No Stamp for Lotta!

Dear fans of celebrated humanitarian, Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova, CC (1909-1990), I have some disappointing news to share.

A couple of years ago, I started a “Let’s put Lotta on a Stamp” petition that has now grown to include 1,420 signatories. In June of 2020, I made a proposal to the Stamp Advisory Committee of Canada Post as follows:

That Canada Post create an ongoing “Refugees to Canada Who Made a Difference” commemorative stamp series, launching this series in 2022 with a stamp honouring Dr. Lotta.

Today I have received an official response from Canada Post thanking me for my proposal and announcing Canada Post’s 2022 Stamp Program. Continue reading

Remembering Lotta on International Women’s Day

Hear Lotta’s voice again: “Development often starts with a woman. Support leadership programs for women through the USC, 56 Sparks Street, Ottawa.”

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a time here in Canada to celebrate the achievements and lasting legacy of remarkable women like Lotta Hitschmanova (1909-1990), currently one of the eight nominees to appear on the new Canadian $5 bill.

Lotta’s story is heart-wrenching: Born in 1909, she grew up in a Jewish family in Prague. A journalist by profession, and an outspoken critic of the Nazis she had to flee her Czech homeland in 1938. For four years she was forced to wander about Europe, eventually finding her way to Marseilles, where she worked with refugee support groups.

She lost both parents in the Holocaust, and in 1942, after a 46-day voyage on a converted banana boat, she arrived penniless in Montreal – “with an unpronounceable name, [feeling] completely lost.”

In the depths of her personal tragedy, she could have given up. Instead, just three years later, in 1945, she founded the organization to whose humanitarian mission she would dedicate the rest of her life: the Unitarian Service Committee (USC Canada, now called SeedChange).

Something sparked her, deep inside. She was driven by an indefatigable energy to make the world a better place, and inspired thousands of Canadian supporters to join her in this crusade.

Half the year she was travelling. She personally visited all the USC programs overseas: first in post WWII Europe, then the middle East, Asia and in the 60s and 70s, newly-independent countries of Africa. And she made a gruelling, annual tour across Canada, to share stories with volunteers and donors on how the money was being spent overseas.

She had many nicknames, including the Soldier of Peace, for she always wore a distinctive army nurse’s style uniform wherever she went.

She was sometimes called the Atomic Mosquito. She never took “no” for an answer, and by her sincerity and the force of her personality, she was able to gain the support of people from all walks of life: homemakers, farmers, civil servants, newspaper publishers and even prime ministers.

Quite remarkably, as a refugee to Canada, Lotta became the most prominent woman of her generation! Her TV and radio PSAs in the 60s and 70s were legendary and made USC’s Ottawa office at 56 Sparks Street the best known address in the country.

But more than that, she pushed hard for women’s development around the world, decades before this became a common approach of international development agencies.

In particular, she felt strongly about young women and girls. Once their basic food, shelter and clothing needs were satisfied, Lotta and USC were at the forefront of ensuring that they were offered meaningful educational opportunities, skills training and leadership training.

She also mobilized and empowered a whole generation of Canadian women (including my own grandmother Mary Rain in Winnipeg), who joined her cause and indeed made it all possible, through the thousands of volunteer hours that they put in for USC.

Here is how Lotta’s biographer, Clyde Sanger, so aptly put it:

“Before many other agencies, [Dr. Lotta] was particularly concerned with the improvement of the position of women….

“I doubt that Dr. Lotta would ever have described herself as a feminist at any stage of her life….

“But it is intriguing that the staff she worked with in Ottawa for 25 years were all female, that most of the USC representatives she chose in Asia were women…and that a surprisingly high number of project leaders were also women.

“As well, the USC branches and working groups across Canada were mostly women, while men cheerfully headed for the background and basement where the packing cases were. It is not that men found it difficult to work with such a strong-willed ascetic woman….

“Rather, it seems to have been an instinctive desire on her part to bring out the leadership qualities she knew were in so many talented women she met, and an intuition that their ideas on human development would match her own.”

