The Endless Steppe Summary

Esther Hautzig

The Endless Steppe

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The Endless Steppe Summary

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In Esther Hautzig’sThe Endless Steppe,Esther Rudomin and her family are exiled to Siberia from their home in Poland at the beginning of World War II. Esther’s family is Jewish;according to the State, they are also capitalists. Because of this, they are sent to Siberia to learn the value of labor. Esther is only nine years old when the Russians transport her family—her mother, father, and grandmother—via cattle train to Siberia.The journey is slow and difficult.

The Rudomin family, along with so many other families, is packed tightly into the cattle car. It takes three weeks to reach their destination.Upon arriving, they are surprised to learn they are in Siberia. They are not given the chance to acclimate to their new location before they are assigned work. Esther’s mother is sent with the other women to take charge of the dynamite that will be used in the gypsum mine. Esther’s father is to drive a horse and cart. The children, including Esther, must weed so that potatoes can grow, so the prisoners can survive through the upcoming winter.

They are all driven to work hard.The exiled prisoners sleep in a schoolhouse that has been converted for their use. A few weeks later, they are allowed to move into a nearby village to prepare for the harsh winter. At first, the Rudomin family lives in the barracks, but soon finds housing with another couple. Years pass for the Rudomins in Siberia, and their housing changes multiple times. For a little while, they even have their own hut.

Esther grows up in the village Rubtsovsk, combining her Polish culture with that of the Siberian village. For four years, she attends school in the village, where she comes to love Russian literature. She works hard at knitting and finds new, creative ways to help her family—especially after her father is transported to the front to fight. Along with her mother and her grandmother, Esther is allowed to return to Poland.

There, they meet Samuel in Lodz. They are eager to start their new life out of exile, but that excitement is dimmed when they learn that their whole family died in the concentration camps. They cannot return home to Vilna, so they must try to make the best of their lives in Lodz. Though Esther faced many hardships in Siberia, she feels grateful that she was not sent to a concentration camp, since none of her family who were sent to the camps survived the war.

There are several prominent themes in The Endless Steppe: pride, adolescence, and loss of control.

At the beginning of the story, the Rudomin family has prestige in their home in Vilna. When everything is taken from them—everything except each other—they maintain their identities by holding onto their code of ethics. This allows them to take pride in themselves. Despite the differences between their lives in Vilna and in Siberia, they do not ask for help or accept handouts. Others observe that they do not carry themselves like exiled deportees. They hold their heads high. Esther does accept charity on occasion, but she does not tell her mother or grandmother the source of the materials she attains. This pride is often a source of frustration for Esther, but she lives according to the same code of ethics.

Esther is only a child when her family is sent to Siberia. Over the course of her years there, she grows into adolescence, which allows her to better understand her environment and interpret situations. As a child, she relentlessly questions their situation, but as she grows up, she realizes that she needs to help in order to contribute to her family’s well being. Though she is growing up under harsh circumstances, she shares experiences common to most adolescents, such as developing her first crush on a boy.

Loss of control is the third major theme in The Endless Steppe. Despite the fact that their pride allows them to maintain self-identity, the Rudomin family loses everything else when they are deported to Siberia. They lose their home, their extended family, their possessions, and their agency. They no longer get to choose where they live or what they do. They do not have the option to pursue those jobs that best suit their talents and interests. This loss of control also forces Esther to take on the role of outsider in Rubtsovsk, as she does not speak Russian. Both the other children and her teacher treat her differently because she is from Poland. Despite this, Esther and her immediate family members survive, adapting to the loss of control in their lives.