Lotta Hitschmanova: In Her Own Words

We've compiled some quotes from Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova, covering a wide variety of topics, taken from some of her articles, speeches, interviews, radio and TV public service announcements from the 1950s to 1970s. We think they're still relevant (and fun to read) today.

Accepting the Rotary International Award for Human Understanding ….

Your organization and ours are truly walking on the same path. I completely share your belief that the little ones and the elderly must be given as much assistance, protection and love as possible…and thus we are all brothers and sisters, aiming at one single goal: to help make this torn, crying, bleeding world of ours a peaceful shrine for everyone – whatever his or her language, background or color.

Let us promise to remember this important gathering that has brought us together from many parts of the world…some of you will say that mine is a Utopia, and that may be so; but are we not on earth to make it a better, a kinder world for all?

With all our might we must avoid another holocaust, which would be a catastrophe. Instead of destruction we must aim at construction – and very little time is left….

(from Clyde Sanger’s 1986 biography, “Lotta and the USC story”)

The Agency with a heart….

Our USC is often called “Canada’s agency with a heart”, because we realize that we must not hurt the recipient by an insensitive method of offering our aid.

The Art and Science of aiding people….

In the field of theArt of giving aid I have identified three basic principles:

  • To come as an open-minded friend and good listener, when offering help.
  • To say good bye to a project when it can continue on its own.
  • To serve with a personal touch, because a relationship of confidence must lift your aid beyond the realm of a simple business proposition and prove that you truly care.

And now let me turn tothe Science of Aid:

  • Be businesslike and practical.
  • Identify needs felt by the people of the locality we want to serve.
  • Develop local leadership.
  • A voluntary agency must not spread its activities too thinly over too great a territory.
  • Strictest economy when spending precious Friendship Dollars.


I was so shattered by Bangladesh that I thought that I would have my first breakdown in my life. That I couldn’t take it. You see, I have seen many things in this last more than a quarter century. I have seen Greece in utter ruins. And little children walking for a whole day begging for a piece of bread and crying coming back to their destroyed villages at night with empty hands. I have seen Korea at the height of the war, so destroyed with millions of people in the refugee camps. I have seen the haunting drought in Bihar, which I will never forget. And people dying in front of me and we didn’t have a piece of bread to give them. And we did not have a handful of rice to give them.

But Bangladesh is different. The cruelty that was done to practically every single family in a country of 75 million people is something you have to experience, you have to go, you have to speak to the people. You have the students of Dhaka University around you and then you are so shattered. The sorrow and the wounds that have been committed on every family by slaughtering one to five to six to thirteen family members that we of course from the outside could never erase. I shall never forget Bangladesh, never. And it is a commitment of myself to help this country as much as possible.

Breaking her shoulder….

We were flying to Calcutta through a storm back to the Bay of Bengal and it was during the monsoon rains. And we hit one of these terrible monsoon storms – even the pilot afterwards said he wasn’t sure that he would really land the plane safely. And people were screaming in that plane. I shall never forget it, and others were praying and others were crying and it was very frightening.

I was very cold again, very cold, but then when I got to the airplane office to claim my luggage, I was literally thrown by the stampeding crowd into the throughway and into oncoming rushing cars. And broke my arm right at the shoulder. And that was one of the frightening moments in my life. Because I was utterly alone, I was there with all my large luggage with all these files and photographic equipment and I couldn’t move. And I decided that I would not stay in Calcutta which is the rawest city in the world, and that I would fly on the next day to Hong Kong with my broken arm. At the airport they didn’t want to take me as a passenger and I said “I’m a doctor”, and I would take the responsibility and that poor man didn’t know the difference between a PhD and an MD and he let me board the plane.


Canadians are a very generous people. I have been in this work for almost 30 years, I know that our people are very sensitive, but they want to be absolutely certain that their contribution will go where they are needed most and that they will be handled reliably, that they will not go into the black market, that they will be used on a minimum overhead.


Charity begins at home. Indeed it does. And then it goes on to embrace next door neighbours and all those who need help. So start by caring for those near you and then give a thought, and if you can a dollar, to the children far away, who have no hope without your help.


I adore children, I just adore children. You will ask which age group I like best, well I find them all incredibly interesting. And they need love and they all need great affection and great understanding. And so I have them all in my heart. And, very often, I am being called the mother of 1,000 children, but I have many more.


