Hessy Taft was a gorgeous baby by any measure in 1935. Her picture was so adorable it was reportedly selected by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels as the cover for the Nazi family magazine Sonne ins Hause as the very ideal of an Aryan child. The problem is that Hessy is Jewish, a story that is both hilarious and unnerving. Goebbels’ perfect Gerber baby proved an elegant rebuttal to Nazi fanaticism.
Hessy’s parents, Jacob and Pauline Levinsons, were singers and took her to photographer Hans Ballin to her six-month old photo. They were astonished when their beautiful Jewish baby ended up on the cover of a Nazi magazine. Ballin later explained that he knew that they were Jewish but wanted to make the Nazis look ridiculous. It was a dangerous joke for the family and frankly quite reckless given the growing violence against Jews in Germany.
The family hid their baby to avoid people recognizing her and then uncovering the truth. Her father lost his job at an opera company because he was Jewish. He was later arrested on a trumped up charge and was only saved by when his accountant (who was a Nazi party member) came to his defense at the Gestapo headquarters. The family fled to Latvia and then to Paris. However, the city was then taken over by the Germans so they escaped again with the help of the French resistance. They went to Cuba and finally in 1949 to the United States.
Now 80, Hessy is a chemistry professor at St. John’s University.
It is a story that captures the insanity of the time. For those who wish to forget the struggle of Jews during this period, the innocence of this picture and the evil of the times are powerfully portrayed in Professor Hessy’s story.