|dc.description.abstract||One of my favourite picture books as a child was Der kleine Angsthase, a present from an aunt who lived in the former German Democratic Republic. It was somewhat exotic, like everything else which arrived in the Christmas parcels from relatives behind the Wall. The book tells the story of a timid, chubby rabbit who overcomes his fear when saving his little friend from being eaten by a fox. It was a simple, moral story, told with an understated sense of humour, even a touch of irony, unusual for German children’s books in the 1960s on either side of the Wall. The style in which the pictures of the little rabbit were drawn was also unusual: simple, clear strokes and bright colours, almost like a cartoon. At the time I was aware that it was a book from the GDR, but did not pay attention to the name, Elizabeth Shaw. It was much later in the 1990s, when stumbling across her autobiography Wie ich nach Berlin kam – Eine Irin in der geteilten Stadt [How I Came to Berlin – An Irishwoman in the Divided City] in a bookshop that I realized she was born in Belfast.
The Irish historian Mac Con Uladh called Elizabeth Shaw the “GDR’s most prominent resident from Northern Ireland”. Shaw was born in Belfast on 4 May 1920. When she was thirteen, the Shaws moved to Bedford, England. After finishing secondary school Elizabeth, who had discovered her talent for drawing at an early age, went to the Chelsea School of Arts in London, where she concentrated on book illustration. With the outbreak of the Second World War the school had to close temporarily. Having had to interrupt her studies, Elizabeth began her own service in 1941, painting signs with directions to bomb shelters, earning herself the nickname “Rembrandt” from her new colleagues. Her first drawings were published in 1940, and in 1943 she exhibited works in the Artists’ International Association in London. She became involved in communist circles and began a relationship with the Geneva-born German émigré artist René Graetz in 1944, who was a convinced communist. They married in 1946 and decided, like many other exiles who had been opposed to National Socialism, to move to the Soviet Zone in Germany to help in the building of a better, socialist Germany.5 Having arrived in East Berlin Shaw became a freelance artist, working as an illustrator and caricaturist in the mainstream GDR press. Eventually she wrote and illustrated her own children’s books, becoming a member of the GDR artistic establishment and winning numerous prizes for her work.||en_US