A voluntary agency must be thoroughly human and work from the heart, with compassion and understanding; but at the same time, with a maximum of professional knowledge.


Czechoslovakia, as you know was one of Europe’s excellent democracies. I was very much under the influence of the first president of Czechoslovakia, Thomas Mazurak. And of his successor, wonderful President Benes. And we were a democracy, we believed in helping other people, that we had responsibilities as citizens. And this is embedded in me and I fervently believe it.

Dangerous situations….

I was several times almost lynched….it happened not so very long ago in southern India. When we ran out of supplies…when the women went against me because we had run out of supplies. It was a narrow road and I was outside of the ambulance, it was my back against the ambulance and our two drivers saw this. These exasperated women going all against me. They managed to get me into the car but it was really like a miracle.

But another time, this was a little earlier in our history of aid to India. A very nice postman who had heard of the distribution on the following day, had not informed one village but had informed several villages that the lady with the white hands, this is how they called me, would come and distribute saris and blankets. And naturally everyone who was there expected that we would have a sari or a blanket for every single person. Naturally that was their right to expect, but we didn’t, we didn’t have enough. And they went against us with sticks and stones and this was a very dangerous situation. [How is she able to deal with these situations?] I get very cold. Very calm, I do not frighten at all. I’m just shattered by the tragedy. Because people would never do it if they weren’t so exasperated and disappointed and furious. They cannot understand that a voluntary agency does not have enough funds. How do you explain it to them?

Her Diary and files….

It is called my black book. And it goes with me everywhere, absolutely everywhere. I start with it early in the morning, it lies next to me at night, because I think of it even in my dreams.

…I am a practical person, and I have learned to be a realist. And I do know how dangerous it is nowadays to travel with all the hijackings and the crashes and other problems. And so I want to make meticulously certain that if anything should happen to me, that there must be a complete file available for every single project that the Unitarian Service Committee is sponsoring and there are over 100 today in the world. So that an intelligent person could step into my shoes and take over without having to stop.

Her Dream….

To think that one day the world will be a good place to live, not only for us in the North American continent but for everyone, everywhere in the world, because it can be done. There can be sufficient food grown and there can be sufficient schools for eager children to go to school and life can be something very beautiful if only we abandoned all these horrible destructive things, war and jealousy and only our materialistic thinking and if we thought positively about progress. Progress not so much in the materialistic way but in developing people, the incredible faculties that are in every human being and that are just waiting to be awakened.

Empowering local people….

We are using only indigenous staff…We have completely reliable USC staff who have the same approach as we have here in Canada and who know the problems and try their very, very best to solve them in their own social pattern and in their own culture and traditions….

It is not enough to help financially and with expertise in getting a project underway, – it is more important to train indigenous experts, supervisors and leaders. It is their country which they passionately want to develop themselves…. From the beginning, the USC has been using only indigenous staff in each of its projects….This is our basic principle, and we pioneered in this field long before other organizations and governments accepted this new approach. Excellent, absolutely trustworthy people can be found in every country, I believe, if you take the time to detect them and provide training for them.

Being Famous….

I want to tell you another story which happened in the Edmonton Hotel. I had come in from a very strenuous day. That day I had spoken seven times and I was very tired and aching to get into my room and to be alone. And suddenly a gentleman came and as I was waiting for the elevator, he tried to read the name of the emblem of my uniform and he finally deciphered it and he said, “So you are Lotta,” and I said yes and by that time the door opened and I disappeared into the elevator. But that was not good enough for him. He went to the reception desk and he asked if he could go upstairs into my room and meet me. And of course the reception clerk said, “Oh no, Dr Hitschmanova never sees anybody, you cannot do it.”

So he decided to wait, cleverly, because he knew that very probably I would have to come down sometime to eat in the coffee shop. And this I did and suddenly he came from behind and he asked me whether he could sit down and talk to me. And how could I say no. So he sat down and he said, “You have made my day, you are the second celebrity I have met in 20 years.” And I said, “Oh, am I? Who was the first one?” He said, “A band player.” So there are thousands of these little stories and they keep me going when things look very hard and we are very far away from our objectives.


