When Hessy Taft was six months old, she was selected as a Nazi poster child. Her flawless Aryan face was plastered on postcards and magazines throughout the Third Reich.
But there was one crucial detail the Nazi propaganda machine had overlooked: Taft was a Jew.
“Had they found out their mistake at the time, I would not have been alive today,” said Taft, née Levinsons, who hid her true identity from the Nazis and later fled to Cuba with her family.
Taft’s path to accidental Nazi stardom all began with an innocuous trip to a photography studio. Her mother, Pauline Levinsons, asked one of Germany’s best photographers, Hans Ballin, to take a baby photo of her young daughter.
She took home a photo of a wide-eyed Hessy wearing a bonnet, which was given pride of place on the family piano.
But shortly afterwards, Levinsons made a terrifying discovery: her daughter’s photo adorned the cover of Sonne ins Hause, a Nazi family magazine.
Levinsons immediately confronted the photographer, who confessed that he had intentionally submitted this Jewish girl’s photo to a Nazi propaganda contest to choose the perfect Aryan baby.
“I wanted to make the Nazis ridiculous,” Ballin told Taft’s shocked mother.
Joseph Goebbels himself supposedly chose Taft’s photo out of a pool of dozens of photos taken by Germany’s top photographers. The image was not only reprinted in Nazi magazines, but also Nazi greeting cards. Taft’s aunt, looking for a birthday card for her niece’s first birthday in a Lithuanian store, was shocked to find a card with Taft’s face on it.
The ironic story of a Jewish-baby-turned-Nazi-star gained renewed attention this month after Taft, now 80, donated a copy of the magazine featuring her face to Yad Vashem.