Margot Heuman, who witnessed 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 become a copy editor for The New Yorker, and they lived together as a couple in the West Village. Mrs. Burke improved Mrs. Heuman reading the dictionary with her. (At The New Yorker, Burke was a notorious and feared language marshal, nicknamed Sarge by the production team.)

Heuman attended City College and, in the early 1950s, landed a job known at the time as “girl Friday” at Doyle Dane Bernbach, then a fledgling advertising agency. She worked there until her retirement at age 60, eventually overseeing budgets and workflow as the company’s director of traffic. 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,” Heuman said in a 2019 lecture. But she also owed it to herself to leave the marriage when he went south and his children left home. “Life is too short,” she said.

A few years ago, Mrs. Heuman decided to come out formally to his son and daughter-in-law, Lyndsey Layton, deputy editor of the New York Times on climate; they were perplexed, never having thought of her as closeted. Nor her daughter, Jill Mendelson. “I always knew,” Mendelson said. “It was never an argument.” When she called Ms. Layton and announced that she was gay, Ms. Layton recalled, she replied, “Yes, yes you are, Margot!”

Mrs. Heuman dealt with her survivor’s legacy a bit the way she dealt with her sexuality. It wasn’t hidden, but she didn’t say it. She waited until her children asked her questions about it, and she responded in whatever way she felt was age-appropriate. When her daughter was very young, she said her Auschwitz tattoo was her phone number, put there so she wouldn’t forget.

“I don’t remember that,” Mendelson said in an interview, “but I always knew she was a survivor of the war.”

Leave a Comment