You asked me how I can get away from my heavy commitments. I never do, but I have outlets when there is the time. I love children, I adore playing with them, I’m very, very fond of flowers. And when I am very discouraged and I am very, very tired, then I do not go and buy something to eat, but I go and buy some flowers. And my friends know this. And even in the hotels where I stay they know this and I am being received in hotels with flowers and my friends are sending me plants and flowers and that is one of my great joys.

Food and agriculture….

The USC has always been an immensely practical agency and to us food is the number one requirement of man. We have focussed on the need of food, providing Canadian food, but also teaching how to produce more and better food practically since the beginning of the USC 29 years ago.

Guns and poverty….

Scientists tell us there is no longer any excuse for human starvation, yet 2/3 of mankind remain hungry, while the world spends 150 billion dollars a year on armaments. Won’t you invest a constructive dollar in the fight against need and poverty?

Haunted by what she saw….

And very often I’m haunted by what I see during the day. And so at night I am alone and I think back and it is difficult to sleep and to forget. Because how can you forget outstretched hands and you have nothing to give. And they all know that you come from Canada from one of the richest countries in the world and you have to say no. And what right do you have to say no.

And then I always feel that I have not worked hard enough and that it is my fault. And that if only people at home knew how great the difficulty is, the problems, the hunger that these terrible illnesses, the hunger of children wanting to go to school. And that they have no money and that they must work when they are tiny. All this is so far away from our Canadians that it is very difficult to interpret.


Men cannot live without hope. Tomorrow has to be better. The Unitarian Service Committee brings hope to cold and hungry adults and children overseas, who have no help from anyone. Your dollar can make the difference between life and death. Please send your contribution today to the Unitarian Service Committee, 56 Sparks Street, Ottawa.

The Human touch….

The strength of USC lies in its imagination, its flexibility and its direct contact with the people. The USC gives a human touch to international development. It’s the link between you and them.


Hunger is a terrible thing. It is so upsetting that even an intelligent and educated person comes to a stage when nothing else matters but where the next meal will come from. You think of nothing else. This is why my heart goes out to the children in the developing world who have nothing to eat. Only when you are not hungry can you start a more normal life.


I learned languages, as many as I wanted and so when I came to Canada I had of course Czech and German, but I had also fluent French and English that I had learned from my governess and which was not too good, but it was very acceptable. But I had also studied Italian and Spanish at university and it was very good. And so I had six languages and one of the few reproaches that I have to Canada is that there is so little opportunity for somebody who is not bilingual, but multi-lingual to use this opportunity of having this treasure of languages and being able to help other people by communicating with them.

Laughter and humour….

You know some of the friends who really know me say that I have a very strong sense of humour, and you know I think I do. Because there is nothing I love more than to laugh. Laugh about myself, laugh about funny things that happen and some of my friends say that it is very strange to see all those tears coming down from my eyes and I just laugh with my whole body and I just enjoy it so much. And the funniest things that have happened to me, not too much overseas, because people take me very seriously and I come as a representative of Canada, but it’s in Canada that funny things happen to me.


In listening there must be no preconceived ideas, no prejudices as to religion or colour or origin, — for it must be your conviction that mankind is one, made up of many faces. You must love people, and have the sensitivity to be interested in their problems; be able to settle down and listen, for hours if necessary, in order to learn all you can about their problems before you start offering advice and help. And it is very important not to hurt the sensibilities of your recipients – just think how you would feel and react if you were in their stead!

A “Motherly” agency….

[Are you looking for a female successor?] I would like a woman, because I think that ours is a motherly agency. That the children will have great joy and confidence in a woman than in a man. Unless the man is very loving and very young and very jolly. Well, I do not know, in my own conception of the Unitarian Service Committee, I always see the Service Committee run by a woman.


I used to play the piano, but I had to give it up, of course. But my great joy is my records and my most beloved musician, of course, is Mozart. He has the grace and the variety – the genius that corresponds to my needs best. [Do you take Mozart with you on your trips?] No, how could I, I don’t even take a little radio with me. Because I am so overloaded when I travel. I have an unbelievable number of files, one file at least for every single project. And then I have notes.

Her Parents….

I had wonderful parents, wonderful parents. A father who adored me. Who was an industrialist and money didn’t matter. And so he gave me every chance to get the education that I wanted. My mother was a brilliant linguist and so I inherited from her the love for languages – the possibility of communicating with other people – and I was very fortunate.


