Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Massaquoi, Hans J. "Destined to Witness"

Massaquoi, Hans J. "Destined to Witness" - 1999

Very interesting autobiography written by a German/Liberian boy who grew up in Nazi Germany. He describes his childhood and youth in Hamburg during a time where everyone had to have blond hair and blue eyes. There were very few dark-skinned people in Germany at the time but for some miraculous reason the Nazis never openly persecuted him.

With his story, he has probably told us more about the thoughts and wishes of an ordinary German as any other account about this time. Even though he we anything but the Aryan stereotype, he wanted to belong, he wanted to be a Hitler boy. That is what almost every child (and grown-up) wants, belong to the society around them, no matter how they treat them. I thought he described that very well. We also get a good view of the "common" people and the different members of the Nazi party. He talks about the people who helped him as well as the ones who didn't. He gives a fantastic insight into life during the war. This book also shows, that the Nazis didn't just hunt and destroy the Jews, anyone who didn't look and/or think like them was on their list of "unwanted people". Very well written and certainly worth reading, especially if you are interested in this era.

Hans J. Massaquoi emigrated to the USA later where he became managing editor of Jet and Ebony magazine.

The German Title of this book is "Neger, Neger, Schornsteinfeger" (Negro, Negro, Chimney Sweep), a rhyming slang the kids used to call him. The book has also been made into quite a successful (German) film under that same title.

From the back cover:
"This is a story of the unexpected. In 'Destined to Witness', Hans Massaquoi has crafted a beautifully rendered memoir - an astonishing true tale of how he came of age as a black child in Nazi Germany. The son of a prominent African and a German nurse, Hans remained behind with his mother when Hitler came to power, due to concerns about his fragile health, after his father returned to Liberia. Like other German boys, Hans went to school; like other German boys, he swiftly fell under the Fuhrer's spell. So he was crushed to learn that, as a black child, he was ineligible for the Hitler Youth. His path to a secondary education and an eventual profession was blocked. He now lived in fear that, at any moment, he might hear the Gestapo banging on the door -- or Allied bombs falling on his home. Ironic,, moving, and deeply human, Massaquoi's account of this lonely struggle for survival brims with courage and intelligence."


  1. Marianne, thanks for referring me to your piece. You're so right---reading Massaquoi's account of Nazi Germany gave me the closest glimpse into what day-to-day life had been like for ordinary Germans and what hardships they had to endure. It's an intriguing perspective on how citizens living in Hitler's regime felt and thought. I found it intriguing, for example, that even when young Massaquoi had become jaded with local Nazi leaders, he felt bad that they were misrepresenting Hitler somehow, not able to conceive that these values and beliefs could stem from their great leader himself.

  2. You're welcome, Supriya,

    that's so great about blogs, we can find someone who read and liked the same books. I am German but have been born after the war, my parents are just a little younger than the author, so I have heard stories about growing up in Nazi Germany. My parents were white and Catholic but one of my grandfathers had warned people to vote for Hitler, so it wasn't easy for them, either. In a little village, everyone knew and he even had to hide.

    Anyway, I have read quite a few books about that time (as you can see from my list, just click on Holocaust or WWII) but I found this was a very good account of life for "ordinary" Germans.

    Loved "talking" to you. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. WOW!!! I'm from Liberia and know some Massaquois'. This story is so fascinating. Thanks for bringing it to light.

    1. You are welcome. It is indeed a very fascinating story and also reading about Hans J. Massaquoi's subsequent life and his successes is totally interesting. I'm glad you found it this way.

      Thanks for visiting and commenting on my blog. It's always great to talk to other readers, especially if they come from other parts of the world. I'd love to hear more from you.

      Have a good day,