More About the Author
Growing up I dreamed of illustrating books, not writing them. Drawing was my favorite thing to do. But I had no art supplies in the concentration camp. A twig was my pencil, and the ground was my paper.
I was born in the town of Karlsdorf, Yugoslavia, and in1945, when I was four years old, the Communist government of Marshal Tito declared me an enemy of the state. My family were Donauschwaben--ethnic Germans. Our people had been living peacefully in the Baltic countries for generations. Though we had no part in the war, we were branded Nazis all the same. My mother, brother and I, along with the old people and young children of our town, were put into concentration camp. My father and the other able bodied men and women were hauled off to Russia to slave in the mines.
What most people do not know is that this was happening in every Communist town where Donauschwaben lived. It was happening in the years after World War II.
We spent nearly three years in the camp, my mother trying to keep my brother and me alive on tiny rations of watery pea soup, trying to keep us clean without soap, nursing us without medicine. One night, we escaped with a group of fellow prisoners. It was not the first time we had tried, but this time we were successful. We fled on foot across Hungary and half way across Austria, scaled a mountain range, and reached the American Zone.
We had not known whether my father was alive or dead, but in bombed out Munich we were finally reunited with him. Several years later, when I was almost ten, my family came to the United States and started our new life in Chicago.
By now I had everything I needed to create pictures on paper. Finally, I could become an artist--and I did. But the memories of those years we spent in the camps never faded. More than 15 million ethnic Germans had suffered atrociously at the hands of the communists. Millions died. There was a story that needed to be told to the world, and none of the art I created could tell it. That is why I wrote BAREFOOT IN THE RUBBLE.
Since the publication of the book, I have received many honors and awards. I was named Woman of the Year by the American Legion Auxiliary, and I have been an Illinois author of the month. My book has been displayed in the Senate Russel Rotunda in Washington, DC.I have spoken to dozens of professional groups and at universities in the U.S. and Europe, and shared my story with hundreds of school children. No way could I have predicted the incredible journey that book has taken me on, across the country and across the world.
And that raggedy, starving child with a stick for a pencil? She still lives within me.
Elizabeth B. Walter