I am coming back to the word partnership again; partners must be on the same level, otherwise the relationship is degrading both to the donor and to the recipient.

Her Passion for the work….

I think I am a very strong person, I must be physically. Because I have gone through terrible hardship and around me there has been such terrible illness and I have always come out victorious. And I am very strong minded because I so believe in this assignment for life. I have chosen it, I created the agency, I have been its leader for almost 28 years and I have seen magnificent victories. And when I go back and I find young people who flock around me and were once tiny, dirty frightened urchins. And we have taken them into our homes and we have given them a good education and we have built up their bodies and their minds. And today they are nurses and social workers and teachers and they are doing so many wonderful things. That is my reward.

The Personal touch….

To the USC, the personal touch is our most precious ingredient….In many ways, our USC is very old-fashioned; to maintain our personal touch we shy away from using an addressograph, because it is so impersonal; in spite of often very great pressure at my desk, I sign hundreds and hundreds of campaign letters night after night before our D-Day, because a stamped or stencilled signature would be inadmissible in my eyes. During weekends when I am alone at the office, I love to dictate dozens of letters to our volunteers, to our branch members, to those who write to us (for information on our work) for the first time, because I believe that a warm relationship is basic to the kind of agency which I dreamt about 28 years ago, when I founded the USC.

Phasing out….

Just as vital as to extend the right kind of help when it is needed, is to phase-out when your partner is ready to manage his responsibilities on his own. To overstay one’s usefulness is a serious mistake, because it dwarfs the sense of responsibility and independence of the recipient. The phasing-out process from a project is just as important as the phase-in…. Because the USC does not overstay its welcome, we do not crush precious human initiative.

Her PhD in literary criticism….

I wrote my thesis on one of France’s greatest living literary critics, Andrew Tearive. And I was fortunate enough to meet some of France’s greatest writers including Andrew Moroix. And I was very much influenced by the literature and the thinking in France.

Her Philosophy of life….

We are here in this world to help each other and to make this world a better place to live. That is my philosophy of life. We are not here to enjoy ourselves and we are not here to make money and we are not here to live empty lives. We are here with a function, with a very important function that has been entrusted to us, and this is to make the world more livable and it lies in our hands and I am absolutely convinced that it can be done.


I have two or three cameras with me. Photography is another one of my hobbies and some of the photographs that were published in our book, “The USC Story”, as a 25th anniversary gift from an unknown and wonderful friend, were taken by me. Because at the beginning when the Unitarian Service Committee was a small child and we had no money at all, then I was the photographer as well. And it is one of my hobbies and I love it. Because it is another way of expressing myself and putting down what I have seen and it is so difficult to explain in words. When I come back to Canada where conditions are so different and I must be the interpreter of millions of people because they count on us.

Who gets Priority?….

We always give to the neediest and the people who receive from the Unitarian Service Committee are investigated by social workers by our volunteers, by our midwives, always, always local people, indigenous people who know the needs and understand the needs. Then we decide on the neediest and we draw up a distribution list. We can give enough to the people on the distribution list but when there are twice or five times as many that come, then it is the tragedy of the people to whom we have to say no, which is the most cruel word in my dictionary.

On being a Refugee….

I became a refugee, I went to Belgium first, and when Belgium was invaded I went into France. And that was at the beginning of the war. And I was in France in Marseilles and outside of Marseilles for two years. And 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, dreadful; you have no more roots, you have no one to turn to. I fainted from hunger in Marseilles twice, fell in front of a street car and I was very ill. And when I came to Canada I weighed 98 pounds.

The importance of Research….

Don’t be encumbered by preconceived ideas. Go to the area where you wish to establish an aid program and make a survey to gather as many facts as you can, to obtain as thorough a picture as you can – and then draw up a plan of action, but not a second earlier! …A thorough preliminary survey is absolutely necessary, in order to know all aspects of the problem before attempting to solve it.


A voluntary agency must never humiliate; it must create co-operation between human beings, that they may build together a better tomorrow.


Self-help must be the ultimate objective of each project. When the foreign agency moves out, the indigenous agency must be able to take over and carry on successfully. If this is not the case, then the project is unsuccessful.

