In the year 1935, the Nazi party was at the height of its popularity in Germany. A combination of overblown nationalism and extreme propaganda intended to drive the country into complete submission to the Nazi way of life. Part of this propaganda went into full throttle during the decade of the 1930s. Nazi publications had first dibs into the traditional German households, infusing more pro-Nazi ideals. In this particular year, one of these so-called Nazi “family magazines” had a very special feature on its cover: an image of the “perfect Aryan” baby .
In aims of building what the Nazi party dubbed as the “perfect race” of white, Aryan people, the picture of this baby entailed that the prototype human existed, and was already among them. The baby, Hessy Taft, was an adorable child with round, blue eyes, chubby cheeks, flowing locks of dark, healthy hair, and a wistful expression. There was only one problem with this epitomical Aryan baby; something nobody knew about: This baby was actually Jewish, and her real name was Hessy Levinson.
The chain of events started out the day Hessy’s parents went to the city to have pictures made of their baby daughter. Hessy was six months old when the Tafts, particularly Hessy’s mom, Pauline Levinson, visited the photo studio of fellow Jewish citizen, Hans Ballin, was one of the best photographers out in Berlin.
Balling, a professional photographer by trade, had heard through other photographers that the Nazi part was holding a makeshift competition, looking for a photograph of what would represent the perfect Aryan child.
Ballin submitted the picture of Hessy Taft without telling Hessy’s parents. Out of a pool of 10 professional photographers who submitted pictures of perfect, white, bouncy babies, Ballin’s picture was selected as the winner by none other than one of Adolf Hitler’s top confidants, Joseph Goebbel.
Nobody knew that baby Taft was a Jewish child. Still, her image seemed to have been the most accurate representation of the Nazi’s ideal race. For this reason, the Nazi propaganda machine reprinted Hessy’s picture in greeting cards, birthday post cards, magazines and in as many forms of promotion available. Unbeknownst to the Nazis, Jewish baby Hessy Taft was the symbol of their philosophy. The Nazis had inadvertently made the biggest mockery of their own idiosyncrasies.
Nearly 75 years later, the image of the cover of the Nazi publication now resides in Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, thanks to the now- 80 something year old Hessy, who is a chemistry professor in New York.
According to Hessy, photographer Ballin was confronted by her mother upon finding the photograph of her daughter posted all over Nazi Germany as one of the top symbols of the anti-Semitist mentality. Taft recalls that Ballin said that he wanted to allow himself this jest on account of the Nazis, to make them look ridiculous in the event that the truth would ever see the light of day. This was unlikely to happen, since it was one of the top Nazi officials, Goebbels, who selected the picture himself. Still, the family kept Hessy hidden from the population as much as they could for fear of retribution. After fleeing to Cuba, the Levinsons then moved to the United States. The Tafts had been in Paris prior to that as of 1937. The Nazis had rolled in a couple of years after that, which could have been the end of the Levinsons had the information of Hessy’s true identity had been made public.
The story of Hessy Taft is one that reminds us about the fallacies of supremacy and overblown nationalism. It is an example on how a regime based on implausible notions ends up imploding, and destroying itself.