Hans Massaquoi

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Hans Jürgen Massaquoi
Hans Massaquoi.jpg
Born(1926-01-19)January 19, 1926
Hamburg, Germany
DiedJanuary 19, 2013(2013-01-19) (aged 87)
Jacksonville, Florida
OccupationJournalist, Author
LanguageGerman, English
ResidenceUnited States of America
CitizenshipGerman, American
Home townHamburg, Germany
Notable worksDestined to Witness: Growing up Black in Nazi Germany

Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi (January 19, 1926 – January 19, 2013[1]) was a German American journalist and author of African descent. He was born in Hamburg, Germany, to a white German mother and a black Liberian Vai father, the grandson of Momulu Massaquoi, the consul general of Liberia in Germany at the time.

Childhood in Germany[edit]

Massaquoi's paternal grandfather Momulu as King of the Gallinas in 1905.

In his autobiography, Destined to Witness, Massaquoi describes his childhood and youth in Hamburg during the Nazi rise to power. His autobiography provides a unique point of view: he was one of the very few German-born children of German and African descent in all of Nazi Germany. He was often shunned but miraculously escaped Nazi persecution. This duality remained a key theme throughout his early life until he witnessed racism as practiced in colonial Africa and later in the Jim Crow American South.

Massaquoi enjoyed a relatively happy childhood with his mother, Bertha Baetz, who had arrived to Hamburg from Nordhausen and earlier from Ungfrungen. His father, Al-Haj Massaquoi, was a prince of the Vai people that was in Dublin studying law and who only occasionally lived with the family at the consul general's home in Hamburg. Eventually, his grandfather Momulu, the first African posted to the diplomatic corps in Europe, was recalled to Liberia, and Hans Massaquoi and his mother remained in Germany.

The early adaptability of the young Massaquoi was remarkable. He was not aware of any other mixed race children in Hamburg, and like most German children his age, he was lured by Nazi propaganda into thinking that joining the Hitler Youth was an exciting adventure of fanfare and games and wished to join.[2] There was a school contest to see if a class could get a 100% membership of the Deutsches Jungvolk (a subdivision of Hitler Youth), and Massaquoi's teacher devised a chart on the blackboard which showed who had joined and who had not. As the chart was filled in after each person joined, Massaquoi was pointedly the sole student left out. He recalled saying, "But I am German ... my Mother says I'm German just like anybody else".[2] His later attempt to join his friends by registering at the nearest Jungvolk office was also met with contempt. Massaquoi's denial of this rite of passage reinforced his perception of being ostracized due to being deemed "Non-Aryan" despite his German birth and mostly traditional German upbringing after his grandfather returned to Liberia.

After the Nuremberg Laws were passed in 1935, Massaquoi was officially classified as non-Aryan. As such, though highly capable and would have been eligible had he not been bi-racial, he was barred from pursuing educational advancement leading to a professional career and instead was forced by the Nazis to embark on an apprenticeship as a laborer. A few months before completing school, Massaquoi was required to go to a government-run job center where his assigned vocational counselor was Herr von Vett, a member of the SS. Upon seeing the "telltale black SS insignia of dual lightning bolts in the lapel of his civilian suit",[3] Massaquoi expected humiliation. Instead, he was surprised when he was greeted with "a friendly wink", offered a seat and asked to present something which he had made. After showing Von Vett an axe and discussing his experience in working for a local blacksmith shop, Massaquoi was informed that he could "be of great service to Germany one day" because there would be a great demand for technically trained Germans who would go to Africa to train and develop an African workforce when Germany reclaimed its African colonies.[4] Before Massaquoi left the interview, Von Vett invited him to shake his hand, an unusual move not in keeping with other Nazi officials Massaquoi had encountered outside of his neighborhood.[5]

Though barred from dating Aryans, Massaquoi courted a white girl, but they had to keep their relationship a secret, especially as her father was a member of the police and the SS. Such relationships were forbidden and classified as Rassenschande (race defilement) by the race laws. To keep the relationship secret, they met only in the evenings, when they would go for walks. As he dropped his girlfriend off at her house one night, he was stopped by a member of the SD, the intelligence branch of the SS. He was taken to the police station as he was believed to be "on the prowl for defenseless women or looking for an opportunity to steal".[6] However, he was recognized by a police officer as living in the area and working: "This young man is an apprentice at Lindner A.G., where he works much too hard to have enough energy left to prowl the streets at night looking for trouble. I happen to know that because of the son of one of my colleagues apprentices with him".[6] The SD officer closed the case and gave the Nazi salute, and Massaquoi was allowed to leave the station.[6]

Increasingly as he matured, Massaquoi came to despise Hitler and Nazism. His skin color made him a target for racist abuse. However, in contrast to European Jews or the Roma-Sinti people and many other politically targeted enemies of Hitler's hegemony, Massaquoi escaped extermination most likely due to the fact that individuals of African descent were not as viciously antagonized. He was often targeted by Nazi employers, denied citizenship and was excluded from serving in the German army during World War II. As unemployment, hunger, and poverty grew rampant, he tried to enlist, but he was once again abusively castigated and rejected by Nazi officers.

During the period following the Allies near destruction of Hamburg, he befriended the family of Ralph Giordano, a half-Jewish acquaintance of the surreptitious Swing Kids jazz devotees. The Giordanos managed to survive the war by hiding and helped Massaquoi and his mother secure a nearby basement after their Hamburg neighborhood was destroyed. Giordano, a lifelong friend, became a renowned journalist as well.


In 1948 Massaquoi's father, Al-Haj, secured his passage for residency in Liberia. Massaquoi was fascinated and chagrined by Africa. While appreciative that his father made possible his escape from post-World War II Germany, he eventually grew estranged from his father, whom he considered arrogant and somewhat tyrannical. However, the two reconciled just before his father's death which preceded Massaquoi's reconnecting with his maternal family in the United States.

Massaquoi emigrated to the United States in 1950. He served two years in the army as a paratrooper in the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division and fought in the Korean War. He later became a naturalized U.S. citizen. His GI bill helped fund his journalism degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and he worked on his masters at Northwestern University until the impending birth of his first son catapulted into his career at Jet magazine and then Ebony magazine, where he became managing editor. His position allowed him to interview many historical figures of the arts, politics and civil rights movement in America and Africa. He was interviewed in turn by Studs Terkel for his oral history The Good War, and related his unique experiences in Germany under the Nazi government.

Massaquoi visited family and friends in Germany many times throughout his life, always cognizant of Germany's complex history as the country of his childhood.[7]

Personal life[edit]

At the time of his death, Massaquoi was married to Katharine Rousseve Massaquoi. He had two sons by a previous marriage, Steve and Hans Jr., who also survived him.[8]


  1. ^ "Hans Massaquoi, Former Editor Of Ebony Magazine, Who Grew Up Black In Nazi Germany Dies". digtriad.com. Archived from the original on 2013-05-02. Retrieved 2013-01-22.
  2. ^ a b Massaquoi, H J: Destined to Witness, page 80. Fusion Press, 2002
  3. ^ Massaquoi, H J: Destined to Witness, page 118. Fusion Press, 2002
  4. ^ Massaquoi, H J: Destined to Witness, page 119. Fusion Press, 2002
  5. ^ Massaquoi, H J: Destined to Witness, page 118-119. Fusion Press, 2002
  6. ^ a b c Massaquoi, H J: Destined to Witness, page 136. Fusion Press, 2002
  7. ^ Fischer, Audrey (March 2000). "Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany". Library of Congress Information Bulletin. 59 (3).
  8. ^ Hans Massaquoi family

External links[edit]