Speaking out….

I think that it’s one of the many, many roles of a voluntary agency to draw the attention of public opinion in a generous and rich, wonderful country like Canada. To the basic problems that humanity today is facing. And, so, an agency such as USC … that is one of our main assignments because Canadians want to know, they feel the responsibility which we have in a very important position of leadership. And it is not only our government, but it is the responsibility of us, the people of Canada, to help as much as possible and we can do that, by wasting less, by encouraging our government to do more.

Her Successor….

[I guess the question in many peoples’ minds is – is it possible to continue without Dr Hitschmanova?] I hope so from the bottom of my heart. And I am trying to train a permanent team at USC headquarters all the time. The problems are that many people do not want, and very often the most brilliant, do not want permanent positions. And very often we cannot meet the salary requirements that they have and we live in a very mobile society and I have had disappointments, over and over, and over again.

But our Board of Directors is determined to find a twin, this is what we are looking for – is a twin to me. It is somebody who will take part of my responsibilities and slowly grow into this job. The tragedy is that Canada is so mobile. And that many people will be attracted to this job but might leave it again after one or two years when the glamour of going around the world has worn off. And when they discover that mine is a seven days a week job and it starts at 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning and it goes sometimes until midnight. And there is always more to do than you can handle, which is a great handicap. I love to do things perfectly and if you have to do things too quickly, you do not do them with that in depth approach that is so characteristic of the Service Committee.


Why do so many people trust the USC? Because it’s completely Canadian, because it’s non-denominational, because it gives aid regardless of religion, or race or political affiliation. It’s well run, closely supervised, and small investments bring big results.

Her distinctive Uniform (Part 1)….

You see, this uniform that I wear and that so many people question. I only have it because it is so practical and the only real way of travelling to the areas where we have programs. This still confuses many so I tell you what happened in an airport in Moncton a few weeks ago. A very old lady came to me and she was laden down with parcels and she said, “Are you a stewardess?” And I said, “No, but could I possibly help you?” And she said, “No, thank you very much, but you look like you are doing something very useful so here is 25 cents.”

Her distinctive Uniform (Part 2) ….

Dr Lotta’s sense of humour made her collect stories of misunderstandings about her uniform: the RCAF veteran who congratulated her on still being in the air force; the waitress in Winnipeg who wanted her to baby-sit when she had explained that her agency looked after children; the guest in a Korean hotel who exclaimed “Telegrams!” on seeing her in the elevator; and the Japanese tourist who tried to buy a bus ticket from her to Niagara Falls. She also recounted episodes when her uniform helped save the situation. Once she was disturbed in the middle of the night on a 480-kilometer train journey in Korea, when two strange men pulled aside the curtain of her sleeping bunk and shook her awake. “Under such circumstances, a uniform like mine is the only thing to travel in,” she said later.

(from Clyde Sanger’s 1986 biography, “Lotta and the USC story”)

USC’s Unitarian roots….

The USC [is] a non-denominational agency. We keep the name “Unitarian” in our title for historic reasons, and because the word expresses the oneness of mankind in which our organization passionately believes.

Women’s development….

Development often starts with a woman. Support leadership programs for women through the USC, 56 Sparks Street, Ottawa.

World War II….

World War Two was a terrible human tragedy and the children, of course, always the most defenceless, are the greatest victims. And I believe that the children are the generation of tomorrow and the great hope, for a better tomorrow and that it is the responsibility of every human being to help build.

On Writing….

I love to write and many people say that I have a talent to write.…I went to the excellent School of Journalism in Paris and enjoyed every minute of my two years there.

And I was taught professionally how to write. And this is a great help to me still today. But I have not time, I only write releases for the Unitarian Service Committee and I write what I call Jottings. When I am overseas and for when our many friends across Canada who want to know what I really find overseas. I write reports which are done in a very personal style and which are distributed widely and quoted in the newspapers. And which perhaps someday will be the basis of a book.

Read 2552 times Last modified on Saturday, 01 March 2014 19:23

LottaHitschmanova tbnWhat's in a Name?

We’re called USC Canada because we started out way back in 1945 as the Unitarian Service Committee, founded by the energetic Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova. We’re still planting the seeds that Lotta sowed. Find out more about our founder, Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova.



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