Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany
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Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany

4.2 of 5 stars 4.20  ·  rating details  ·  542 ratings  ·  74 reviews
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 re...more
Paperback, 480 pages
Published February 6th 2001 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published October 20th 1999)
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Mixed Race Readings
14th out of 98 books — 54 voters
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German History
54th out of 309 books — 77 voters


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Community Reviews

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Robin Webster
Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1926. He was the illegitimate son of a white German mother and Liberian father, who was himself the son of the consul general of Liberia in Germany at the time. Brought up by his mother in Hamburg, this book gives a unique perspective of what it was like for a mixed-race child with African blood to experience the rise and establishment of the Nazi party in post war Germany, as well as surviving not only the Nazi’s brutal racial policies but a...more
Pamela
I picked up this book because I was curious to the experiences of a black boy growing up in Nazi Germany were like. It's very unique. I didn't know what to expect, but I really liked the book.

Massaquoi has had an incredibly moving and interesting life, and tells it all so well. His experiences range over 3 continents, and he has been through both the best and the worst. From his perspective he explains everything in a very modest and unbiased way.

I was most amazed/surprised by his experience thr...more
Juneus
This is a gem and I cannot say why I read it except that I have read as much as I can about the Nazi era in an attempt to understand it. I have read about medical doctors in that time in Germany, the death hospitals in beautiful rural communities where the smoke from the chimneys had to be ignored by the populace, books by the children of the Nazi Leaders, a book by a young woman who was in the book business in a rural town, Sophie's Choice, Schindler's List, Eyewitness to history, some of Ayn R...more
Yasmin
Amazing is the word for this book as it was an amazing miracle that Mr. Massaquoi survived the Nazis and the bombing during the war. Really that he did survive is nothing short of a miracle. To be Jewish, homosexual, Communist or anyone that spoke against the Nazis was to announce your own death. How this apparent lone African-German live through it all is mind blowing. But while he survived it was not all good fortune through out. Many times he brushed with death, himself or his mother and yet...more
Andre
One thing I thought I would never hear being said about this book actually happened: A coworker of mine actually said this story should not be told, because it, somehow in her mind, made the Holocaust less bad. Only knowing that the author had a Liberian father and managed to survive in Nazi Germany, never see a concentration camp from the inside, via a lot of luck and help from friends, made her say this story is not a story that should be told. In my mind it would shed more light on the time,...more
Nandi Crawford
Sep 01, 2008 Nandi Crawford rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in WW2, Germany
Recommended to Nandi by: Ebony; they did a great spread on the book and I got it from the
I read this book just as it came out, and I never forgot it. You have this young man born in Germany to a German mother and a African diplomat(Liberian). To me, he was treated with indifference and some hatred as a child,sadly, he even wanted to be a Hitler Youth, but he wasn't allowed to join, and even though he was one of the smartest kids in his class, due to Aryan dictates, he was not allowed to attend college or even join the military. He was able to take up a trade as a machinist and AFTER...more
Daniel Hansson
Very interesting. I scary thing is that I can relate so much to some chapters, while obviously in others it is just too extreme and amazing. It is a unique history in many aspects but the fantastic thing about the main character is that he finds his way to black identity where many others suffering what he has suffered most likely would start to doubt themselves to eventually give up pride for self hatred, out of survival instinct. Instead he joins the civil rights' movement, goes on to serve it...more
Nathan
The premise has promise, and indeed, Massaquoi is witness to momentous history. He is only, however, a witness. He seems to think that the accident of his identity endows him with some some great and original truth; it doesn't. 440 pages of brow-beating self-sympathizing culminate in a generic and unoriginal call against prejudice - a noble resolution, to be sure, but hardly worth the gratingly slow and painfully overwrought prose preceding, which seems mainly designed to show how clever the wri...more
Debbie
I read this years ago and all I can say is it is an amazing story! Who even knew that the disgusting arm of Nazi-ism and tragedy extended to blacks in Germany. When you think of that time period, you don’t even think blacks into the equation but I guess one should. Everyone of any minority was effected by the nature of the situation. This book gives a completely different point of view and experience. It is also a story of overcoming the odds while being the odd one in the midst of it all. I re...more
BarbaraNathalie
I was fascinated by Hans Massaquoi's story because of my interest in the Nazi era, and also because it was from a unique perspective. The young Hans is born illegitimally, in Hamburg, Germany, to a white, German nurse and an African student whose father serves as a diplomat to Germany from Liberia. Born in 1926, the author is a young school aged boy when Nazism becomes a part of every day experiences of innocent German children. A mixed-race child, he is subjected to relatively mild distain, exc...more
Jen
Hans is the son of a German mother and a Liberian father, who survives the war relatively unscathed by the pervading political spirit of discrimination and persecution of "the other", largely thanks to the willingness of his own community to downplay his differences. Having avoided the fate of many other black Germans, particularly in the Rhineland, Hans finds himself caught up in the firebombing of Hamburg towards the end of the war.[return][return]Relatively speaking, there aren't many books a...more
Denise
What to say about this book ... It tells a non-story. There was no climax, no major defining events. I'm not discrediting anything that Hans went through in Nazi Germany. He grew up in a very tenuous time and had to overcome much discrimination as the only African male in his fair skinned, blond haired, blue eyed community. He just doesn't know how to tell it. The book reads as a much too long, emotionless series of diary entries ... Today I woke up and this happened. Then I went here and did th...more
Karen
This is an amazing man with an amazing story. I recently read his Obituary in the local paper and I was intrigued by his story. I have read quite a lot about Nazi Germany, Hitler and the Concentration Camps. It never, ever occurred to me that there was even a Black person living in Germany at that time - especially one with a white, German Mother. I was fascinated by Massaquoi's exploits as he tried to survive during the War. I truly admire his pluck and perseverance. And he wrote his book in a...more
RL
What I like best about this book is that Massaquoi gives a fair evaluation of the German people in his life. He differentiates between the kind Frau Beyle, the schoolteacher who looks out for him to the cruel school teacher Herr Dutke, the quintessential Nazi. He describes the attitudes that he sees people having towards the Party from the passionate supporter to the person who holds membership to get along and those who did the minimums to keep their parents happy. Even his own mother showed th...more
Jennifer
I am a WWII, Hitler & Germany buff. I don't know what my fascination is with it. So when I came across this book on the National Holocaust Museum's website I thought it was a must read since I'm an African American.

