The Endless Steppe by Esther HautzigReviewed by Karen
Language: The Lord’s name is taken in vain several times throughout the book
Violence: Russian soldiers force their way into the Rudomin home and they are held at gunpoint. Then the family is forced to leave their home, separated, treated roughly and forced onto the train. Imprisoned German soldiers are sent to Siberia. The townspeople yell at them and throw rocks and debris. Esther’s father is interrogated throughout the night by the Russian army. The Jewish genocide is an underlying concern.
Sexual Content: Shurik tries to hold Esther’s hand. She refuses. She wants to just be friends, though it appears that Shurik would like to be more. Esther wishes Yuri, an older school boy, would pay attention to her.
Adult Content: The backdrop of the account is World War II, the genocide of Jews, and the sufferings faced byPolish deportees. All of the Rudomin extended family dies, including the grandfather. Estherfaces fear, forced separation, and continual hardships in Siberia (difficult work, hunger, fatigue, cold, heat). Drinking is mentioned and one of the men Esther and her mother stay with is a closet drinker.
In 1941, ten-year-old Esther Rudomin is the only child of a wealthy, Jewish family living a protected life in Vilna, Poland. But then, on a summer’s day in June, Esther and her family are arrested for being “capitalists and enemies of the people.” Esther, her parents and grandmother are forced onto cattle cars and “relocated” to a labor camp in Siberia. This memoir recounts the nightmarish two-month train trip with little other than thin soup to sustain them. Then, after their arrival in Siberia, Esther’s parents are forced to work in a gypsum mine and Esther and her grandmother work in the fields. Thankfully, an amnesty allows the Polish deportees to be released from the work camp and they move to Rubtsovsk, the nearby village. Esther’s family endures heat, cold and perpetual hunger as they attempt to survive, often dependent on the kindness of other poor villagers. Soon, Esther’s father is forced into the Red Army and must leave the family to survive alone. But through all of these hardships, Esther is a typical girl who is worried about fitting in at her new school and making friends. She finds out that five years is a long time and “the lines between Polish deportee and Siberian girl are easily blurred.” When it is time to return to Poland, Esther realizes that she has learned to love the vastness of the Steppe.
Like Anne Frank, Esther Rudomin’s autobiography, is a “tribute to the resilience of human spirit and especially the adaptability of youth” during WWII. Thankfully, Esther’s story has a different ending. Since it is written through the eyes of a young child, simplicity and innocence of the situations is maintained, rather than dwelling on political causes and issues. Esther notes with pride that the “little rich girl of Vilna survived poverty as well as anyone else.” I am sure young readers wishing to read about this time period will enjoy this book as much as I did.