Esther Hautzig was born Esther Rudomin in 1930 in the old city of Vilna, Poland. Russia annexed Vilna and surrounding portions in the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact, and it is now the city of Vilnius in the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. The Rudomins were prosperous Jews, and Esther's father, Samuel Rudomin, was an engineer. In 1941 Esther, her parents, and her paternal grandmother were deported to the Siberian village of Rubtsovsk in the Altai region north of Semipalatinsk. Though Rubtsovsk is only slightly farther north than London, its isolation and fierce winters created harsh living conditions, especially for the deportees, who had lost their homes and livelihoods.
Esther's father was conscripted into the military during the war and was reunited with Esther, her mother, and her grandmother when the women returned to Poland in March 1946. They lived briefly in Lodz before going on to Stockholm. Esther soon left for the United States, where she lived with her mother's brother and his family. Her parents soon joined her in the United States, and her grandmother went to Israel to live. Esther Hautzig attended schools in New York City, where she later lived with her husband, who is a concert pianist, and their two children. Hautzig wrote The Endless Steppe at the suggestion of American statesman Adlai Stevenson, who had visited Rubtsovsk.