The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia by Esther Hautzig
Technically a children’s book, this is still an excellent account of Hautzig’s childhood. I’ve read a lot of World War II memoirs, but this one takes a different approach; instead of facing the Nazis, the Polish Hautzig and her family were arrested and sent by the Soviets to the steppes of Siberia, accused of being capitalist enemies of the people.
For five years, Hautzig’s family struggles to survive in the cold and isolation as they are put to work in forced-labor camps. The details of their struggle are gripping, and bring to life their grueling experience.
There are a lot of children’s and young adult books on the topic of World War II, but very few that are focused on life under Russian oppression during and after the war. I’m very glad that I stumbled across this book to begin to fill in this often neglected area of history.
In June 1942, the Rudomin family is arrested by the Russians. They are “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, Ester and her family live in exile, weeding potato fields and working in the mines, struggling for enough food and clothing to stay alive. Only the strength of family sustains them and gives them hope for the future.
For another account of growing up in Stalinist Russia (but written for adults), try And the Winds Blew Cold: Stalinist Russia As Experienced by an American Emigrant. It’s an amazing account of an idealistic American family that emigrated to Russia in 1931s, only to be disillusioned by what life was really like under communism. I only chose not to highlight it as the featured book because it can be hard to find in libraries, and while it is still in print and available, it’s pricey.
To see all the books featured in 31 Days of Great Nonfiction Reads, go to the series page.
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