This Is The Story of Being Black And Surviving Hitler

Hans Massaquoi/Associated Press /Unknown/AP

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The horrors of the Holocaust are well documented. Adolf Hitler’s regime killed millions of people, but, miraculously, others survived.

Among those survivors is a man whose story is unlike any you might have heard from other Holocaust survivors. Hans Massaquoi was a Black man who was only a young boy during Hitler’s reign of terror.

The son of a German nurse and a Liberian diplomat, Massaquoi avoided persecution because of his grandfather, the Liberian Consul in Germany. His grandfather’s position granted the family immunity from Hitler’s policies and allowed them to live among “the Aryans.”

Massaquoi witnessed a lot. As a third grader, Hitler visited his school. His teacher raved about how privileged the students were to be in Hitler’s presence. Enamored by Hitler, all of Massaquoi’s schoolmates signed up for Hitler Youth, the Nazi’s youth organization. Massaquoi signed up, too, out of peer pressure. He was rejected because he wasn’t Aryan.

Instances like this confused Massaquoi. “My mother says I’m as German as anyone else,” he said. He didn’t understand why he was being treated differently. As he got older, he would learn why.

The realities of being Black became apparent to Massaquoi. At the Hamburg Zoo, he saw an African family on display next to the animals and spectators yelled at him: “They’ve had a child.” Massaquoi had never been publicly humiliated before, and this experience forever changed him.

Things changed drastically after Black track athlete Jesse Owens won four medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Hitler was furious, and the protection of being an invisible minority was gone. Germans began to target Black people.

Fearing persecution, Massaquoi’s paternal family left Germany to escape. Massaquoi, however, stayed with his mother in Germany.

Massaquoi’s skin color made him a target of racial abuse. He often got push back from employers. He wasn’t allowed to attend university and had to take an apprenticeship as a laborer.

He found himself in nerve-racking situations that he narrowly escaped -- such as being mistaken for terrorizing a white woman with the intent to rob her.

Unemployment and hunger took hold of Germany during World War II. Massaquoi tried to enlist in the Army to get away from these problems, but he was denied.

Massaquoi needed to get out of Germany and fast. Though he was German-born and not Jewish, he was Black and, therefore, a target for murder.

In his 20’s, his father obtained residency for him in Liberia. Shortly after he moved to the U.S., serving as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army on his student visa. He later graduated from University of Illinois and became a journalist. He was the managing editor for Ebony.

If you’d like to learn more about Massaquoi, check out his autobiography, Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany.

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