Posts Tagged ‘grandfather’

Guy Martin: my grandfather fought for the Nazi

December 17th, 2015

An authentic antidote to the high jinks of Messrs Clarkson and co, he went on to renovate a narrow boat, reconstruct a beached Spitfire and investigate Industrial Revolution technology. And most eye-catchingly of all, in Speed with Guy Martin on Channel 4, he attempted to break a wacky series of hair-raising records on land, water, ice and in the air.

Martin’s grandfather was conscripted by the Nazis in 1941. No one in the presenter’s family had a clue

One of the most impressive of his feats was breaking the British record for outright speed on a bicycle – he hit an extraordinary 113 mph by using the slipstream created by a specially-modified lorry. (He has since said that he wants to reach 200mph.)

He also broke the British hovercraft speed record on Loch Ken, in Dumfries and Galloway, and the speed record for a toboggan, although, when he attempted to break the world record for the hovercraft, a change in wind direction saw him fly 100ft into the air at 76 mph, damaging the craft and forcing Martin to abandon ship.

A show on Channel 4 next year will see him attempting the world speed record for the Wall of Death, the epic fairground stunt that involves riding a motorcycle around a vertical wall. Martin – who, on top of his crash this year, broke his back and eight ribs in 2010 in a crash on the Isle of Man – is fearless.

But, outside of these adrenalinefuelled pursuits, he has a simple life. Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is reluctant to become a full-time TV presenter, doesn’t even own a television (or a smartphone) and, while out on location, often spurns the hotel to sleep in his van with his dog. But it’s exactly this combination of eccentricity and humility that makes him so popular with viewers.

What choice did he have? You look at the bare bones of it, that’s all he could have done. I’d have done the same

Guy Martin

Knowing a good thing when they see one, Channel 4 persuaded him earlier this year to film a travelogue. Our Guy in India took Martin on a 1,000-mile motorbike trip around the country. And now he has made his most personal documentary yet.

“After Our Guy in India they asked me if I wanted to shoot abroad again. I said, ‘I’m not a big holiday person but I’ve always wanted to go to Latvia. Just to find out what it’s like.’” Researchers delved a little deeper and found that there was a much more compelling programme than a bog-standard portrait of modern Latvia.

It turned out Martin’s late grandfather, Walter Kidals, whose original first name was Waldemars, came from Latvia and had been conscripted by the Nazis in the Second World War.

He had then spent two years in a Belgian prisoner-of-war camp, before arriving in Hull as a refugee in 1947. No one in Martin’s family had a clue. Martin’s main memory is of a man who liked his shed and “didn’t say much”.

“His English wasn’t the best,” he says. “He could get his point across. He was just different, just the way he ate and the way he drank his tea. He’d mix anything with anything.” Walter shared so little that even his wife Lill, now 92, had no idea that he was an orphan.

Like tens of thousands of Latvians, when Germany occupied the country in 1941, Walter was offered a choice: fight for the Nazis, or face death. At 80,000, the Latvians formed one of the largest national groups of Nazi conscripts. What would his grandson have done? “You had no choice,” he says. “What other option was there? You look at the bare bones of it, that’s all you could have done. I’d have done the same.”

• Sons suffering the sins of their Nazi fathers

After the war Latvian soldiers were exonerated by the Nuremberg trials and surviving conscripts were allowed to settle in the US and Britain as political refugees.

For Walter, there was no option of going home to a country which was now part of the Soviet Union. To simulate the kind of welcome his grandfather would have received, Martin visited a former prison which offers a quasitotalitarian experience in which curious tourists are brutalised and shouted at in Russian.

