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

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Massaquoi, Hans J. (1999). Destined to witness: Growing up black in Nazi Germany. New York: W. Morrow.

  • ISBN: 0688171559
  • 384 pages
  • Includes illustrations

Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi provides a unique autobiographical account growing up as a biracial child under the Nazi regime in Hamburg, Germany. Though Massaquoi discusses his travels to Liberia and immigration to the United States, the majority of the book is situated within Massaquoi’s youth. He recounts his life within a regime that treats him as a second-class citizen and struggles with understanding his own identity. Massaquoi also provides anecdotes of everyday Germans who not only experience the rise and fall of the Nazis, but defend him against the racist regime. Massaquoi’s narrates his childhood in an honest and direct manner, such as providing personal anecdotes where he faced job discrimination. Major historical events, such as the 1936 Olympics, are explained and Massaquoi recounts his personal experience during those times. The author also retroactively provides historical details he was unaware of in his youth, such as the fate of the Rhineland Bastards. Destined to Witness supplements its account by adding photographs of Massaquoi throughout his life, including family, friends and historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., whom he met while working for Ebony.

No other autobiography to this extent about the life of a Black German in Nazi Germany exists. Most Black Germans at the time would have lived by the French border or in other cities, such as Berlin. Destined to Witness, by no exaggeration, is a one-of-a-kind account of a person of colour growing up under the Nazis.

Readers seeking first-person accounts of living under a fascist government will appreciate Destined to Witness as a satisfying addition to their library. Public and academic libraries can add value to their collection by having such an autobiography. Not only is this work unique, but Massaquoi’s autobiography was intended to remind Germany of its past and current racial issues, teach empathy and to avoid repeating history.

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3 comments

  1. Lisa – thanks for checking out my reblog of the data visualization post I found. It led me to your blog and this book from Hans Massaquoi. I know Hans Jr. from when we were in college together many years ago in Atlanta. I didn’t know his interesting family history nor that he has lost his father. It’s a small world, and I thank you for the memories.

    1. Hi V. L. Hunter, thanks for the comment. It’s incredible that you had the chance to meet his son. I would highly recommend reading the senior Massaquoi’s autobiography, as he had an extraordinary life.

  2. Hi Lisa. Thanks for this review. Hans Jr and I were classmates in adjacent colleges with shared courses in the 1980s. I wasn’t aware of his family history, nor that he has now lost his father. Thanks for the memories as well.

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