In the mid-1990s, near the end of the period during which she lived in Israel, Jennifer Teege watched Steven Spielberg’s film “Schindler’s List.” She hadn’t seen the film in a movie theater, and watched it in her rented room in Tel Aviv when it was broadcast on television.
“It was a moving experience for me, but I didn’t learn much about the Holocaust from it,” she tells me by phone from her home in Hamburg, mostly in English with a sprinkling of Hebrew. “I’d learned and read a great deal about the Holocaust before that. At the time I thought the film was important mainly because it heightened international awareness of the Holocaust, but I didn’t think I had a personal connection to it.”
Indeed, it was not until years later that Teege, a German-born black woman who was given up for adoption as a child, discovered that one of the central characters in the film, Amon Goeth, was her grandfather. Many viewers recall the figure of Goeth, the brutal commander of the Plaszow concentration camp in Poland - played in the film by Ralph Fiennes - from the scenes in which he shoots Jewish inmates from the porch of his home. But Teege, who had not been in touch with either her biological mother or biological grandmother for years, had no idea about the identity of her grandfather.
The discovery came like a bolt from the blue in the summer of 2008, when she was 38 years old, as she relates in the memoir “Amon,” which was published in German in 2013 (co-authored with the German journalist Nikola Sellmair), and is due out in English this April under the title “My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past.”
Teege is scheduled to visit Israel next week to take part in events marking the book’s publication in Hebrew (from Sifriat Poalim), at the International Book Fair in Jerusalem, the University of Haifa and the Goethe Institute in Tel Aviv.
She opens her book by describing the 2008 visit to a library in Hamburg to look for material on coping with depression. While there, she happened to notice a book with a cover photograph of a familiar figure: her biological mother, Monika Hertwig (née Goeth). She immediately withdrew the book, titled “I Have to Love My Father, Right?,” and which was based on an interview with her mother.
“The first shock was the sheer discovery of a book about my mother and my family, which had information about me and my identity that had been kept hidden from me,” Teege says. “I knew almost nothing about the life of my biological mother, nor did my adoptive family. I hoped to find answers to questions that had disturbed me and to the depression I had suffered from. The second shock was the information about my grandfather’s deeds.”
A moving reflection from the youngest survivor of Schindler’s List, Leon Leyson, who recently passed away at the age of 83. The speech took place on May of 2008 at UCSD.
Holocaust survivor Leon Leyson reflects on his incredible luck that put him on the infamous “Schindler’s List,” sparing him from a disastrous fate in Nazi Germany.
Leon Leyson dies at 83; youngest survivor on Schindler’s List
Leyson was one of the 1,100 Jews saved from the Nazis by German industrialist Oskar Schindler. He taught school in Huntington Park for 39 years and shared his survival story with others.
By Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times
January 13, 2013, 8:29 p.m.
Among the 1,100 Jews saved from the Nazis by German industrialist Oskar Schindler was an emaciated 13-year-old boy named Leon Leyson, who had to stand on a box to reach the machinery in the Krakow factory where Schindler sheltered him and his family.
Leon Leyson (Bill Aron/LATimes)
The boy Schindler called “Little Leyson” survived the Holocaust to start life over in Los Angeles. He taught high school in Huntington Park for 39 years, rarely mentioning to anyone the pain and perils he experienced during the war that claimed the lives of 6 million Jews.
Then came the celebrated 1993 movie “Schindler’s List,” which ignited public interest in the stories of Holocaust survivors. Coaxed into breaking five decades of near-silence on the subject, Leyson — the youngest member of the group rescued by Schindler — embarked on a public speaking career that took him across the United States and Canada to share his story about coming of age during the Nazis’ brutal reign.
Mietek Pemper was doing his job as a secretary taking dictation. One day his boss, Amon Goeth, glanced out the window and saw that a worker did not have a full load of stones in his wheelbarrow. Mr. Goeth walked outside and shot the man to death, then returned to his desk and said, “Where were we in the text?”
Mr. Goeth was commandant of the Plaszow concentration camp just south of Krakow, Poland, and Mr. Pemper was a Jewish prisoner from Krakow whom he had forced to be his secretary. Mr. Goeth personally murdered hundreds during the course of World War II, and Mr. Pemper regarded his assignment as a death sentence.
So Mr. Pemper, with nothing to lose, plotted against Mr. Goeth. His acts of defiance included typing the names on what became known as Schindler’s List, a roster of labor camp workers who were supposedly essential to the German war effort and who were thus spared almost certain extermination.
Oskar Schindler was the flamboyant and controversial German industrialist who overcame his membership in the Nazi Party and willingness to profit from the slave labor of concentration camp prisoners to engineer the rescue of nearly 1,000 of his workers and 200 other inmates.
More on his Death in Germany at the age of 91 at AFP