“There was no friendly atmosphere at all. We didn’t have a chat beforehand. They wouldn’t shake my hand, told me to sign this form, and from there on it was a bit of a battering. I genuinely was bloody scared.”•• •

In Our Guy in Latvia Martin once more reveals himself as a hugely likeable one-off. His down-to-earth aura, and eagerness to throw himself into anything, would have brought a welcome injection of unmediated spontaneity to Top Gear, so it is all the more regrettable that he turned down Chris Evans’s invitation to join. Instead, he’s sticking to fixing lorries while nipping off to make programmes for Channel 4. “It’s not for me,” he says. “I’m sure it would have been good for a pay cheque but I think I’ve got the best job in the world.

“Television opens up some bloody great doors. That’s the plus. The minus is the attention it brings. It is a bit of a pain now just doing a few hours of television a year. I don’t want to be famous. And that would have been a whole new level if I had gone and done Top Gear. It would be just stepping into Jeremy Clarkson’s shoes.

“What we do on Channel 4 is like our own version. If they keep coming up with interesting ideas I’ll do them. If they come up with crap ideas I’ll just go to work.”

Our Guy in Latvia is on Channel 4 on December 14 at 9pm


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Guy Martin: my grandfather fought for the Nazis

December 15th, 2015

An authentic antidote to the high jinks of Messrs Clarkson and co, he went on to renovate a narrow boat, reconstruct a beached Spitfire and investigate Industrial Revolution technology. And most eye-catchingly of all, in Speed with Guy Martin on Channel 4, he attempted to break a wacky series of hair-raising records on land, water, ice and in the air.

Martin’s grandfather was conscripted by the Nazis in 1941. No one in the presenter’s family had a clue

One of the most impressive of his feats was breaking the British record for outright speed on a bicycle – he hit an extraordinary 113 mph by using the slipstream created by a specially-modified lorry. (He has since said that he wants to reach 200mph.)

He also broke the British hovercraft speed record on Loch Ken, in Dumfries and Galloway, and the speed record for a toboggan, although, when he attempted to break the world record for the hovercraft, a change in wind direction saw him fly 100ft into the air at 76 mph, damaging the craft and forcing Martin to abandon ship.

A show on Channel 4 next year will see him attempting the world speed record for the Wall of Death, the epic fairground stunt that involves riding a motorcycle around a vertical wall. Martin – who, on top of his crash this year, broke his back and eight ribs in 2010 in a crash on the Isle of Man – is fearless.

But, outside of these adrenalinefuelled pursuits, he has a simple life. Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is reluctant to become a full-time TV presenter, doesn’t even own a television (or a smartphone) and, while out on location, often spurns the hotel to sleep in his van with his dog. But it’s exactly this combination of eccentricity and humility that makes him so popular with viewers.

What choice did he have? You look at the bare bones of it, that’s all he could have done. I’d have done the same

Guy Martin

Knowing a good thing when they see one, Channel 4 persuaded him earlier this year to film a travelogue. Our Guy in India took Martin on a 1,000-mile motorbike trip around the country. And now he has made his most personal documentary yet.

“After Our Guy in India they asked me if I wanted to shoot abroad again. I said, ‘I’m not a big holiday person but I’ve always wanted to go to Latvia. Just to find out what it’s like.’” Researchers delved a little deeper and found that there was a much more compelling programme than a bog-standard portrait of modern Latvia.

It turned out Martin’s late grandfather, Walter Kidals, whose original first name was Waldemars, came from Latvia and had been conscripted by the Nazis in the Second World War.

He had then spent two years in a Belgian prisoner-of-war camp, before arriving in Hull as a refugee in 1947. No one in Martin’s family had a clue. Martin’s main memory is of a man who liked his shed and “didn’t say much”.

“His English wasn’t the best,” he says. “He could get his point across. He was just different, just the way he ate and the way he drank his tea. He’d mix anything with anything.” Walter shared so little that even his wife Lill, now 92, had no idea that he was an orphan.

Like tens of thousands of Latvians, when Germany occupied the country in 1941, Walter was offered a choice: fight for the Nazis, or face death. At 80,000, the Latvians formed one of the largest national groups of Nazi conscripts. What would his grandson have done? “You had no choice,” he says. “What other option was there? You look at the bare bones of it, that’s all you could have done. I’d have done the same.”

