Many families have secrets, some more sinister than others. German author Jennifer Teege did not learn of her family’s alarmingly dark past until she discovered it accidentally in her late 30s.
The truth deeply disturbed her: her grandfather was Amon Goeth, the Nazi commandant depicted in Schindler’s List who famously fired at passers-by from his balcony.
Teege detailed reconciling with her family’s truth as a biracial woman in her memoir “My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family's Nazi Past.” Teege will be giving a free public presentation on Thursday at Saint Louis University’s John & Lucy Cook Hall.
Teege told host Don Marsh on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air that coming to terms with her discovery required acknowledging that, “just because you have physical similarities, it doesn’t say something about your character.”
“There is no Nazi gene,” she said, adding that the tendency to tie physical similarity to personal character and identity almost serves to reinforce the racism propagated by the Nazis.
Dan Reich, curator and director of education for the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center in St. Louis County, also joined the conversation. He pushed back against the tendency to label Goeth and men like him “monsters.”
“If you call someone a monster, it sort of gives them an excuse to do monstrous things,” Reich said. “These were ordinary men … and yet they were also capable of this great evil.”
Teege cautioned against withholding the past from family members, saying, “When you have these toxic family secrets, they work on a subconscious level.”
Reich noted that Holocaust survivors are also often reluctant to share their stories of survival with their children.
“The survivor,” he explained, “did not want to damage the child – to bring darkness into the child’s life. So they withheld the horrible memories of what they had experienced.”
Unlike her family before her, Teege does not withhold her grandfather’s history from her children.
“You need to open up,” Teege said. “You can’t hide these things.”
What: An Evening with Jennifer Teege
When: 6 p.m., Oct. 25, 2018
Where: Saint Louis University-John Cook School of Business, 3674 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108
The St. Louis Holocaust Museum & Learning Center preserves the legacy of the Holocaust, educates about its causes and empowers visitors to make the world a more tolerant place by rejecting all forms of hate, racism and bigotry.
To learn more about the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, go to www.hmlc.org or call 314-442-3711.
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.