As parents age, and often after they die, it’s not uncommon for all sorts of hidden things to come to light.
But the idea of family plays a rather large role in determining who we are. Families shape our values and often our perspective on life. What happens then when you get thrown a curve ball in the shape of a long-hidden secret that reveals you or a member of your family was not who you thought they were?
In May, the Insight program on SBS sat down with five women who discovered life changing information about their identities and where they came from. When those truths were finally revealed in many situations, it was unimaginable.
Jennifer Teege was one of those women. She knew she was adopted but it wasn’t until she was nearly 40 that she discovered who her biological grandfather was.
“I came to the orphanage when I was four weeks old and then I cam to a foster family and the foster family eventually adopted me when I was seven years old,” Teege said on the program.
Her mother had had a love affair with a Nigerian man, but they had separated before she was born.
“My mother brought me to the orphanage but we stayed in contact and I would see her sporadically on the weekends sometimes and I would also see my biological grandmother for the first years of my life,” Teege said.
It was while Teege was in a Hamburg library that a book on the shelves grabbed her attention revealing to her a shocking truth.
“I was 38 at that time and I was in a library and I saw a book and it was a book that was on the shelf and I could see the spine. The title was I Have to Love My Father, Don’t I?, and the author’s name was Matthias Kessler.
“I opened the cover and I started flipping through the pages. So there was some text but there were also photographs and I would see a picture, it was a picture of a woman and it reminded me of my mother, my biological mother, and there was another picture of a woman, she was older, and it reminded me of my biological grandmother.”
The story was about her mother’s life and the life of her family, but it was written by a journalist.
It revealed Teege’s family historical past and she discovered that her biological mother was the daughter of Amon Goeth, the Nazi concentration camp commandant of Plaszow, a concentration camp in Poland.
“Most of the people are not familiar with this name, but a lot of people have seen the movie Schindler’s List and Amon Goeth was featured by Ralph Fiennes,” Teege said.
She says only after reading the book cover to cover was she able to realise the impact of the book and about her biological grandfather, known as ‘the butcher of Plaszow’, and the atrocities he had committed. She says it took her a long time to deal with the situation and actually come to terms with the situation.
“If you have a family secret that is kept because of shame, because of fear, because of negative things… it still exists,” Teege said. “It works on a subconscious level and this makes it so difficult and it makes it so dangers and it makes it so toxic.”
Teege says she was frightened and terrified by what she discovered. She had seen the movie and knew that he was a monstrous man who had killed a lot of people.
In 2015, Teege released her own novel, My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me, where she reveals just how she grappled with her shocking past, and how it is that today she travels the world speaking of her experience. She says meeting Holocaust survivors has afforded her and them a sense of closure.
Have you ever had a long-held family secret revealed to you? What impact did it have on your life?