When Hessy Taft was six-months-old, she was chosen to star on the cover of a Nazi magazine as an example of the perfect Aryan child; and her picture was distributed around Germany as Nazi propaganda. The editors had no idea that their beautiful poster child was, in fact, Jewish.
In the mid-1930s, when Taft, now an 80-year-old New York professor, was a baby, her parents chose to have a photo taken of their little beauty. They took her to a distinguished photographer in Berlin (where they lived), framed the picture, and placed it proudly on their piano.
Months later, Taft’s mother, Pauline Levinsons, heard from their cleaning lady that Hessy’s picture was featured on the cover of “Sonne ins Haus,” a Nazi family magazine.
At first, her mother brushed it off, thinking all babies look alike. Yet after the cleaning woman insisted it was Hessy, Levinsons gave her money to purchase a copy of the magazine. When the lady returned, Taft’s mother saw the exact same picture that sat on their piano.
“My parents were horrified,” said Taft. Not knowing how this came about and fearing the consequences, her mother immediately went to talk to the photographer.
Taft recounted: “She said to him, ‘What is this? How did this happen?’ And the photographer quickly sort of closed the door, pulled the blinds and told her to, very quietly admonished her, to keep quiet. He says, ‘Shh. I will tell you the following. I was asked to submit my 10 best baby pictures for a beauty contest run by the Nazis. So were 10 other outstanding photographers in Germany.’”
When the photographer said that he had submitted the 6-month-old’s photo, her mother said, “But you knew that this is a Jewish child.”
The photographer said, “Yes … I wanted to allow myself the pleasure of this joke.”
“And you see I was right,” the photographer said. “Of all the babies they picked this baby as the perfect Aryan.”
The competition took place in 1935, and the most attractive baby would be selected to be featured on the cover of the publication to depict the ultimate Aryan.
Professor Taft’s parents were stunned, appreciating the irony of the situation. Yet as the photograph soon began to show up on postcards, birthday cards, and even on display in baby clothing shops, they feared what might happen should someone discover the Nazi poster child was a Jew.
Whenever they went out for a walk, Taft’s mother and aunt would vigilantly conceal her identity; but Taft was mostly kept in the safety of their home. They did not desire for the identity of their now famous baby to be revealed.
“I can laugh about it now,” Taft told Germany’s ‘Bild’ newspaper. “But if the Nazis had known who I really was, I wouldn’t be alive.”
According to Bild, as well as The Telegraph, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels is said to have selected the photograph himself.
Taft’s parents had moved to Berlin from Latvia in 1928 to pursue classical music professions, for they were both gifted singers. Unfortunately, their timing was off as the Nazis’ reign was beginning to escalate.
Taft’s father, Jacob, later lost his job at an Opera company due to Nazi Germany’s anti-Jewish laws, but was able to find work as a door-to-door salesman.
In 1938, Mr. Levinsons was arrested by the Gestapo on a trumped up tax charge–but was later released when his accountant, a member of the Nazi party, backed him up.
The family escaped Germany and fled to Latvia. They then moved to Paris, but had to leave when the city was taken over by the Nazis. The French resistance helped them to escape to Cuba, and Taft’s family eventually settled in the United States in 1949.
The Jewish lady who started out as a Nazi icon of youthful beauty is now a chemistry professor in New York.
Irony can be a funny thing sometimes, can it not?
Photo Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg