Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Endless Steppe (Esther Hautzig)

There is something about this book that won't let go of me.

When I was in grade six, I started reading this book. For some reason, I had to give it back to my teacher before I was finished. I never forgot it. When I was in university, I finally decide to find it and finish reading it. For some reason, I felt compelled to find it again and re-read it. It is like it calls to me. My great grandparents lived in Russia, transplanted from another country, and we don't know a lot of their story except that they ran for their lives when they left there. Every time I read something about that country I wonder if my grandparents story was similar.

The steppe it refers to is the land in Russia. From what I can gather, it is probably similar landscape to Alberta: prairie at the foot of the mountains. The weather is similar too....lots of cold!

This is a story of Jews during World War II. They aren't sent to a concentration camp. Instead they are exiled to Siberia. They go from living a very comfortable life as wealth citizens of Poland to being very poor in Siberia. They live in mud huts. They work for meager wages. They are separated from each other - yet their determined spirits help them to survive. The story is told by the daughter. While she does suffer terribly because of their exile, she also has many of the same concerns all kids have about fitting in at school, having the right thing to wear (shoes, for example....just having shoes to wear) and seeing popular movies her friends have seen. While these people didn't go through the horrors of concentration camps, their experience is still a compelling story.

I read a book with a story similar to this about similar things happening in Canada during World War I. It is interesting that we choose to take large groups of people and banish them because of their culture. This would be a great story to read with Anne Frank. It discusses big issues but in a child-friendly way.

Goodreads summary:

It is June 1941. The Rudomin family has been arrested by the Russians. They are "capitalistsenemies 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 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.

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