, or read a story like Jennifer’s, all of a sudden, history becomes more meaningful," Witcher said.