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Mina Lopato meets the wife of its founder

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Few parents or children at Mina Lopato Nursery School in Greenside, Johannesburg, know how the school got its name.
by OWN CORRESPONDENT | Aug 31, 2017

People started putting the picture together when 99-year-old Holocaust survivor, Madeleine Lopato came to a recent Friday Shabbos ring at the school.

Madeleine, together with her husband, the late Isaac Lopato, built and founded Mina Lopato Nursery School back in 1961.

Isaac Lopato was a member of the Emmarentia Shul, and the congregation had been discussing for some time the need for the shul to have a nursery school.

Eventually, Isaac agreed to come on board and build the school. He named it after his first wife, Mina, who had passed away.

When asked whether the naming of the school was conditional to the deal, Madeleine said, with a wry smile, that she couldn't confirm it.

The school was originally located next to Emmarentia Shul. Madeleine had attended the school’s move to Greenside Shul in 2006, but had since lost touch with it.

Principal Leanne Upiter Beer was thrilled when she made contact with this remarkable woman.

Upiter Beer explained: “Out of the blue, I got this call from a lady who visits Madeleine at Randjeslaagte every Friday, an initiative of The Union of Jewish Women. Madeleine still has vivid memories of those early years of Mina Lopato and often refers to the school.”

As it happens, Madeleine has a coffee table book in mint condition with photos from the inauguration of the school.

Born in Poland, she moved to Brussels when she was four years old and managed to survive Hitler’s tyranny.

She was able to evade Nazi capture during those years when, with her mother and young son, who was born in 1943, they were hidden from the Nazis by a close friend, Jeane Hofstadt-Swinnens. In 1988, Hofstadt-Swinnens was recognised by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

Lopato’s son was the esteemed specialist paediatrician, the late Dr Rene Heitner.

Madeleine’s first husband and her sister, who was seven months pregnant at the time, perished in the Holocaust.

But in an amazing turn of events, Madeleine found her father alive, 30 years later, in the south of France. Her father had assumed for all those years that all his family had died, but Madeleine had never stopped looking for him.

 She knew her father’s last known location was Paris, so Madeleine wrote to every mayor of every town in France, and as she proudly says, “I managed to do what the Red Cross couldn’t manage.”

Today, Madeleine’s legacy is decorated all over her lounge wall, with photos of grand-children and numerous great-grandchildren. Her late son was renowned for his pioneering work in the treatment of lysosomal storage disorders and saved many a young life in his time.

Madeleine’s story highlights to the children and parents at Mina Lopato: “He who saves one, saves the world!”

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