Margot Heuman, Who Bore Witness to the Holocaust as a Gay Woman, Dies at 94

In New York, Mrs. Heuman worked in a button factory, as a nanny and waitress. she met Lu Burke, who would later become editors of The New Yorker, and they lived together as a couple in the West Village. Mrs. Burke improved Mrs. Heuman’s English by reading the dictionary with her. (At The New Yorker, Ms. Burke was a notorious and feared language martinet, nicknamed Sarge by the production staff.)

Ms. Heuman attended City College and in the early 1950s took a job as what was then known as a “girl’s Friday” at Doyle Dane Bernbach, then a fledgling advertising agency. She worked there until her retirement at age 60, eventually overseeing budgets and work flow as an air traffic controller for the company. She married Charles Mendelson, an accountant, in 1952; they had two children and divorced in 1976.

“I felt I owed it to my parents to have children,” Ms Heuman said in a 2019 speech. But she also owed it to herself to leave the marriage when things went wrong and her children left the house. “Life is too short,” she said.

A few years ago, Ms. Heuman decided to formally come out to her son and daughter-in-law, Lyndsey Layton, deputy editor of The New York Times’ Climate Desk; they were stunned and had never thought of her as in the closet. Neither does her daughter, Jill Mendelson. “I’ve always known,” said Mrs. Mendelson. “It was never a discussion.” When she called Ms. Layton and announced she was gay, Ms. Layton recalled, replying, “Yes, you are, Margot!”

Ms. Heuman kind of dealt with her survivor’s legacy the way she handled her sexuality. It wasn’t hidden, but she didn’t turn herself in. She waited for her children to ask her questions about it, and she answered them in an age-appropriate manner. When her daughter was very young, she said her Auschwitz tattoo was her phone number, put there so she wouldn’t forget it.

“I don’t remember,” Ms. Mendelson said in an interview, “but I’ve always known she was a war survivor.”


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