The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia

The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia

by Esther Hautzig


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This is the remarkable true story of a family during one of the bleakest periods in history, a story that "radiates optimism and the resilience of the human spirit" (Washington Post).

In June 1941, the Rudomin family is arrested by the Russians. They are accused of being capitalists, “enemies of the people.” Forced from their home and friends in Vilna, Poland, they are herded into crowded cattle cars. Their destination: the endless steppe of Siberia.

For five years, Esther and her family live in exile, weeding potato fields, working in the mines, and struggling to stay alive. But in the middle of hardship and oppression, the strength of their small family sustains them and gives them hope for the future.

The first winner of the Sydney Taylor Awards was Esther Hautzig's The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia, and 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of this powerful classic.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780064405775
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/12/2018
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 77,116
Product dimensions: 5.12(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.51(d)
Lexile: 880L (what's this?)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Esther Hautzig was the author of many books for children and adults. The Endless Steppe is an autobiographical account of her childhood in Siberia. It was a National Book Award nominee and an ALA Notable Children’s Book. It also received the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The morning it happened -- the end of my lovely world -- I did not water the lilac bush outside my father's study.

The time was June 1941 and the place was Vilna, a city in the northeastern corner of Poland. And I was ten years old and took it quite for granted that all over the globe people tended their gardens on such a morning as this. Wars and bombs stopped at the garden gates, happened on the far side of garden walls.

Our garden was the center of my world, the place above all others where I wished to remain forever. The house we lived in was built around this garden, its red tiled roof slanting toward it. It was a very large and dignified house with a white plaster facade. The people who lived in it were my people, my parents, my paternal grandparents, my aunts and my uncles and my cousins. My grandfather owned the house, my grandmother ruled the house; they lived rather majestically in their own apartment, and the rest of us lived in six separate apartments. Separate, but not exactly private. There were no locked doors: people were always rushing in and out of each other's apartments to borrow things, to gossip, to boast a bit or complain a bit, or to tell the latest family joke. It was a great, exuberant, busy, loving family, and heaven for an only child. Behind the windows looking out on our garden there were no strangers, no enemies, no hidden danger.

Beyond the garden, beginning with the tree-lined avenue we lived on, was Vilna, my city. For the best view of Vilna one went to the top of Castle Hill, and I was always asking Miss Rachel, my governess, to take me there. Built along the banks of the river Wilja in a basin of greenhills, Vilna has been called a woodland capital. It was a university town, a city of parks and white churches with gold and red towers built by Italian architects in an opulent baroque style, a city of lovely old houses hugging the hills and each other. It was a spirited and a gay city for a child to grow up in.

From this hilltop I could make out the place where my family's business took up half a block, the synagogue we attended, the road that led to the idyllic lake country where we had our summer house. When I stood on this hilltop everything was just as it should be in this best of all possible worlds, my world.

And, down to the smallest detail, I would not have had any of it changed. What I ate for breakfast on school mornings was one buttered roll -- a soft roll, not a hard roll -- and one cup of cocoa; any attempt to alter this menu I regarded as a plot to poison me.

I would sit down to this breakfast at a round table in the dining room with my young parents or my beloved Miss Rachel. My father -- called Tata, the Polish for papa -- was my most favorite person in the world, a secret I thought I ought to keep from Mama. Tata was gay and fun-loving and not only made jokes himself, but laughed at mine -- whether mine were funny or not.

Mama was gay, too, with an engaging talent for laughing over spilled milk, but at an early age I found out that she was a strong-minded lady who thought that one indulgent parent was quite enough for an only child. When I was four years old, she and I first locked horns. I had just begun to attend a progressive nursery school, and one morning, when I and a dozen or so other little girls were doing calisthenics on the floor, I made a shattering discovery. All legs had, been swung back over heads, all toes were touching the floor, when, rolling my eyes from side to side, I saw that all the panties thus displayed were silk-white, pink, blue, yellow silk, a gorgeous rainbow of silk panties, some even edged with lace -- except mine. Mine were white cotton, severely unadorned. I told Mama that this situation must be corrected immediately. She thought not. I said that if I could not wear silk panties I would not go to nursery school at all. Mama said: "Very well. Don't go." I didn't go; I stayed home until it was time for me to go to grade school when I was seven.