• Sons suffering the sins of their Nazi fathers

After the war Latvian soldiers were exonerated by the Nuremberg trials and surviving conscripts were allowed to settle in the US and Britain as political refugees.

For Walter, there was no option of going home to a country which was now part of the Soviet Union. To simulate the kind of welcome his grandfather would have received, Martin visited a former prison which offers a quasitotalitarian experience in which curious tourists are brutalised and shouted at in Russian.

“There was no friendly atmosphere at all. We didn’t have a chat beforehand. They wouldn’t shake my hand, told me to sign this form, and from there on it was a bit of a battering. I genuinely was bloody scared.”•• •

In Our Guy in Latvia Martin once more reveals himself as a hugely likeable one-off. His down-to-earth aura, and eagerness to throw himself into anything, would have brought a welcome injection of unmediated spontaneity to Top Gear, so it is all the more regrettable that he turned down Chris Evans’s invitation to join. Instead, he’s sticking to fixing lorries while nipping off to make programmes for Channel 4. “It’s not for me,” he says. “I’m sure it would have been good for a pay cheque but I think I’ve got the best job in the world.

“Television opens up some bloody great doors. That’s the plus. The minus is the attention it brings. It is a bit of a pain now just doing a few hours of television a year. I don’t want to be famous. And that would have been a whole new level if I had gone and done Top Gear. It would be just stepping into Jeremy Clarkson’s shoes.

“What we do on Channel 4 is like our own version. If they keep coming up with interesting ideas I’ll do them. If they come up with crap ideas I’ll just go to work.”

Our Guy in Latvia is on Channel 4 on December 14 at 9pm


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My Nazi grandfather would have murdered me

April 13th, 2015

Flicking through its pages, she realised with a start that a photo of a woman in a summer dress perfectly matched the picture she had of her grandmother, Ruth Irene. What’s more, the photo of the author on the cover of the book – entitled I Have To Love My Father, Right? – look familliar, too. It was that of her birth mother, Monika.

“It was this immediate physical shock,” she told me. “I felt this physical need to just lie down. I had to leave the library.

“I became weak because I knew that this book would give me so many answers. When you grow up with so many open questions in your head, this is something that turns your life upside down.”

Jennifer Teege and her adoptive brother Matthias

Teege was so startled to find any information about her family that the subject matter of the book almost passed her by completely.

It only hit her as her husband drove her home.

Her grandfather, Amon Goeth, had been a Nazi: the commandant of Plaszow concentration camp.

Teege recalls staying up all night researching his story online and feeling like she had “entered a chamber of horrors”. She discovered that Goeth, called ‘the Butcher of Plaszow’ was “a man who killed people by the dozen and, what is more, enjoyed it”.

He quickly rose through the Nazi ranks, slaughtering 2,000 Jews during the clearing of the Krakow Ghetto and up to 12,000 as the chief of Plaszow (a 200-acre camp built by the Nazis on top of a Jewish cemetery near Krakow, Poland).

What’s more, he was a natural sadist. He trained his two dogs, a Great Dane and an Alsatian called Rolf and Ralf, to tear humans apart and would often ride around the camp on his white horse wearing white gloves and a white scarf. His costume was a sign to the prisoners that he was in a particularly vicious mood.

The Polish prosecutor at his trial in 1946, described him as: “a man who has become a legend in his lifetime for being the modern incarnation of the biblical Satan”.

Goeth’s special brand of horror was given lasting infamy by Steven Spielberg in the film Schindler’s List, with Ralph Fiennes playing the role.

His name has stuck in the public consciousness thanks to one scene in particular – where he takes potshots at prisoners from his bedroom balcony, described as “his personal form of morning exercise” in Teege’s own book, My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me (an English translation of which has just been published in the UK to coincide with Yom HaShoah, the Jewish Holocaust remembrance day).

