Posted by: Lizzie Ross | May 16, 2010

Siberian exile

The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia, Esther Hautzig (1968), Harper Trophy, 243 pp.

Esther Rudomin, 10 years old and only child in a well-to-do Jewish family in eastern Poland, finds herself sent by the Soviets to Siberia, with her parents and grandmother, just as WWII begins–a move that causes much anguish and struggle but, ironically, ends up saving Esther, her parents, and her grandmother from being killed in a Nazi concentration camp.

For several months, the Rudomins, of course, don’t know the horrors they’ve missed, only the ones they must live through: forced labor in a gypsum mine, starvation, extreme cold and heat, boredom, and unending struggle to secure a permanent home.

Yet, despite the horrors, Esther can’t help being a normal teenaged girl, yearning for beautiful clothing, attention, and a boyfriend. Her family’s life remains challenging, but as they adjust to their new surroundings and make friends, the daily struggle eases a bit.

Some reviewers compare this to Anne Frank’s Diary, but I also hear echoes of Wilder’s Little House books–the wide sky and fields of the Asian steppe are much like the North American prairie; in each place a hard battle must be fought with the land in order to survive.


  1. This is a wonderful story. You may think what’s happening to your life is the worst that could possibly happen, but decades later you discover that, horrible as it was, your life depended on it. Oooooh, food for thought this. I grew up with stories of families uprooted, kids orphaned, relatives perishing in Nazi camps and Soviet gulags under terrifying conditions. These tales were real and told by survivors who felt they had lost their right to live in the face of the deaths of their loved ones.
    This book is a reflection on finding meaning in suffering and survival.

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