Cover image for Destined to witness : growing up black in Nazi Germany
Title:
Destined to witness : growing up black in Nazi Germany
Author:
Massaquoi, Hans J.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W. Morrow, [1999]

©1999
Physical Description:
xvi, 443 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Language:
English
Personal Subject:
ISBN:
9780688171551
Format :
Book

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DD78.B55 M38 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

A great deal of Holocaust survival stories revolve around disguise--many Jews were forced into impersonation by the desperateness of their plight. Imagine if a person, by the accident of birth, was deigned a target of Nazi hatred but hadn't an option of disguise.

The son of a well-to-do African and a white German nurse, Hans lived a privileged toddler's life befitting the grandson of a diplomat. Concern for Hans's frail health caused his mother to remain with him in Germany when his grandfather and father were compelled to return to Liberia. He and his mother become part of Hamburg's poor working class, forced to live in a cramped attic apartment without hot water and electricity. But their change in social status was to be only the beginning of their hardships.

For twelve agonizing years following Hitler's rise to power, Hans, like all non-Aryans, was dehumanized and devalued by the Nazis. Living in constant fear of death, by either the Gestapo executioners or Allied bombs, Hans's existence became increasingly precarious until liberation by British troops in 1945.

What sets Hans's story apart from other memoirs of the Holocaust era is that his high visibility made him an easily recognizable target, stranded without the comfort of a racial community of any sort. Destined to Witness is a memoir filled with courage, feeling, and intelligence that will touch readers everywhere.A great deal of Holocaust survival stories revolve around disguise--many Jews were forced into impersonation by the desperateness of their plight. Imagine if a person, by the accident of birth, was deigned a target of Nazi hatred but hadn't an option of disguise.

The son of a well-to-do African and a white German nurse, Hans lived a privileged toddler's life befitting the grandson of a diplomat. Concern for Hans's frail health caused his mother to remain with him in Germany when his grandfather and father were compelled to return to Liberia. He and his mother become part of Hamburg's poor working class, forced to live in a cramped attic apartment without hot water and electricity. But their change in social status was to be only the beginning of their hardships.

For twelve agonizing years following Hitler's rise to power, Hans, like all non-Aryans, was dehumanized and devalued by the Nazis. Living in constant fear of death, by either the Gestapo executioners or Allied bombs, Hans's existence became increasingly precarious until liberation by British troops in 1945.

What sets Hans's story apart from other memoirs of the Holocaust era is that his high visibility made him an easily recognizable target, stranded without the comfort of a racial community of any sort. Destined to Witness is a memoir filled with courage, feeling, and intelligence that will touch readers everywhere.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Massaquoi, a man of mixed racial heritage, survived 12 years of Nazi terror in Germany during World War II. The son of a German mother and a Liberian father, he grew up in a country that became progressively obsessed with racial purity, where Massaquoi was unable to escape racist taunts and hostilities. He recalls his early, naive acceptance and even admiration of Hitler, even in the face of creeping racial animosities, primarly aimed at Jews but slowly encompassing other non-Aryan people as well. By adolescence, embittered by his perpetual outsider status, Massaquoi had come to grips with the reality of his situation and that of his mother. Through sports figures Joe Louis and Jesse Owens, Massaquoi attached his racial identity to that of black Americans and became obsessed with coming to the U.S. After the war, he settled temporarily in Liberia with his father's family before journeying to the U.S. and eventually becoming a reporter with Ebony magazine. Massaquoi's background and experiences provide incredible context to this personal story of overcoming racism. --Vanessa Bush


