Form and Content
Esther Rudomin Hautzig’s story, told in The Endless Steppe: A Girl in Exile, begins as it ends, in her native Poland. The sudden appearance of Russian soldiers in chapter I is as shocking an intrusion into Hautzig’s idyllic picture of upper-class European family life as their actual arrival in the Rudomin home in Vilna that morning in June, 1941. The security of the ten-year-old Hautzig’s world is shattered by the soldiers’ insistent ringing of the Rudomins’ doorbell. Her belief that parents are all powerful—that her father, “Tata” (the Polish word for “father”) can simply explain to the soldiers that there has been a mistake—is shaken when the soldiers place the Rudomins under arrest as “capitalists and therefore enemies of the people.” As Hautzig and her family are transported out of Poland, jammed with hundreds of other bewildered deportees in the stifling closed cars of a cattle train, the lovely world of Esther’s childhood disappears forever.
The next twenty chapters of The Endless Steppe are set in the frontier village of Rubtsovsk, a tiny speck in the vast space of the flat, treeless Russian steppe. The village exists to support a gypsum mine, and it is to this mine that the exiles are first taken. Men are ordered into the mine to dig the grayish white powder that is used in making plaster casts. Women are set to work dynamiting, and the elderly shovel gypsum onto trucks. Hautzig and the other children...
(The entire section is 509 words.)