It’s unusual to find a Black man who grew up in and survived Nazi Germany, but that is exactly what happened to Hans Massaquoi, who later moved to the United States and became the managing editor at Ebony magazine. Memorial services have not been announced.
Massaquoi, 87, died Saturday, Jan. 19, his birthday, in Jacksonville, Fla., said his son, Hans Massaquoi Jr. His father, he said, had been hospitalized over the Christmas holidays.
Massaquoi grew up in a working-class neighborhood in the port city of Hamburg. His mother was a German nurse and his father was the son of a Liberian diplomat.
As a child in school, Massaquoi said he wanted to be one of the Hitler Youth, but his homeroom teacher told him that he couldn’t join.
In a memoir he wrote, published in 1999, titled “Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany,” he wrote an account of those harrowing times from his perspective as a young boy.
Massaquoi credits Alex Haley, the author of “Roots,” with persuading him to write the book.
In it he relates a story from his time in school in 1933. In effort to show how good a German he was, Massaquoi got his baby sitter to sew a swastika on his sweater. “When his mother spotted it that evening,” said an article on the Ebony website, “she snipped it off, but a teacher had already taken a snapshot. Massaquoi, the only dark-skinned child in the photo, is also the only one wearing a swastika.”
“Of course I wanted to join. I was a kid and most of my friends were joining,” he said. “They had cool uniforms and they did exciting things–camping, parades, playing drums.”
“Eventually he left Germany, first joining his father’s family in Liberia, before going to Chicago to study aviation mechanics. He was drafted into the U.S. Army while on a student visa in 1951. Afterward, he became a U.S. citizen and eventually became a journalist,” said the Ebony story.
He worked first for JET Magazine before moving to Chicago-based Ebony, where he rose to managing editor before retiring in the late 1990s.”