Lotta Hitschmanova

Retour à Lotta Hitschmanova - L'aide à la Maison de Sèvres par l'USCC - La voix de Lotta Hitschmanova

Version française Edité par l'Unitarian Service Comittee (Organisme de développement) Déc. 1985.

Extraits de l'ouvrage de Clyde Sanger - Pages 51-52-53

Homes in the castle

In northern France, Dr. Lotta had been working with Mme Jo Tempi, a German woman hired by Noel Field to run the USC Paris office, which had dealt with twenty-eight shipments of clothing from Canada (some forty-six thousand kilograms) in its first year of work. But she found two projects on her own for Canadian support. These projects were the sponsorship of 128 war-shocked children at Sevres and 58 war-mutilated children at Villepatour.

The connection with the Maison d'Enfants de Sevres began almost by accident, in June 1947. Hours before Dr. Lotta was about to leave for her second trip to Europe, someone at the National Film Board telephoned to say they had just received an unusual film, "Children's Republic," made with Madeleine Carroll, about a children's home outside Paris that needed financial support. Would she like to have it screened? She had no time, but jotted down the address. In Paris she spent almost a whole morning searching for this building before finding a big, dilapidated house that had once been a castle. Her reception there was brusque. After a lengthy wait, an extremely agitated woman appeared. She was the director, Yvonne Hagnauer. As Lotta wrote many years later (in 1980): "She shouted at me almost insultingly. Immediately I understood [she] was desperate for help and had been let down many, too many times."

Mme Hagnauer saw that Dr. Lotta was wearing a uniform made in the style of an American army nurse, and said words to the effect that "You Americans are all the same: you come and look, and do nothing. And now it's the end!" Dr. Lotta put her right on nationality and asked to look around. She learned that the children came from more than a dozen countries, and that Mme Hagnauer had risked her own life in saving some Jewish children during the war by mixing them all up in beds during a search by German troops. The reason for her despair that day" was that the government allowance per child had become quite inadequate. It was enough only for the cheapest food; as one child said later, "potatoes and potatoes forever."

Dr. Lotta was won over by Yvonne Hagnauer's approach in using art in every form as therapy for the terrible shocks these children had suffered in wartime. They had seen parents and friends shot or dragged away, and homes bombed. She inspired the children to paint beautiful things like butterflies and flowers, to write or copy poetry, to learn ceramics or weaving, to dance and play music. This appealed deeply to Lotta's own sense of beauty and culture, and Sevres remained for her a favorite project, for which she recruited Canadian foster parents until 1980.

The USC provided equipment as well as food and clothes in the early days, and by 1949 the children were staging a Canadian Festival, with Mme Vanier the honored guest beside Dr. Lotta. They also sent ceramics and a book of their paintings to Ottawa, and these were exhibited in a USC display in Ogilvy's store. Dr. Lotta greatly enjoyed her annual visit to Sevres, both for the strong friendship that developed with Mme Hagnauer and for the love of the children that lasted through their adolescence. Some of the early residents graduated to impressive jobs; of three girls she knew one became a civil servant, one a: secretary, and one a nurse. Then a new generation of children came to the Sevres home. They had not known the trauma of war but had suffered from other tragedies, and they still wrote to her; Christmastime letters embellished with flower paintings and telling of visits to the nearby forest of Meudon. In the late 1970s, children were learning about lumberjacks and forest rangers, and also about the problem of hunger in developing countries; and Dr. Lotta continued her yearly visits to encourage this wider awareness.

At Villepatour, the needs were all too visible. The home had been started in 1940 by an energetic woman, Baronne Malet, who in the confusion of advancing and retreating armies simply requisitioned a spacious old castle near Paris. With help from the French Red Cross, she began looking after wounded children. The fifty-eight boys and girls there in 1947 had lost either an arm or a leg - and some had lost both legs - most of them after being wounded by Allied bombs. Their ages ranged from five up to eighteen.

There was no place in France that could supply these crippled children with artificial limbs which were modern and adjustable. So, besides supplying food and clothing, Dr. Lotta launched a special drive in September 1948 to raise '$150 for each of the children. This would pay for a journey to Roehampton Hospital near London, and for the fitting there of an artificial limb. The appeal'met a swift response from Canadian cities and organizations, Saskatoon produced $150 for the first girl, eighteen-year-old Mathilde Capp, to be fitted with an artificial arm. The Girl Guides of Flin Flon collected for Jeanine Lemas son, the yo.ung people of Hamilton for Serge Buckthorpe, who was only thirteen when caught by a bomb. Very personal connections were made. The Alberta Women's Institute raised fifteen hundred dollars, and the Canadian Junior Red Cross the same amount. Within seven months thirty-five boys and girls had received limbs, and plans were being made ,for Villepatour to employ its Own technicians to repair and adjust the artificial limbs on the spot.

The assistance with rehabilitation went further. The USC provided a machine for Dr. Bidou to give special electrical massage to his patients. And in mid-1949, a physiotherapist from the veterans' hospital in Saskatoon, Ruth McKinnon, volunteered to work at Villepatour; a mother and daughter in Toronto put up one thousand dollars to pay her way. It was a tough assignment for Miss McKinnon as accommodation was difficult, and the home surprisingly isolated. To her credit, she stayed eighteen months. But in all the forty years of USC operations, she was the only Canadian sent abroad as technical assistance.

The help to Villepatour ended in 1951, but a film survives in the Ottawa archives with some haunting scenes: armless girls undressing a doll; a young boy hanging from a wall bar with his artificial arm; older girls practicing in a shorthand class and writing lefthanded because they had lost their right hands; an early morning dormitory scene of boys helping each other fit their new limbs on again. The film has no commentary, and needs none.

Clyde Sanger
Caravelle (lino)
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