And when it came to choosing the school, Mama decided it was character-building for a rich child to go to a school where there were children from all economic brackets. I went to the Sophia Markovna Gurewitz School, where I learned Yiddish and was introduced to the literature and culture of my people.

I loved school and I loved the order of my life. My days were planned with the precision of a railroad schedule. On Mondays after school there were piano lessons; Tuesdays, dancing class; Wednesdays I went to the library and invariably argued with the librarian, who recommended children's books when I wanted grownup books, particularly mysteries and the more bloodcurdling the better. On Thursdays my cousins and I had calisthenics with a muscular lady who drilled us as if we were candidates for the Prussian Army, which made us explode into giggles. And on Fridays I was allowed to help Mama and the cook prepare the Sabbath meals -- braid the challah, the ritual bread, and chop the noodles. On Fridays, the seven kitchens of our house would send forth the marvelous smells of seven Sabbath meals all alike -- the same breads, sponge cakes, chickens, and chicken soup.

But in 1939 Hitler's armies marched on Poland.

When the first bombs fell over Vilna I was terrified, of course. But we were lucky; no bombs fell in our garden. Our garden was invulnerable.

The Endless Steppe. Copyright © by Esther Hautzig. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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The Endless Steppe: Growing up in Siberia 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
Venqat65 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
SPOILER ALERT!!This was one of my favorite books when I was a child. We read it in "gifted and talented" class in the 6th grade and it captured my imagination. It was my first introduction to WWII. I could not imagine having to suddenly leave my home with only a few possessions and live in this way. The book really impacted my life. I read it over 30 years ago and it has stayed with me all this time. I thought of Esther each time I have witnessed places to do with the Holocaust. Striking book. Amazing.
amusingmother on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I guess I am just drawn to human suffering. Young Esther is ripped from her home one morning with her parents and grandparents and suffers the next four years in Siberia where she accepts hunger, cold, heat, and nothingness. The last she learns to love. Interesting history. Well written.
dlmann on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Esther and her family are accused of being "capitalist-enemies of the people" and are forced into the labor fields of the Siberian Steppe. The family struggles for the basic needs in life.An excellent read! A very good book to read as an addition to history class.
STBA on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The author describes her experiences during World War II when she and her family were arrested by the Russians and sent to work in he Siberian gypsum mines.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Derp More than 1 year ago
The Endless Steppe follows the story of a girl and her family being forced from Poland by Russia for being "political enemies," they are then shipped to Siberia and she and her family are forced to stay there for 5 years, trying to survive and make a living for themselves. The book is not a happy book, do not expect to be feeling happy when you are reading this book. The major message of the book seemed to be faith in humanity and that trust sometimes may be the only way you are going to get through the situation. The author definitely made me connect to the character and I could actually relate to her because she was socially ostracized just for where she lived and her appearance. This helped me to actually care about what happened to the character from trying to find new shoes to getting lost in a blizzard and almost dying. The author also managed to show the main character maturing as a person over the time of five years. I liked that the author cared about the side characters as well and gave them a believable personality and every character had their own unique human trait. Even nicer was the flow of the entire book, it was not a slog through any of it, you are not going to be impatient for the next decent piece of story. The story was not too fast as well and was not filled with so much action that it would make the conflict meaningless. This is the format that I believe that books should be made. I also like how the story supported the moral lesson that trust and connections to others will help you. I do however dislike the mild predictability of the book. The side characters almost die so often that you stop noticing it when they are in "danger." I wouldn't have a problem with this if this didn't happen so often. I also dislike how the author softens the conflict, for example, the main character's grandmother is forced to work in a coal mine yet the author dismisses it and the character only suffers from "being tired." Despite that fact I believe this book is a good read and I would recommend it to everyone.
CentralILMom More than 1 year ago
My parents got this book for me when I was about 10 years old. I am now 26 and the cover has come off so many times from repeated readings, I am here buying a new copy. Wonderful book and STILL my favorite.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had to read this book for school. I didn't think i would like it, but once i started to read it i couldn't put it down. I think it really helps you to understand how lucky everyone is. I would reccomend it to everyone. It is so interesting. If you like reading these types of books then try "Annne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl"
