Monday, March 27, 2023

Livingston— Silence overtook the auditorium as students from the Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School gave their undivided attention to the woman speaking on stage. Her name is Jennifer Teege, and it was just eight years ago at the age of 38 when her world turned upside down; Jennifer learned of her family’s brutal past, and that her biological grandfather was Amon Goeth, commandant of the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp during the Holocaust, and famously depicted in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. Goeth was famously nick-named “the butcher of Plaszow” due to his brutal nature and vicious rule.

It was a day that began like any other, the morning that Teege discovered her family’s secret. Born a black woman in Hamburg, Germany, Teege enjoyed spending time in her local library. On this particular summer trip to the library, Teege was on a mission to find a book focused on psychology. She had struggled with depression her entire life and was interested in finding material on how to cope.

While sifting through a magnitude of books, in what Teege described only as an act of “fate,” she gravitated towards one book in particular with a red cover entitled “I Have to Love My Father, Right?” She picked it up. On the cover was a photo with a woman who looked too familiar to Teege; she soon realized it was a photo of her biological mother.

After being put up for adoption at 4 months old, Teege knew little about her family history. She recalls that she was taken to a Catholic orphanage and raised by nuns. Then, at the age of three, a foster family took her in and gave her a typical childhood with two brothers. It was only at 7 years old that she was formally adopted. She attempted to maintain some relationship with her biological mother and grandmother, whom she remembers being very kind and loving. At the age of 13, Teege’s adoptive parents heard news that her grandmother, Ruth Irene Goeth, had committed suicide due to a serious illness. Teege did not know she suffered from the guilt of being a silent bystander in the Holocaust.

Growing up in Munich, Germany, Teege’s skin color was often the topic of ridicule, and so it was that after high school she set off for Paris. While there, she befriended an Israeli woman and made plans to travel to Israel the following year. Teege spent many years there, studying, working, and learning about the culture. She felt a sense of camouflage in Israel and developed a love for the land and the Jewish people.

“Blood is not something that defines you.” Teege said, as she scanned the auditorium. “You can decide who you want to be and how you want to act.” It was this idea that inspired her memoir entitled “Amon.” It was first published in Germany in 2013, and later translated into English with the title: “My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past.” She read pages from her book as though she were reliving the experience again. Today, Teege travels the world speaking about her family’s past and the importance of learning about the Holocaust. Teege believes that speaking brings the past, present and future together and she advocates for human kindness. After recalling her life story, Teege left the students with a few words of advice: “try to find out for yourselves what’s right or wrong.”

Later that same day, Teege repeated this powerful message and presentation to an auditorium full of Kushner parents and community members. The consensus was that “this was a presentation to remember.”

Sign up now!