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

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  1,252 ratings  ·  149 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 ...more
Paperback, 480 pages
Published February 6th 2001 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published 1999)
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Average rating 4.27  · 
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 ·  1,252 ratings  ·  149 reviews

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Dec 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I was expecting this to be a depressing accounts of wartime racism. I was wrong. "Destined to Witness" is a lively and frequently hilarious autobiography of a dual heritage German boy. As the son of a Liberian father and a German mother, Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi not only survives, but thrives in Nazi era Germany. Through their wits, humour, and bravery, Hans-Jürgen and his beloved Mutti dance along the precipice of World War II Germany and live to tell a remarkable tale. The story moves quickly fro ...more
Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany by Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi presents a fascinating case study of how some among our species are capable of adapting, persevering & ultimately prevailing in the face of incredible hurdles, handicaps & outright hostility.

The book represents the biography of a mixed-race fellow born in Hamburg, Germany in 1926, the son on a German mother & a Liberian father, a man who when Hans was 4, returned to Africa with his own father (Hans' Liberian grandfath
John Anthony
May 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is extremely readable and my interest was never in danger of waning throughout. It is Hans Juergen's (H.J) life adventure, growing up in Hamburg, the son of a white German mother and Black Liberian (absentee) father.

Born in 1926, he was 7 when Hitler came to power and we follow how his daily world changed as Nazi ideology took hold, not least in the schoolroom. Fortunately for him he was pretty street wise (he needed to be) and physically tough. H.J. is also extremely likeable and that is
BAM Endlessly Booked
Mar 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: wwii
I admit I have never thought of this scenario-growing up as mixed race in Nazi Germany. Hans' father was the son of the Liberian ambassador and his mother was a naive white German girl. Because of Hans' health issues as a toddler she refused to leave Germany with her lover. So Hans grew up called a nonhuman and the N word, a word I had no idea was used in other languages.
He was discriminated against at the park, in school, on the street. He did find role models on Jesse Owens and Joe Lewis, who
Robin Webster
Apr 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wow this is something to read!!!! I tried to read it last year and my heart wasn’t in it at the time so I decided to pick it back up. I really enjoyed this book! Hans tells his life story living in nazi Germany during ww2 as a half Germany/Liberian. Living in Humberg, Germany with his mother with the constant fear of being killed or deported to camps because of his heritage.
Very interesting story that o would recommend to anyone that loves ww2 stories.
Aug 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Nandi Crawford
Dec 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Feb 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 18, 2014 rated it it was ok
I wanted to love this book because I found the subject fascinating BUT the author did his own story a disservice by the way that he dragged the minutiae of his life on and on and and on (IMO) and didn't delve deep enough into his life as a black child in Nazi Germany. Despite it's length, the book left me wanting more. ...more
Mar 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Daniel Montague
Jan 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
This may be the most enjoyable memoir that I have ever read. It is able to be informative and entertaining without being preachy or self-glamourizing. Hans-Juergen Massaquoi's autobiography about living as a young black man in Nazi Germany is a coming of age story in a very turbulent time. He is many things: a devoted son, a German national, a Hamburger (a resident of Hamburg not the delicious food) all while navigating childhood and adolescence.

In a monocultural society, Germany in the 1930s an
Jul 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
When I first came across this book, I remember being slightly taken aback that this book was even possible. How does a black child living with his single white mother navigate not only Nazi Germany for the duration of the war, but the years leading up to the war as well? Surely someone would have noticed him and singled him out for a fate shared by millions of others during those dark years.
Well, Hans Massaquoi did survive the war and lived to tell his story in this fascinating look at being th
Daniel Hansson
Jul 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 13, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Diane Druck
Feb 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fascinating story! Hans Massaquoi was the son of a German mother and a Liberian father. His father returns to Liberia for political reasons and essentially abandons his family in Germany as the Nazis are rising to power. Hans learns at an early age that he is different from the other children and is treated as a lesser citizen. Looming behind this racism is the very real fear of what the Nazis are likely to do to him given the opportunity.
May 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 08, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club, memoirs
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
Sep 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a life changing book. I couldnt even begin to describe the impact it has made and I encourage anybody who is even remotely interested to read it for themselves :)
Jun 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My Man!
sheena d.
Sep 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-japan
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
Feb 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
There is generally little heard about how "other" people fared in pre-war Germany, in the darkness that enveloped the nation. Here is one window, with an astonishing tale of a boy who was born and raised German, with his father a member of the diplomatic core of an African nation with a distinct class structure of its own.

This boy grew up taking the difference of skin colour as casually as that of colours of clothes, and his mates as well as his teachers did nothing to break that either, until
Nov 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Kevin Malek
Jul 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bookshelf
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
Dec 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 04, 2007 rated it liked it
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 the d
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Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi was 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 lat

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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.” 9 likes
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