Publisher's Weekly Review

In a unique addition to the literature of life under the Third Reich, Massaquoi, a former managing editor of Ebony magazine, chronicles his life as the son of a German nurse and Al-Haj Massaquoi, the son of the Liberian consul general to Germany. Soon after his birth in Hamburg in 1926, the author's father returned to Liberia to bolster his family's failing stature in national politics, leaving his wife and son to grapple with everyday life amid the rise of fascism in Germany. The Reich's racial politics were so steadfastly drummed into German schoolchildren that the young Hans quickly acquired an anti-Semitic outlook only to realize that he was also subject to discrimination as a non-Aryan. He sought intellectual escape from German nationalism through reading books by Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle and James Fenimore Cooper; in his idealization of African-American athletes Joe Lewis and Jesse Owens; and by learning how to play jazz and his involvement with the "swingboys" officially condemned as purveyors of "degenerate" music and dance. Massaquoi and his mother survived both Nazi rule and the devastating 1943 British bombing of Hamburg. He tells of life after the war, of befriending black American soldiers, of moving to Liberia in 1948 and of his subsequent move to America in 1950, where he came to feel that racism was as prevalent as it had been under the Third Reich. Thoughtful and well written, Massaquoi's memoir adds nuance to our comprehension of 20th-century political and personal experience. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Massaquoi, the retired managing editor of Ebony, presents an unusual perspective on the Nazi era. The son of an "Aryan" mother and an African diplomat, he grew up in Germany on the wrong side of Nazi racial ideology, confronting not only the bigotry of his countrymen but the danger of Allied bombs on a nearly daily basis. Even after his postwar immigration to the United States and service with the U.S. Army in Korea, the author sees his life as one of witness to racial inequality. His journey from Nazi Germany to the post-Civil Rights United States makes for interesting reading, recounted with an eye for detail and a humanity that is appealing. Although there were many individuals like Massaquoi, few took the path he did, and probably few could write about it with such force. Recommended for public and academic libraries.ÄFrederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Destined to Witness Growing Up Black In Nazi Germany Chapter One One beautiful summer morning in 1934, I arrived at school to hear our third-grade teacher, Herr Grimmelshauser, inform the class that Herr Wriede, our Schulleiter (principal), had ordered the entire student body and faculty to assemble in the schoolyard. There, dressed as he often was on special occasions in his brown Nazi uniform, Herr Wriede announced that "the biggest moment of [our] young lives" was imminent, that fate had chosen us to be among the lucky ones privileged to behold "our beloved fuhrer Adolf Hitler" with our own eyes. It was a privilege for which, he assured us, our yet-to-be-born children and children's children would one day envy us. At the time I was eight years old and it had not yet dawned on me that of the nearly six hundred boys assembled in the schoolyard, the only pupil Herr Wriede was not addressing was me. Taking Wriede at his word, the entire school soon buzzed with anticipation of this rare, totally unexpected treat of a virtually school--free day. We had all been thoroughly indoctrinated in the Fuhrer's heroic rise to power and his superhuman efforts to free Germany from the enslavement endured since its defeat in World War I and to restore its old glory and preeminence. Already we had come to feel the Fuhrer's omnipresence. His likenesses appeared everywhere--throughout the school, in public buildings of the city, on posters and postage stamps, in newspapers and magazines. Even more vivid were his by now familiar voice on radio and his compelling appearances in the weekly newsreels at the neighborhood cinema. Now we would get a chance to see with our own eyes this legendary savior and benefactor of the Vaterland To most of the students, myself included, the thrills in score for us seemed beyond our ability to comprehend. Buoyed by our enthusiasm and flanked by our teachers, we marched for nearly an hour to apoint along Alsterkrugchaus- see, a major thoroughfare leading to Hamburg's airport in suburban Fuhlsbuttel. The entire route from the airport to Hamburg's venerable Rathaus downtown, which the Fuhrer's fleet of cars was scheduled to travel, was lined with thousands of nearly hysterical people. They were kept from spilling into the street by stern brownshirts who, with clasped hands, formed an endless human chain. Seated along the curb behind the SS and SA troopers, we children endured an agonizing wait that dragged on for several hours. But just as our strained patience was reaching the breaking point, the roar of the crowds began to swell to a deafening crescendo. A nearby 55 marching band intoned the opening fanfares of the "Badenweiler Marsch," a Hitler favorite designated as the official signal of the Fuhrer's arrival. The moment everyone had been waiting for was here. Standing erect beside the driver of his black Mercedes convertible, his right arm outstretched in the familiar Nazi salute. the Fiihrer rolled past at a brisk walking pace, his eyes staring expressionlessly ahead. The "biggest moment in our lives" for which Principal Wriede had prepared us had lasted only a few seconds, but to me they seemed like an eternity. There I was, a kinky-haired, brown-skinned eight-year-old boy amid a sea of blond and blue-eyed kids, filled with childlike patriotism, still shielded by blissful ignorance. Like everyone around me, I cheered the man whose every waking hour was dedicated to the destruction of "inferior non-Aryan people" like myself, the same man who only a few years later would lead his own nation to the greatest catastrophe in its long history and bring the world to the brink of destruction. Momolu Massaquoi The story of how I became part of that fanatically cheering crowd did not begin on January 19, 1926, the day of my birth. Neither did it begin, as one might suspect,in Hamburg, the city of my birth. Instead, it began five years earlier, more than three thousand miles away in the West African capital city of Monrovia, Liberia, with the shrewd decision of a president to rid himself of a potential political rival, Momolu Massaquoi, my paternal grandfather-to-be. Charles Dunbar King, the fourteenth president of Liberia, had for some time considered the rising popularity of the ambitious Massaquoi as potentially dangerous. The American-educated Massaquoi had been the hereditary ruler of the indigenous Vai nation, which straddled Liberia and the adjacent British colony of Sierra Leone. At age thirty after having been forced in a tribal dispute to abdicate the crown he had inherited upon the death of his parents, King Lahai and Queen Sandimannie, and that he had worn for ten years as Momolu IV, he had sought his fortune in Monrovian politics. He helped his cause immensely by divesting himself of five tribal wives and marrying a young beauty, Rachel Johnson, who--by a fortuitous coincidence--happened to be the politically and financially well-connected granddaughter of Hilary W.R. Johnson, the country's first Liberian-born president. The marriage proved gratifying not only to Massaquoi's boundless appreciation for feminine beauty, but to his ambitions, for it gave him something without which no one in Liberia could hope to succeed in politics--social acceptance by the country's "America-Liberian" ruling class. ("America-Liberian" was the name favored by the descendants of American slaves who had founded the republic in 1847 before setting up a rigid caste system designed to keep the indigenous population in a perpetual state of political and economic impotence.) Aided by his political savvy, charm, and rugged good looks, Massaquoi quickly advanced with a number of appointments to important government posts, including Secretary of the Interior, charged with the responsibilities of bringing tribal chiefs and the Liberian government closer together, investigating tribal grievances, and settling intertribal disputes. With broad popular support from his adopted Americo-Liberian class as well as his tribal people in the hinterland, the aristocratic Massaquoi became a political power to reckon with. He also became the subject of whispers in high political circles that touted him as the next occupant of the Executive Mansion. Some of these whispers reached President King, who decided that it was high time to put an end to them. The question was how? Before long, he would have his answer. Destined to Witness Growing Up Black In Nazi Germany . Copyright © by Hans Massaquoi. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.