When Hessy Taft was six months old, she was a poster child for the Nazis. Her photograph was the image of the ideal Aryan baby, and was distributed as party propaganda.

But what the Nazis did not know was that their perfect baby was Jewish.

"I can laugh about it now," the 80-year-old Prof Taft told Germany's Bild newspaper. "But if the Nazis had known who I really was, I wouldn't be alive."

She has presented the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Israel with a Nazi magazine featuring her baby photograph on the front cover.


Her parents, Jacob and Pauline Levinsons, both singers, moved to Berlin from Latvia to pursue careers in classical music in 1928, only to find themselves caught up in the Nazis' rise to power.

Her father lost his job at an opera company because he was Jewish, and had to find work as a door-to-door salesman.

In 1935, Mrs Levinsons took her daughter to a well-known Berlin photographer to have her photograph taken.

A few months later, she was horrified to find the picture on the front cover of Sonne ins Hause, a Nazi family magazine. Terrified the family would be exposed as Jews, she rushed to the photographer, Hans Ballin. He told her he knew the family was Jewish, and had deliberately submitted the photograph to a contest to find the most beautiful Aryan baby. "I wanted to make the Nazis ridiculous," he said.

Munich, Germany, 1938. Photo / Thinkstock

The picture won the contest, and was believed to have been chosen personally by Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister.

Frightened she would be recognised, Prof Taft's parents kept her at home.

In 1938, her father was arrested by the Gestapo on a trumped-up tax charge, but released when his accountant, a Nazi party member, came to his defence.

The family then fled Germany, moving first to Latvia, before settling in Paris only for the city to fall to the Nazis.

With the help of the French resistance, they escaped again, this time to Cuba, and in 1949 the family moved to the US.

Today, Prof Taft is a professor of chemistry in New York. "I feel a little revenge," she said of presenting her photograph to Yad Vashem. "Something like satisfaction."

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