Hans Massaquoi, at 87; was editor of Ebony magazine

Mr. Massaquoi worked for Jet Magazine before moving to Chicago-based Ebony.
Matthew P. D’Agostino/A.P./2000
Mr. Massaquoi worked for Jet Magazine before moving to Chicago-based Ebony.

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 Mr. Massaquoi died Saturday, on his 87th birthday, in Jacksonville.

“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, hard-working and open-minded man.”


In an interview in 2000, the elder Massaquoi said 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.

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Mr. Massaquoi’s mother was a German nurse, his father the son of a Liberian diplomat. He grew up in working class neighborhoods of Hamburg.

Mr. Massaquoi recounted a story from 1933, when he was in second grade. Wanting to show what a good German he was, Mr. 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. Mr. Massaquoi, the only dark-skinned child in the photo, is also the only one wearing a swastika.

He wrote about taking great risks by playing and dancing to versions of American swing music, which was condemned by the Nazi regime.