The Endless Steppe is Esther Hautzig’s account of her girlhood in Vilna, Poland which was brutally torn from her when she was banished to Siberia with her family.
Born Esther Rudomin, her childhood was spent in the warm, loving embrace of her large Jewish family. Life was colourful and happy, her childhood carefree and safe. Her heavenly world ended abruptly in 1941 when she, her parents and grandmother were loaded into cattle cars and shipped off to Siberia – cast out by the Russians as ‘capitalists – enemies of the state’.
They spent five years trying to survive, cut off from the world that they had known, barely even aware of the ravages of the war waging in their homeland. It was a harsh existence where no one survived without great determination, resourcefulness and the grace of God. Yet even in this exiled, forgotten community, Esther shines through with her indomitable spirit and her love of life.
Her story is deeply compelling and moving. It is a book that is hard to put down. She is a person of rare qualities with a love of life, high moral standards and a profound love for her family.
Even in harsh Siberia, her thirst for life refuses to be dampened. In her own words: "A young girl’s heart is indestructible." She embraces her new life and finds beauty in it despite the perpetual hunger and cold.
Finally, the war comes to an end and her family prepares to make their way home to their beloved Poland. Esther then receives the greatest shock of all – that she, her mother, father and grandmother are the only survivors of their large family. What had seemed their misfortune to be exiled to Siberia proved to be their salvation.
Esther left the Russian Steppe changed forever. She had arrived a terrified girl in fear of the great open spaces. She left, a young woman who had faced her fears and found an inner strength. The steppe had imparted to her its great peace. This is a story that lives in the reader for a long, long time.