Pamela's Reviews > Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany

Destined to Witness by Hans J. Massaquoi
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's review
Aug 23, 2009

really liked it
Read in August, 2009

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 through Nazi occupation. Where I thought he would stick out like a sore thumb with no place to hide, he made it through the whole occupation without having to hide. The Germans were so focused on expunging the Jews that he slipped right through the years without too much trouble. Yes, he wasn't accepted, but he wasn't dragged away to a concentration camp either. It was a strong story of his courage and learning to find ways to make himself inconspicuous from persecution.

I thought this book would be limited to the years of Nazi ruled Germany, but it went beyond these years to explain his experiences after the war as well. All of which continued to capture my attention. His travels to Africa and America reveal more racial bias that he has to overcome and learn to adapt to. It's encouraging to see how he makes it through every obstacle to make it to the US and to where he is now, living the American dream.

While the book reveals a lot about race relations, Massaquoi focuses on other ideas as well, such as relationships. He describes characters from his life, people who have influenced him and helped him, with great stories. These people he describes are very powerful to the book. One of which is his German mother and her infallible love and nurturing for him. It was very touching reading about her and other characters. One of my favorite stories from the reading is when Massaquoi gets caught stealing a toy soldier from a friend and his mother takes him to the police station and she asks "Officer, what do you suggest we do with this boy who has stolen a toy soldier from his friend?" The officer replies, playing along, "I think we should lock him up with the rest of the criminals." And Massaquoi pleads with his mom and officer to let him go, and of course, they "give him one more chance," and he learns his lesson. It's values like this he learns from his mother. He describes all of these people and the effects they have on him in a similar positive light.

On a last note, it's also really interesting to see the long-term effects America and Britain have had on places. While reading I learned so much about the smoking in Germany! As an American living here in Germany, I am constantly blown away by the masses of smokers. Reading Massaquoi made me realize the start to this dirty habit began after WWII where currency was in form of cigarette, and how Americans and the British gave them away like candy! This effect still shows in Germany, where they are today one biggest smoking countries of the world!

I really recommend this book to anyone. It's extremely strong and entertaining.
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