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The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia (1968)

de Esther Hautzig

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During World War II, when she was eleven years old, the author and her family were arrested in Poland by the Russians as political enemies and exiled to Siberia. She recounts here the trials of the following five years spent on the harsh Asian steppe.
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"And I think that someplace inside of me there was something else -- some little pleasurable pride that the little rich girl of Vilna had endured poverty just as well as anyone else."

The Endless Steppe is a true story, a memoir about young Esther Hautzig and her immediate family living in exile on the steppes of Siberia during WWII. During the war, life was comfy and privileged in Poland until Esther and her family were arrested by the Soviet government, accused of being "capitalists," -- what a crime! It took two months by crowded cattle car to arrive in Siberia, where they were assigned to hard labor camps and had little access to food or clothing to sustain themselves through winter.
However, thanks to the intervention of Britain, Esther's family was released from their initial assignments and permitted to live in a village where they shared a home with other poor villagers. Esther's parents found menial work in order to survive, and Esther was allowed to go to school.

For the next five years, Esther grew up assimilating to the Russian language, the culture, and Soviet nationalism. She made friends and even had a crush. Life was typical for this young teenager; all she desired was to be liked by others and to make friendships. Absolute poverty and near starvation could not suppress her coming-of-age experience. Even a lack of school books and supplies did not prevent her from studying, learning, and excelling.

When Esther's father was ordered to the front lines of Russia, Esther, her mother, and grandmother had to be extra resourceful to find food. Esther did her part and learned how to sew to make clothes for others in exchange for milk and potatoes. She also collected food that fell from passing trains, which she did apprehensively because she believed it was theft.

At the end of the war, Esther's father returned to Poland, and he wrote to his wife to come home. Esther protested because she felt connected to the steppe -- she had fallen in love with it.

"I had come to love the steppe, the huge space, and the solitude. Living in the crowded little huts, the steepe had become the place where a person could think her thoughts, sort out her feelings, and do her dreaming."

But obviously, she must return to Poland. Unfortunately, someone else was living in their home now, and all of their belongings were gone, including the photo albums that Esther had wanted to take when they were arrested. It was a "crushing blow," Esther remembers, that nothing of their past remained.

"And then came the most terrible news of all. It came from survivors of the concentration camps,...all the members of my father's family -- not one of them had survived the German massacre of the Jews. Of my mother's family...My mother's brother, sister, her mother, her aunts and uncles, my beloved cousins, all were dead."

Here they discovered that their own deportation to Siberia had saved their lives. "Hunger, cold, and misery were nothing; life had been granted" to them. They thanked God.

* * *

I am thankful to have found this little gem because it is a history I knew nothing about. Esther was just a sweet girl full of love for family with an encouraging and joyful spirit. Under such hardship, she rose to the occasion, demonstrating resourcefulness, perseverance, and courage.

It was only after an American presidential candidate had encouraged Esther to write about her personal experiences that she did so. She wrote this autobiographical story as if she were that young girl reliving her days in Siberia again, though over twenty years had passed. Now, gratefully, we have her story forever. ( )
  GRLopez | Mar 22, 2024 |
I read this many years ago as a young girl and loved it. An interesting and little known/part of history. Very good for young readers to expand their view of the world. ( )
  Luziadovalongo | Jul 14, 2022 |
9788498381771
  archivomorero | Jun 25, 2022 |
This story is very much a child's impression. Her parents and grandmother hid much from her (which she does recognize as an adult)--the hunger, cold, school, moving, close quarters, outgrown shoes--are all just part of this weird normal for Esther, exiled with her family in Siberia during WW2. I can only imagine what the physically demanding jobs, cold, hunger, need for better housing, and their daughter and mother suffering did to their thoughts. As well as worry about the family members left in Vilna.

When Russia sends the family back to Poland after the war, they learn that they--who endured 4 years exiled as Jewish capitalists--are some of the few Polish Jews who survived. Her aunts, uncles, cousins, maternal grandmother--all were killed during the war. She does not specify if they were sent to concentration camps, starved in ghettos, were killed in attacks--but she probably never knew. And this is YA/middle grade, so such details might have been glossed over intentionally. ( )
1 vote Dreesie | May 7, 2022 |
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Nome do autorFunçãoTipo de autorObra?Status
Hautzig, Estherautor principaltodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Bohlmeijer, Arnoautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Bresnahan, AlyssaNarradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Montagne-Andres, L.autor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Podevin, Jean-FrançoisArtista da capaautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Pollay, Ulrike A.Übersetzerautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Post, Manceautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado

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This story would not have been told without the help of many, many people. It is gratefully dedicated to all of them.
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The morning it happened - the end of my lovely world - I did not water the lilac bush outside my father's study.
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Those of us who were lucky enough to have had a slice of that watermelon that night - like me - must count it the most delectable food ever eaten anyplace by anyone.
I bent my head closer to the vines; I didn't want to see the dunce. But as a member of the collective dunce, I too called out, "No, no." We were not humanitarians; we were just hungry children who didn't want to starve, and I think it likely that collectively we had it in us to stone the next child who pulled a potato.
Later, I would occasionally watch my mother work with the jack hammer, but the woman whose guts seemed about to be shaken out of her, whose face was contorted to ugliness, would seem a stranger.
Hadn't I learned by now that it was not all that easy to die?
The flatness of this land was awesome. There wasn’t a hill in sight; it was an enormous, unrippled sea of parched and lifeless grass. “Tata, why is the earth so flat here?” “These must be steppes, Esther.” “Steppes? But steppes are in Siberia.” “This is Siberia,” he said quietly.
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During World War II, when she was eleven years old, the author and her family were arrested in Poland by the Russians as political enemies and exiled to Siberia. She recounts here the trials of the following five years spent on the harsh Asian steppe.

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813.54Literature English (North America) American fiction 20th Century 1945-1999

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