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Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany Hardcover – October 20, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

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.AFrederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1st edition (October 20, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688171559
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688171551
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (170 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #713,906 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Ron Hunka on August 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Destined to Witness Hans Massaquoi ISBN 0-688-17155-9 1999
"Destined to Witness" is the story of the son of a black Liberian diplomatic official and a white German woman growing up in Nazi times in Germany. Were this story not so convincingly told, one would have to question that the events of Mr. Massaquoi�s life could have really taken place. But they did take place. Not only did the author survive the Hitler years without being killed by the Nazis, but he survived 200 British and American bombing raids that destroyed half of the Hamburg�s homes, including his own, and killed 41,000 civilians.
From this book, one learns not only about Massaquoi�s experience with racism in Germany in the Hitler era but about British and French colonial racism in Africa and racism in the United States in the South and in Chicago after the war. Hans Massaquoi would have us understand that these instances of racism were not unrelated.
This book begins with Hans Massaquoi�s early schoolboy experiences growing up in Hamburg. It recounts the terrible racial taunting of pro-Nazi classmates and teachers. In one of his worst school episodes he tells how one teacher told him that after the Nazis had finished with the Jews they would take care of the likes of him. Massaquoi, growing up in the German culture, wanted to be like the other boys to a certain extent. At one point, he was rejected for admission to the Hitler Youth Corp on the basis of his race. Although initially Hitler was a hero to him, later he came to understand more clearly what Hitler represented.
This book describes a number of interesting historical events that Massaquoi witnessed.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Theodore Christopher on August 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I am not an avid reader of biographies, but this particular book was too enticing to pass up. I was not disappointed at all. If you are intrigued about the Nazi era, Hitler's rise to power, or how minorities coped with that, then this is definitely the book for you! From his very first memories of childhood, and right through the end of the war, I almost could not put it down. His real life story was better than any fiction book could have been. He describes: surroundings, family, friends, and unpleasant situations in such excellent detail that you really feel like you are there with him. Moreover, the story flows so smoothly you don't feel like you are missing anything, nor does the book drag along either.
I have to admit that before I read this book I had no idea there were ANY blacks living in Germany at that time, and if I imagined there had been, then I thought surely they wouldn't have survived. Obviously this book blew that misconception of mine right out of the water. I was actually surprised that he was treated as decently as he was by some of his fellow citizens and neighbors. Going by this book it looks like blacks might have been treated worse in the Jim Crow South, than in some areas of Nazi Germany, ironic given the principles each country was fighting for. My only drawback was that this book lost a little of its grab for me after the war was over, so it was slightly anticlimactic at that point. Nevertheless, that in no way diminishes my overall satisfaction with this very inspiring story. Therefore, I cannot give it anything less than the full 5 stars.
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45 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Coco on February 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a wonderful book I truly enjoyed reading it. I am German, 44 years, my son is German 25 years with a Afro American father. I raised him in Germany and he is a true black German.We experienced together racism and I saw ourselves a lot in this book.Today we live in the USA and sadly he learned much more about racism here than ever before in his life.I am saddened by the thought that his goal is to go back to Germany because of these reasons - this is just to show you how times have changed. I hope for all of us that my beautiful brown babies my grandchildren that I will have one day never will have to experience anything like Hans or Frederick Douglass.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on December 12, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a Mischling, I want to thank the author for sharing his experiences. Even so born after the war, I share many of his experiences, both in Germany and in the USA. Racism I didn't experience until I came to the US, covertly from White and openly from Blacks. The pictures in the book, substituting a little balck girl, could be mine, the experiences of reading Uncle Tom's Cabin and Huckleberry Finn, could be mine. Reading the book made me even more greatful to my wonderful German grandparents for raising me. I do feel embittered about the American Government for ignoring us, specially after the efforts that were exerted for children left behind in Vietnam.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on August 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As someone who prefers to read fiction rather than autobiographies, I was amazed by the speed at which I read this book. As a Liberian who went to kindergarten and primary school in Germany in the seventies, I found I could easily relate to his descriptions of his early school days. However there the similarities end.My life has been a bed of roses compared to the author's. Mr Massaquoi's feat of endurance under constant psychological attack from Nazi Germany is exceptional and deeply moving. His adventures in Liberia and the USA also make good reading. Fact in this case is stranger than fiction! Recommended!
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