Holocaust survivor going strong at 100

  • MadeleineLopatoHeitner
Madeleine Lopato-Heitner recently celebrated her 100th birthday. She is one of the oldest Holocaust survivors in Johannesburg.
by Martine Bass | Jun 07, 2018

Her big day was celebrated in the company of her loving family, including her daughter-in-law, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, whose lives she has shaped with her own story.

Madeleine was born in Poland on 21 May 1918. In 1923, her family left their home and settled in Belgium.

As a young girl, she learned to speak French, as well as Polish and Yiddish, and excelled at school. Madeleine found true love and married Max Mantel in the midst of war-torn Europe in 1942.

Sadly, she was pregnant when her beloved Max and her younger sister, Marjem, were arrested and killed by the gestapo. Max would never know his unborn son, Rene.

In her determination to secure her and her son’s survival, she hid the child with a non-Jewish family, who looked after him during the war.

Madeleine then married Theo Heitner and, together with her mother and young son, they left Belgium for South Africa in 1950.

Theo legally adopted Rene and passed away shortly before Rene’s barmitzvah. Tenacious and determined, Madeleine ensured that her son completed his schooling and went on to university.

Rene became a prominent specialist paediatrician in Johannesburg, saving the lives of many children with rare diseases.

Madeleine then married Isaac Lopato in 1961, but unbeknown to her, he had already been diagnosed with cancer and he passed away in 1962.

Finally, she found 27 years of happiness with Michel Abrahamson. But he, too, passed away in 1997.

Madeleine’s sense of humour and joie de vivre are known to many. She continues to regale everyone she meets with stories of her past, many of them bitter sweet.

Her beloved son, Rene, passed away in 2012.

Madeleine is a woman of determination and courage. Her raison d’etre is “to live and to give”.

Her daughter-in-law, Yvonne Heitner, grandchildren Nikki Heyman, Ryan and Stephen Heitner, and her six great-grandchildren are grateful to be able to celebrate this milestone with her.


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