Teege in Israel in 1992, aged 16

During that night of feverish internet searches, Teege, now 44, remembered having watched Schindler’s List in Israel. She spent four years there as a student and learnt to speak fluent Hebrew.

And by another astonishing coincidence, or twist of fate – Teege is still undecided – in the course of her research, she discovered that her biological mother was appearing in a TV documentary about Goeth’s death camp the following evening.

Teege desperately wanted to find an explanation for her grandfather’s behaviour. She assumed – hoped, even – that she would find “some traumatic incident in his childhood that would explain his cruelty”.

But Goeth’s upbringing was perfectly normal.

Nor could she find any signs of remorse in either grandparent. Goeth’s final act was a Nazi salute and shout of “Heil Hitler!” before he was hanged in 1946.

Teege’s grandmother, Ruth, lived happily in Goeth’s camp villa as his loyal mistress, after the couple were introduced by Oskar Schindler. They never married but Ruth went to great efforts to take her fiance’s surname after his death, a name Teege herself had until her adoption at the age of seven.

Right up until the end, when she committed suicide in 1983, Ruth had a picture of Goeth hanging above her bed. She used to gush about her lover as “a real gentleman”. He had impeccable table manners, she remembered fondly.

According to one of Goeth’s Jewish former maids: “Most of the time, [Ruth] was busy lying around with a cucumber mask on her face. She would turn the music way up so that she couldn’t hear the shots.”

Spielberg portrayed her burying her head in the pillow while Goeth was shooting from his balcony.

Teege is keen to point out that, after the war, Ruth lived with an African and a gay man. “So she was open-minded. I have tried to analyse her. There’s so much complexity that you can’t define her.”

Unsurprisingly, Teege was unable to leave the house for two weeks following her toxic discovery. She eventually sought help from a psychoanalyst who burst into tears during their first meeting.

But it wasn’t her grandfather’s atrocities that shook Teege most. Rather it was her grandmother’s complicity.

The Nazi mistress was the person who “mattered most” to Teege when she was a fearful and neglected child – who held her hand and “radiated kindness” until she was adopted.

“Her character is so interesting,” Teege says. “She represents the majority of people during the war who followed the system.

“To differentiate yourself from my grandfather is very easy. Within my grandmother, it’s easier to see oneself. It begs the question: How would I have behaved?”

Teege’s grandmother and Goeth’s mistress, Ruth

Teege, a married mother of two who has established a successful career in advertising, has wrestled with the notion that she has Goeth’s blood flowing through her veins.

She was disturbed by an article she read in 2010, detailing how Bettina Goering – the great-niece of Hitler’s second-in-command – had been sterilised so she would “not pass on the blood of a monster”.

“I feel a bit sorry for her,” says Teege haltingly. “This in my eyes is so fundamentally wrong. Because you can decide who you want to be, and to set a different example is better than to cut the blood line. Actually it was one of the quotes that inspired me to share my story with the public.”

One also gets the sense that, with her book, she is trying to reach out to her mother. Monika agreed to meet her following the library discovery, but she has since shunned her daughter’s approaches.

Teege says with a smile: “I hope she has read it.”

She also insists that the story will always have relevance:

“I hope that society has developed, but look what is happening now with Islamic State. I mean, there are people here from London – they grew up normally and they are following an ideology. There is still a danger out there that people follow blindly.”

Writing the book, along with copious therapy, has helped Teege come to terms with her poisonous inheritance.

But it is also helping others.

“I met one survivor at my last event in Israel,” she says. “He was in the front row and during the Q&A, his daughter told me that he was a survivor from Plaszow and his father was the personal shoemaker of my grandfather. He said my grandfather was his worst nightmare as a child and he wasn’t sure at first whether he wanted to come to this event.

“In his words, he said, ‘You are my birthday present’.

He was turning 80 the following week and he said he was really happy that he met me, because he could see that history does not have to repeat itself.”

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me, by Jennifer Teege and Nikola Sellmair, is published by Hodder & Stoughton (£20)


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