Hans was born in Hamburg in 1926, the son of a German nurse and a Liberian law student whose dad happened to be the Liberian consul for Germany. Not long after his birth, Hans' father and grandfather both moved back to Africa, leaving the little boy and his mom to navigate through the ins and outs of living under an Aryan regime on their own. Both the title and the picture above are a little misleading, though, because Hans never actually made it into the Nazi Party, although he tried. In third grade, Hans was so eager to prove that he was a good German that he persuaded his babysitter to sew a swastika onto his sweater. His teacher snapped a picture on the one day Hans wore the emblem, but his mom unstitched it that night, hopefully while defiantly singing whatever the German version of "Edelweiss" is.
Some say the swastika was only worn in rebellion over this sailor suit/baggy sock combo.
The funny thing about being a kid is that you're so entrenched in kidness that you can't see or understand the big picture of the world around you. Even if you're knee-high to pure evil, from your perspective everyone swims around in a hazy pool of authority and rightness. Even though he was the polar opposite of what the Nazi Party was looking for, Hans couldn't see why he couldn't join the party, literally. At age 10, he tried to join the junior division of Hitler Youth for the same reason you and I join the hippie drum circle at the farmer's market:
Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-2004-0031/Weinrother, C./CC-BY-SA
"... chicken fighting on land ... you know. The fun stuff."
The big question is why wasn't Hans persecuted? In later years, he said he thought it was because blacks were so low in the hierarchy of groups to attack: right after people who couldn't do cartwheels, but before mimes of Chinese descent. Massaquoi actually operated in Nazi society easier than you'd expect. During his teen years, he worked at a government-run job center where an SS officer advised him that he'd be useful to the party once Germany reclaimed their old African colonies. The biggest dangers Hans faced during the war were the bombs from the Allies and getting caught dancing to Nazi-banned swing music.
Pete Harrison & Nick White/Ikon Images/Getty Images
If there's one thing Nazis didn't get, it was the power of dance.