Hans Massaquoi, ex-Ebony editor raised in Nazi Germany, dies

MIAMI -- Hans Massaquoi, a former managing editor of Ebony magazine who wrote a distinctive memoir about his unusual childhood growing up black in Nazi Germany, has died. He was 87.

His son said Massaquoi died Saturday, on his 87th birthday, in Jacksonville. He had been hospitalized over the Christmas holidays.

"He had quite a journey in life," said Hans J. Massaquoi Jr., of Detroit. "Many have read his books and know what he endured. But most don't know that he was a good, kind, loving, fun-loving, fair, honest, generous, hardworking and open-minded man. He respected others and commanded respect himself. He was dignified and trustworthy. We will miss him forever and try to live by his example."

In an interview in 2000, the elder Massaquoi told The Associated Press that he credited the late Alex Haley, author of "Roots," with convincing him to share his experience of being "both an insider in Nazi Germany and, paradoxically, an endangered outsider." His autobiography, "Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany," was published in the United States in 1999. A German translation was also published.

Massaquoi's mother was a German nurse, and his father was the son of a Liberian diplomat. He grew up in working-class neighborhoods of the port city of Hamburg.

Massaquoi recounted a story from 1933, when he was in second grade in Hamburg. Wanting to show what a good German he was, Massaquoi said he cajoled his baby-sitter into sewing a swastika onto his sweater. When his mother spotted it that evening, 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.

He writes that one of his saddest moments was when his homeroom teacher told him he couldn't join the Hitler Youth.

"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." Germany was at war by the time he was a teenager, and he describes in the book the near-destruction of Hamburg during bombing attacks.

He left Germany, first joining his father's family in Liberia, then going to Chicago to study aviation mechanics. He became a U.S. citizen and eventually became a journalist.

He worked first for Jet Magazine, then Ebony, where he rose to managing editor before retiring in the late 1990s.

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