The book was a striaght narrative. And maybe I expected so much more to happen to Hans but in reality I'm glad he wasn't tortured as he could've been.

His early years were probably way more interesting than the later years. It was interesting to see him go from being accepted to t...more
Peri Collins
This is a unique perspective on life in Nazi Germany that will interest those who are interested in WWII, Nazi activities and what was happening with "regular" people behind the Nazi curtain of propaganda. For black Americans I believe it will touch some familiar chords and also make one step back and realize that even worse than being oppressed due to one's race is having that experience without the support system of family, friends or community who can understand the experience.
Trudi
What an interesting book - a biography. Hans Massaquoi is the son of a German woman and a Liberian man - growing up black in Hitler's Germany. Lots of details about living in Germany during WWII and later in Liberia and then the U.S. A very different perspective on life in WWII and postwar Germany.
Elena
Aug 07, 2009 Elena is currently reading it
Interesting, but he isn't exactly humble about things. Understandably, I suppose, but it does slow down the pace to read things such as the hot 30 something woman sought him out when he was 15.
Monica Batiz
A part of the Holocoust that has been left apart.
Gemma
I found this book at the library and was very interested to hear the personal account of someone who was black, not only living in, but growing up in Nazi Germany. Wow, is all I can say. This book is written so naturally, you really feel like you were there growing up with Hans. Every chapter, every paragraph, every sentence is insightful and interesting - I could not put this book down.
Here is a remarkable person (from a remarkable family) who experienced so many momentus, unforgetable experie...more
sheena
I think you should read this book if you're interested in hearing a pretty unique and unlikely story about Nazi Germany. I started typing and spat up this longish summary, I guess if it's intriguing at all you should look into getting the book.

