In his 1999 autobiography the author, former managing editor of Ebony, tells the story of his growing up in Hamburg. He was born in 1926 as son of a German mother and a Liberian law student, the only independent black African state at that time apart from Ethiopia. His grandfather was the Liberian consul-general to Hamburg. When his father and grandfather went back to Liberia in 1929, his mother decided to stay in Germany. She made her living working as a nurse, and she and the little boy had to move from the elegant villa to a modest cold-water apartment in the workers’ quarter Barmbek. He was shunned but was never a target of Nazi persecution like Jews and Roma were. He was rebuffed when he applied for membership in the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth), while every young male Aryan German was obliged to be a member. Moreover, due to his skin colour, he was never drafted.
In the 1930s only a few black people lived in Germany, most of them in the Rhine area, children of German mothers and French-African soldiers. During World War I France had recruited troops from its African colonies, mainly from Senegal. These children in the French-occupied Rhineland were called Franzosenkinder (Frenchmen's children). In the northern part of Germany black people were so rare that most people had never seen one.
Destined to Witness, in German titled Neger, Neger, Schornsteinfeger (Negro, Negro, Chimney Sweep), was a great success in Germany, remaining on top of the bestselling list of the German weekly Der Spiegel for a couple of months. A screenplay has been adapted from the book and movie shooting started in 2005. The film was run first on October 1 and 2 in 2006 as a two-parter on German ZDF TV channel.