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Barefoot in the Rubble
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In the late seventeenth century, the House of Habsburg, which ruled Austria and the Empire of the German Nation, recovered the area then called Hungary by defeating the Ottoman Turks. The Ottoman Empire had occupied the region for 150 years. Fearful that the Ottoman Turks would regain control of the area, the Austrian Imperial Council launched a great colonization scheme to settle the recovered lands with loyal subjects. Promising land in exchange for hard work, the Empire encouraged German-speaking people from Southwestern Germany, Northeastern France and Switzerland to cultivate the region.

Since no roads linked Central Europe to Southeastern Europe, the new settlers traveled down the Danube by barge. More than 1,000 farming communities and numerous homesteads were settled in the Danubian Plain in what is now Hungary, Romania. The two largest areas they settled became known as Banat and Batschka. The German-speaking settlers became known as Danube - Swabians. (Danube, because they had traveled the Danube and settled its plain, and Swabian, because their port of departure had been in Ulm, Swabia.)

The ethnic Germans lived in harmony with their Hungarian, Romanian, Serbian and Croatian and other ethnic neighbors. Their hard work turned the wastelands of the former Ottoman Empire into the breadbasket of Europe. They built their towns according to the specifications of the Habsburg Monarchy, with unusually wide streets, whitewashed houses and a Baroque - style church at the center.

Two of these towns were Karlsdorf and Gakowa. These are the settings in which our stories occur.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire became disbanded at the end of World War I, and the area in which the Donauschwaben lived was divided among Romania, Hungary and the newly formed country of Yugoslavia. Life went on much as it had before the war. The people still spoke their German Donauschwaben dialect and kept their German customs and traditions.

However, the end of World War II spelled disaster for Yugoslavia's residents. Tito's communist government declared ethnic Germans "enemies of the state". 537,000 people lost all their rights and property. Worse yet, those who did not flee Yugoslavia were forced into concentration camps. Tens of thousands died in this, Yugoslavia's first ethnic cleansing.

The books, Barefoot in the Rubble, A Pebble in My Shoe, and Katharina's Escape to Freedom, each contain the stories of families who managed to survive.

The book Kirchweih Fest: A Donauschwaben Celebration from Europe to America depicts a traditional Donauschwaben celebration, how it was observed in Southeastern Europe and how it is still celebrated in America today.
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May not be redistributed or reproduced without written permission.

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