Imagine you're a little black boy growing up in Nazi Germany. Everyday you eat messages about the superiority of the Aryan race. You go to zoos where Africans are on exhibit living in their "natural habitats." Your white mother loses her job because of yo...more
Nicole
"Destined to Witness" is probably one of the best books I've read during the last years.
Hans Jürgen Massaquoi was born as the son af an African man and a German woman. In this book he describes his childhood and youth as a black boy in Nazi Germany.
It is story about a young boy who experiences friendship and first love but also hatred and bullying ... just because he doesn't look like all the other children. Just because he is black.
Kevin Malek
Chilling autobiography of a half European, half African child that grew up in one of the most racist societies of the 20th century. Massaquoi's description of life in Nazi Germany as a non-Aryan child and his treatment tell not only of the extreme racism he had to endure but also his witnessing of society's transformation from peace to genocide for the Jewish people. Not all of his experiences were bad, however, since he did find friendship and love in many of his fellow German citizens who did...more
Margrit Belfi
Aan een stuk door gelezen het kind spreekt mij natuurlijk heel erg aan vanwege Dashiell hoewel hij natuurlijk onder hele andere omstandigheden opgroeit
De kleine Hans die nergens iets aan kan doen en zo slecht behandeld wordt door zijn vader ,het is geen goede vader
Hij had zijn zoon en de moeder veel eerder moeten helpen wel heeft zij geluk met zo' 'n goede zoon
Mooi nawoord van Rallph Giordano zeker over de moeder
Daniel Millward
Great book, a really eye-opening autobiographical account about living in Germany during the uprising of the Nazi regime and World War II. Hans J. Massaquoi's story of growing up as the son of an African father and German mother in a particularly risky time period offer a first hand glimpse into the sociology of prejudice of class and racism, during ; not only in WWII Germany, but also touched upon in British colonialism in Africa and America.

The premise of the book alone is enough to spark grea...more
Jenn
As much as I hated history throughout school (I have a horrible memory for dates and places), I've always been interested in reading about Nazi Germany. How do you say you're interested in something that destroyed so many people? I don't know. Anyway, Hans Massaquoi's story was such a different perspective, one that I had never even considered, and I highly recommend it. And I'm sorry, Dad, but I still don't want to read Rise & Fall of the Third Reich. ;)

Read my full review here!
Arthur Dawson
This was a moving autobiography of a black man who survived Nazi Germany, only to tell his own story.
Ariya
Thanks, Kalia, for recommending this book!
Leslie
I'd really make this more of a 2.5, despite the high average rating that others have given it. I guess for me, it was just really more long-winded than I was hoping for. The small vignette-style of writing took getting used to as well. His story was interesting and he certainly DID witness a great deal in his lifetime! I didn't always like the choices he made and I think that also affected my feeling about the book.
Douwe
what an amazing story.. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, not only was the story gripping it was also very well written. Would strongly recommend this book. For me the story was particularly interesting as I (partly) grew up in Hamburg and moved back for a few years as an adult. A story very much told through the eyes of making it seem as though you are as close to it as you can be through a book.
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Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi is a German American journalist and author, the son of a German mother and Liberian Vai father. His paternal grandfather was Momulu Massaquoi, the consul general of Liberia in Germany at the time and the first African diplomat to represent his country in Germany.

Growing up in Hamburg, Massaquoi suffered severe discrimination during the Nazi dictatorship, an experience he late...more
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“Initially, the purveyors of racism need no more than the silent acquiescence of the public ... [I]t is never too soon to confront bigotry and racism whenever, wherever, and in whatever form it raises its ugly head. It is incumbent upon all people to confront even the slightest hint of racist thought or action with zero tolerance.” 4 likes
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