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book from the very start.The title caught my attention, i could not put it down. Some parts were so sad, i felt like crying. One of the best book i've ever read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's an awesome book and I think other people should read it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is very well prepared. I love non- fiction books and this one was wonderful. So much with explisit detail! Even though I am only 12 I was able to read and understand this book without having to ask anyone what a word meant. If only the world had a lot of books more like this one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book in school and everyone loved it!My teacher said that when she was our age(7th grade) that she read this book. It really shows that you should be thankful for what you have. Esther's personality, way of thinking, and outlook on life changed completely throughout this book(positively). I would recommend this to anyone that loves to read about the past and the hardships they went through. The people were mistreated by the Russian Soldiers! Normally, books that teachers choose for you to read at school are really dumb. Not this one though. It was very good!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig The novel, The Endless Steppe, is the story about a girl growing up in Siberia. It is about what she struggles through in the midst of World War II. Esther Rudomin had a somewhat luxurious life with her family. They all lived in a series of apartments in Vilna, Poland. Yet suddenly that life is shattered in the year of 1941. Russians invade Vilna extracting capitalists ¿enemies of the people¿ and exiling them to Siberia. Esther and her family find themselves thrown into a world that¿s bitter and cold. There are no hills or valleys. The land is flat. Esther is forced to work out in the hot sun, harvesting potatoes while the rest of her family work down in the gypsum mines. Russians bark orders, the nights are cold and this place seems like a completely different world to Esther. Yet when there finally seems to be hope, more and more obstacles come there way. Will Esther overcome those obstacles? Will they ever leave Siberia? From having no friends to having no food, this book brings you into Esther¿s world.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i read this book when i was 9 years old and now im almost twenty and it is still my favorite book i cant wait to go out and buy my own copy because its definitely something i need in my collection
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ah... After reading this book, I pictured me, living in the siberian steppes on the hot dreaded place. This book brings lots of tragedies and suprising events. This book is exceptionally great because it's based on real life! I enjoyed reading it, even if I am a kid, Enjoyed it. :) All the same, reccomended for ALL ages. *Who can read*
Guest More than 1 year ago
the endless steepe was a wonderful book the best i`ve read in a long time i`m a mother of 4 my son brought the book home and both of us read the book i hope other books as good as this one is avaiable in all school librarys.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a great book. It made me want to cry in parts and made me laugh in others. I recommend this book to everyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought the Endless Steppe was a very good book. It showed all the hardships and tragedies the Jews went through when they were exiled to the fierce steppes of Siberia. I found that I could relate to the story even more because the main girl in the story, Esther, was only a few years younger then me. I thought it was absolutely horrible the way they were treated while they were living there. They had to do many hard, exhausting, grueling things, and for that I have an even greater respect for those who endured it. This book was sad at many parts, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and would recommend it for any young adult.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Many people these days take for granted all of the luxuries that we have aquired. In this book these issues of luxuries are all taken away and people always find a way to go on with their lives. This novel really opened my eyes to what life was like, and how many hardships these jews actually had to endure. I don't know how Esther and her family managed to cope with some of the obsticals that were thrown at them. This novel was very powerful and moving. The message seemed to be so universal. I couldn't imagine someone my age going through this much suffering and pain at such a young age. It seemed as though you were there as you read. The story was so well written and just seemed to grab your attention as though you couldn't stop reading. I think that many children should definatly read this and I would recommend this book for anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book as a very young girl living on an isolated farm. I found it captivating. Having lost everything myself at such a young age, it was the inspiration I needed in order to go on. A bit dramatic, but as a child I really got lost in her troubles and triumphs. It is well written and the message is universal. This should be in every child's library.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Endless Steppe proved how strong many Jews were during the Jewish holocaust. It opened my eyes to hardships Jews faced other than death itself. Chapter after chapter brought another difficulty Esther Rudomin and her family would have to break through: Esther's father being drafted to the army, the first Siberian snowfall, or trouble with a teacher at school, making it almost impossible to take a break without agonizing over what would happen next. Read it and find out for yourself how Esther survives her stay at the notorious Siberian Steppes.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm 13 years old and when I read this book I found it very, very, very amazing! It's a very powerful book that can touch the human soul. I liked this book because it was simply wonderful!