Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany

By Hans J. Massaquoi

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One beautiful summer morning in 1934, I arrived at school to hear our 3rd-grade teacher, Herr Grimmelshauser, inform the class that Herr Wriede, our schulleiter (principal), had ordered the entire student body and faculty to assemble in the schoolyard.

There, dressed as he often was on special occasions in his brown Nazi uniform, Herr Wriede announced that "the biggest moment of [our] young lives" was imminent, that fate had chosen us to be among the lucky ones privileged to behold "our beloved fuehrer Adolf Hitler" with our own eyes. It was a privilege for which, he assured us, our yet-to-be-born children and children's children would one day envy us. At the time I was eight years old and it had not yet dawned on me that of the nearly six hundred boys assembled in the schoolyard, the only pupil Herr Wriede was not addressing was me.

Taking Herr Wriede at his word, the entire school soon buzzed with anticipation of this rare, totally unexpected treat of a virtually "school--free" day. We had all been thoroughly indoctrinated in the Fuhrer's heroic rise to power and his superhuman efforts to free Germany from the enslavement endured since its defeat in World War I and to restore its old glory and preeminence. Already we had come to feel the Fuhrer's omnipresence. His likenesses appeared everywhere--throughout the school, in public buildings of the city, on posters and postage stamps, in newspapers and magazines. Even more vivid were his by now familiar voice on radio and his compelling appearances in the weekly newsreels at the neighborhood cinema. Now we would get a chance to see with our own eyes this legendary savior and benefactor of the Vaterland

To most of the students, myself included, the thrills in store for us seemed beyond our ability to comprehend. Buoyed by our enthusiasm and flanked by our teachers, we marched for nearly an hour to a point along Alsterkrugchaus- see, a major thoroughfare leading to Hamburg's airport in suburban Fuhlsbuttel. The entire route from the airport to Hamburg's venerable Rathaus downtown, which the Fuhrer's fleet of cars was scheduled to travel, was lined with thousands of nearly hysterical people. They were kept from spilling into the street by stern Brownshirts who, with clasped hands, formed an endless human chain.

Seated along the curb behind the SS and SA troopers, we children endured an agonizing wait that dragged on for several hours. But just as our strained patience was reaching the breaking point, the roar of the crowds began to swell to a deafening crescendo. A nearby 55-piece marching band intoned the opening fanfares of the "Badenweiler Marsch," a Hitler favorite designated as the official signal of the Fuhrer's arrival. The moment everyone had been waiting for was here. Standing erect beside the driver of his black Mercedes convertible, his right arm outstretched in the familiar Nazi salute, the Fuehrer rolled past at a brisk walking pace, his eyes staring expressionlessly ahead.

The "biggest moment in our lives" for which Principal Wriede had prepared us had lasted only a few seconds, but to me they seemed like an eternity. There I was, a kinky-haired, brown-skinned eight-year-old boy amid a sea of blond and blue-eyed kids, filled with childlike patriotism, still shielded by blissful ignorance. Like everyone around me, I cheered the man whose every waking hour was dedicated to the destruction of "inferior non-Aryan people" like myself, the same man who only a few years later would lead his own nation to the greatest catastrophe in its long history and bring the world to the brink of destruction.

Momolu Massaquoi

The story of how I became part of that fanatically cheering crowd did not begin on January 19, 1926, the day of my birth. Neither did it begin, as one might suspect, in Hamburg, the city of my birth. Instead, it began five years earlier, more than three thousand miles away in the West African capital city of Monrovia, Liberia, with the shrewd decision of a president to rid... Black in Nazi Germany


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