Hessy Taft had become a poster child for the Third Reich at six months old. Beautiful, blonde-haired and blue-eyed, she looked like the perfect embodiment of Hitler’s dream of an Aryan master race. After having won a beauty contest run by Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi activist and propaganda minister in 1935, her image began appearing everywhere.
Thanks to her heritage, Taft was the most unlikely of poster children for this campaign. When her Jewish parents had found out - by way of the cleaning lady - that her picture was on the cover of Sonne ins Haus, one of the only magazines not banned during that time because it supported Adolf Hitler’s vision, they were horrified.
Upon hearing this news and seeing the evidence, Taft’s mother went straight to the photographer who had taken the picture to ask him what he knew of the event. The photographer, Hans Ballin, one of the very best at that time in Berlin, took the mother into confidence and replied, “I wanted to allow myself the pleasure of the joke.”
It’s true that the incident relays great irony and Hessy Taft, now 80 “can laugh about it now,” but at the time, the baby was in grave danger, as was the family. The circumstances surrounding them made it necessary for the Levinsons to keep the baby at home so she would not be recognized.
The picture from the magazine had become so popular that baby clothing sellers even started posting Hessy Taft’s image in their windows. Postcards and other mailings were made from the image, as well, and sold in stores. Recognition would have been detrimental. Taft told the press that “had the Nazis known who I really was, I would not be alive today.”
Taft’s oral histories have long been logged at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. However, Taft’s recent donation of a copy of the above mentioned magazine Sonne ins Haus to the museum created renewed interest in this shocking story.