Many Canadians will remember the accented voice of Lotta Hitschmanova from her radio and television commercials in the 1960s and ‘70s that made 56 Sparks Street the second most famous address in Ottawa and perhaps all of Canada.
Lotta was born Lotte Hitschmann in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in November 1909, to Max Hitschmann, a Jewish businessman, and his wife Else. Lotta studied at the University of Prague and the Sorbonne in Paris, completing a PhD in languages and considering a diplomatic career. Critical of the Nazis, she fled Prague in 1938 when the Nazis marched into Czechoslovakia. During this time, she changed her name to Lotta Hitschmanova because it sounded less Germanic.
As World War II raged across Europe, she landed in Marseille, France, where she worked for a refugee agency operated by the American Unitarian Service Committee. In 1942 she was granted a visa to reside in Canada for the duration of the war. When she learned her parents had perished in the concentration camp system, Canada became her permanent home.
Lotta’s heart went out to the children of war-torn Europe. In 1945, she established the Unitarian Service Committee of Canada, which operated as a non-denominational charity collecting money, food and clothing. When life in Europe returned to normal, she turned her attention to children in other parts of the world devastated by conflict, drought and disease.
Lotta was at the helm of USC Canada for close to 40 years, establishing 150 aid programs in 20 countries. Every year, she crossed Canada to raise awareness and money and travelled the world to see her work in action. Thousands of Canadians, primarily women, volunteered their time for the cause in what was dubbed Lotta’s Army. She personally wrote thousands of thank-you cards.
“Dr. Lotta” was a striking figure, a petite firebrand wearing the uniform of an army nurse with a military-style cap. For her work, she received awards from France, Greece, Korea, Lesotho and India, was named a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1980, and was placed in the Personalities Hall at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. She retired in 1982 and died of Alzheimer’s disease in August 1990. USC Canada continues her good work around the world.
Knowles, Valerie. “Dr. Lotta’s Biography.” http://usc-canada.org/lotta/biography/
Rain, David. Correspondence with SWCC, 19 January 2008.
Photo courtesy USC Canada.