Lotta Hitschmanova is revered by many as a kind of “saint”, but she was as human as the rest of us, had a great sense of humour, and apparently in her early days, loved to party!
Here is a Lotta story shared by Heather Haas Barclay of London, Ontario, as she recalls the remarkable personal connection her parents had with Lotta.
Heather’s mom, Evelyn Russell, grew up in Portage La Prairie, where the Depression hit hard. As Heather notes, “It was a time to look after your fellow human beings.”
Evelyn taught school on the prairies, then set sail for Europe. She ended up in Prague and worked in Germany for 7 years, escaping back to Canada at the outset of World War II.
Heather’s dad, Kurt Haas, was a Czech citizen who fled from Europe in 1939. Kurt immigrated to Canada, clearing farmland and pursuing further studies in Saskatchewan.
He moved to Ottawa and met Evelyn, while both were working as postal censors. They in turn met a young Czech refugee who was also working as a postal censor, Lotta Hitschmanova.
The three of them became great friends and were part of an active social circle in Ottawa. Heather recalls her parents saying that “Lotta was a bit of a party animal” in those early days, and she was known for her great sense of humour.
As can be seen in this amazing 1943 photo below (can anyone identify the locale, was it Chateau Laurier?), both Lotta (second from left, top row) and Evelyn (bottom right) loved to dress up in traditional Czech costumes.
After the war, Kurt’s work took the family to England, to Paris, and eventually back to Canada, in Montreal. In the early 70s, a friend invited Kurt and Evelyn to the Unitarian Church there, and the old connections with Lotta (now the leader of the Unitarian Service Committee, USC Canada) were quickly rekindled.
Within weeks, Evelyn became active with the women’s league, organizing rummage, bake and craft sales to raise money for USC, and Kurt became a church elder. Heather notes, “It was a different philosophy of charity than now, but essentially all about social justice.”
Heather recalls how her parents respected Lotta and her work with USC. Her dad, who was in marketing himself, greatly admired what Lotta achieved:
“She was one of the first people to understand the concept of ‘branding.’”
Heather feels that “Lotta and her influence have pervaded people’s lives in so many different ways. Her spirit lives on.” Although much has changed, she feels that the core values of caring, partnership and respect that Lotta stood for are all still evident in USC Canada’s work.
In 2001, Heather’s mom passed away. Kurt had died in 1979 and to honour her parents’ memory, she established the Kurt and Evelyn (Russell) Haas Endowment Fund, to which her whole family has made contributions.
This Fund, which is managed by the USC Foundation, has generated significant dollars for USC’s education and training programs in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Heather is thrilled that her children have also donated to the Fund for birthdays and anniversary celebrations – helping it grow – and thus making a third generation of Lotta connectors.
A truly remarkable human connection spanning decades, and a meaningful way of honouring a dear friendship that started so humbly, in a WWII postal censorship office in Ottawa.
NB: special thanks to Heather Haas Barclay for sharing these remarkable historic photos.