Thank you Lotta, for your inspirational and ground-breaking leadership, and Happy International Women’s Day!

David Rain

 

Remembering Lotta on International Holocaust Remembrance Day

“There’s only one thing: to work, so that their sacrifice may not be in vain.”

Lotta Hitschmanova grew up in a loving Jewish family in Prague. She was forced to flee in 1938, and after years wandering as a refugee in western Europe, she arrived penniless in Canada in 1942.

In the summer of 1945, she learned the devastating news that her beloved parents (Max and Else Hitschmann) had perished in the Holocaust.

Continue reading

Addendum: Let’s put Lotta on a Stamp!

Today is World Refugee Day and I would like to share a new idea that goes well beyond my original “Let’s put Lotta on a Stamp” idea.

In short, I have proposed to Canada Post that they create an ongoing “Refugees to Canada Who Made a Difference” stamp series, launching this series in 2022 with a commemorative stamp honouring Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova.

You can read the reasons for my proposal below, in correspondence with the Director of Stamp Services:

Continue reading

Let’s put Lotta on a Stamp!

My sincere thanks go out to the more than 1,300 individuals who signed the “Let’s put Lotta on a Stamp” petition.

I have just written a letter to the Stamp Advisory Committee of Canada Post proposing that a commemorative stamp be made in honour of Lotta Hitschmanova.

I will keep readers updated on any developments, as soon as I learn of them myself.

Here is my letter:

It is my great pleasure to propose to you that a Canadian commemorative stamp be created in the name of Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova, CC (1909-1990).

Here are a few of the reasons why I feel Dr. Lotta – as she affectionately came to be known – should be honoured in this way. Continue reading

Remembering Auschwitz: How personal tragedy led to Lotta’s mission in life

Remembering Auschwitz: How personal tragedy led to Lotta’s mission in life

Millions of Canadians can still remember her heavily accented voice on those celebrated radio and TV ads in the 1960s and 70s: “This is Lotta Hitschmanova of the Unitarian Service Committee, 56 Sparks Street, Ottawa 4.”

For generations, Lotta was Canada’s most beloved humanitarian, a constant voice of caring and compassion for those in need far away. But the deep-rooted inspiration for Lotta’s lifelong humanitarian mission is not so well known. Continue reading

Lotta Hitschmanova can help save the Sparks Street Mall

I wrote this letter to the editor on March 22, 2019 and have sent it to the Ottawa Citizen:

I read with interest this morning’s Ottawa Citizen article, “City’s public consultation yields Sparks Street vision,” and went down to 79 Sparks to check it all out.

I was disappointed to learn that there is no direct reference to Canada’s most famous address, 56 Sparks Street, nor to the celebrated woman who made this address so well known across Canada, Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova, CC (1909-1990).

Continue reading

Let’s honour Lotta on World Refugee Day

“I experienced personally how much it hurts to be hungry. To be a refugee, to be without a home, to be without country, to be without friends. And this is something dreadful; you have no more roots, you have no one to turn to.” – Lotta Hitschmanova

June 20, 2018. Today is World Refugee Day, a time to reflect on the millions of refugees and displaced persons around the world.

Humanitarian Lotta Hitschmanova was a WWII refugee who by her actions in the 1940s to 1980s planted the seeds of compassion in her adopted country and indeed around the world. She was a refugee who changed Canada for the better.

To honour her legacy, let’s sign the petition to put Lotta on a commemorative stamp!

Thank you for supporting this and for sharing it with others.

David Rain

A new song for Lotta: “Her Storm”

In a remarkable musical development, Canadian cellist and composer, Margaret Maria Tobolowska, has just dedicated a new cello composition – “Her Storm” – to Dr Lotta Hitschmanova.

The song for Lotta appears on a new CD project called “Heroines in Harmony”:

“Dedicated to all women and girls who bravely live their truth. You are the ones who have and will change the world for the better. Each track honours and celebrates a Canadian woman who inspires me.” Continue reading