Jacob and Pauline Levinsons moved to Berlin in 1928. They were both singers. Jacob accepted a position at a local opera house, but when they discovered that he was Jewish, they cancelled his contract. The couple gave birth to Hessy Levinsons on May 17, 1934.
When she was six months old, her parents had her picture taken. The photograph turned out so well that they framed it and propped it up on the piano. They thought it was a private family photo. But before long, the woman who helped clean the apartment brought surprising news: “I saw Hessy on a magazine cover in town.”
And not just any magazine. The publication was produced by the Nazis, brimming with men wearing swastikas and photos of Hitler reviewing the troops. How did a Jewish baby girl get on its cover?
It turned out, Hessy’s photographer had been asked to submit his 10 best pictures for a beauty contest run by the Nazis. So he sent in her photo. “But you knew that this is a Jewish child,” her mother exclaimed. “Yes,” he said, explaining that there had been a competition to find the “perfect example of the Aryan race to further Nazi philosophy. . . . I wanted to allow myself the pleasure of this joke. And you see, I was right. Of all the babies, they picked this baby as the perfect Aryan.”
For weeks, Hessy’s picture was everywhere—in storefront windows, in advertisements, and on postcards. Her aunt went to a store to buy a card for Hessy’s first birthday in May 1935, only to find a card with Hessy’s picture on it. Her family eventually fled Europe and found refuge in Cuba before immigrating to the U.S. in the late 1940s.
Hessy Levinsons got married and became Hessy Taft. She is today a chemistry professor in New York City. “I can laugh about it now,” she told a reporter. “But if the Nazis had known who I really was, I wouldn’t be alive.”
Our culture typically measures success in the present tense. “What have you done for me lately?” is the mantra of our day. Last year’s champions are quickly forgotten. Who won the Super Bowl two years ago? Who was CEO of Hewlett-Packard before Meg Whitman?
By contrast, God measures success in the eternal tense. I often say that our Father redeems all he allows. Sometimes we do not understand his redemption until years in the future. And some of God’s work we’ll not comprehend until we are with him in glory. As Paul noted, “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
But we can know that God is at work to use all he allows for his glory and our eternal good. When I was in England recently, our group sang “Amazing Grace” inside the church where John Newton was pastor. The former slave trader’s horrific story was redeemed by God through the best-loved hymn in the English language. I stood in the House of Commons, where William Wilberforce labored for decades to end the slave trade, enduring ridicule and persecution from all sides. But God redeemed his sacrifice and made him a model of Christian leadership still today.
I stood next to Martyrs Square, where Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer were burned to death for their Protestant convictions. The queen who sent them to their deaths is remembered as “Bloody Mary,” while the men she martyred are revered as heroes of the faith.
What pain has God redeemed in your life? What suffering does not yet seem to make sense? When you remember all he has done, can you trust him for all he will do?