At a memorial stone, deep in Poland, a black woman is hugged by a group of Israeli students, and lays their roses, in memory. It is the end of a remarkable story.
Jennifer Teege grew up with many issues, having been handed over to the orphanage at four weeks old, and eventually fostered, whereupon contact with her birth mother came to an end. She had enjoyed occasional visits as a young girl, and had fond memories of her grandmother. She had not known her father.
Mother Monika, had met a young Nigerian, a friend of her mother’s transvestite lodger. But she had to work and the orphanage was the place for children of working mothers, even in Germany, even in the early seventies.
Jenny found a picture of her mother, whilst browsing the shelves of the library. By then she was nearing forty, a mother herself. Through the book she saw pictures of her mother – they had not spoken for near twenty years, and of her grandmother, in frocks she recognised from the distant past.
The next day there was a documentary on television. It was her mother. Telling a story. A story of which Jennifer knew nothing.
As a young lass Jenny had found herself studying in Israel, where she spent five largely happy years. She learned Hebrew to take her course at university, and retained very close friends from those days. But she couldn’t speak to her friends for a while.
Grandmother, Ruth Irene, had died in the early 80s, a bottle of pills. Her daughter Monika, who also studied ancient Hebrew in later life, never knew her father either, for he had died before she was born, dangling on the end of a rope. Irene took on his surname a couple of years later, in 1948, the love of her life. His marriage had ended in divorce before Irene gave birth, but they had not the time to be married.
After reading that book, watching that film, Jennifer realised her grandfather would have shot her, back then, in his brown short, her black skin. For he was the man portrayed by Ralph Fiennes, in Schindler’s List – Amon Goethe, commandant of Plaszow, murderer of Jews.
My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me – A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past is the latest memoir from the descendants of the perpetrators. That the tale ends in the company and reconciliation with the descendants of the victims, gives us hope. My regular reader may recall we visited a similar subject recently, closer to home, with the words of Derek Niemann. Jennifer Teege’s tale is a harsher one yet, family baggage a-plenty even before she discovers the nature of the cross she has to bear.
I might just have to dig out my copy of Schindler’s Ark once again.