This week’s Great European is Lotta Hitschmanova, a Canadian humanitarian who actively participated in the foundation of the Unitarian Service Committee of Canada, an international development organization that started functioning after World War II. By Veronika Czina.
Born Lotta Hitschmann in Prague, Bohemia, on November 28th, 1909. She was the elder daughter of Max Hitschmann and Else Theiner. After graduating from high school with honors she started her university studies in 1929 at the school of philosophy at the University of Prague. In 1932 she began studying political science and journalism in Paris, at Sorbonne, where she obtained diplomas in journalism and French studies. During these years she took a great interest in languages; she spoke a very good Czech, German, English, French and Spanish. She returned to Prague in 1935 to work as a freelance journalist while completing her PhD. Besides working for several newspapers she was also working for the Yugoslavian government news agency. In 1938, after the German seize of Czechoslovakia, she fled to Marseilles where she was an employee at the immigration service assisting refugees. By this time she already had changed her name to Hitschmanova which sounded less German.
Her first encounter with USC was due to her ill-health, when after fainting at the Marseilles market she ended up at a medical clinic run by the Boston-based Unitarian Service Committee (USC). In 1942 she left Europe and went to Canada, which granted her visa. She held several jobs in Montreal and Ottawa while also doing some fundraising for the Czechoslovakian National Alliance and working for the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration for a short time. After the end of the war she learned that her parents died in a holding camp on their way to Auschwitz, which convinced her not to leave Canada.
Since 1945 she devoted her life and work to the USC Canada, of which she was a founder. She was the first chairman of the organization until 1949, but she worked there as executive director until 1982. The initial objective of USC Canada was to help people in need in France and Czechoslovakia. Dr. Lotta personally helped in raising money through participating in months-long tours all over Canada. These events were quite fruitful in fundraising, as well as gathering clothes for the people in need. After travelling to Europe to witness the destitution, she insisted that USC should extend its scope to physically disabled children and supervised the launch of a foster parent program. In 1949, the organisation also started to aid Italy and Greece, and continued to do so for 30 years. Later on USC expanded its programs to many different parts of the world including Nepal, India, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia etc.
Dr. Hitschmanova was awarded several times for her activities. A few of her many awards are the Gold Medal from the Red Cross of France, the UN Headquarters Medal and the Decoration for Order and Peace from the Netherlands and the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal. She died on August 1st, 1990. As a reminder of her legacy, USC Canada created the Lotta Hitschmanova Endowment Fund in 2002.
Image of Lotta Hitschmanova. This image was provided by USC Canada and the image may be used as long as they are credited as the owner.