Esther Fein was born as Etia Mankova in 1918 in Ludza, Vitebsk Governorate of pre-World War I Russia, now in eastern Latvia. Etia entered a Hebrew school and joined the leftist Zionist Hashomer Hatzair movement. After she graduated from the school, Esther worked and then joined a local kibbutz hachshara – a program that prepared the young for immigration to and life in the Land of Israel. During her hachshara Esther acquired experience in agricultural work and even worked as a logger. When the Soviets annexed Latvia in 1940, they disbanded the hachshara kibbutz, but lifted restrictions on higher education for Jews that had been imposed by the nationalist regime that ruled Latvia in the late 1930s. Esther entered Riga University, where she studied biology.
With the beginning of the Soviet-German war, the Soviet authorities in Riga formed first aid groups from medical and other students, but they soon evacuated them eastward, to Russia, having promised the young people that they would be sent to the front. Despite her disappointment with the reality that she encountered in Soviet Russia, Esther was eager to fight against the Nazis. However, when the evacuees arrived in the town of Arzamas, east of Moscow, they were told that instead of being send to the front, the young girls would be sent to work on a kolkhoz. This was an indication that the authorities did not trust the "Westerners." Initially, Esther performed her agricultural work with enthusiasm since this activity resembled that of her earlier preparation for the Land of Israel. This experience lasted four months.
At the end of 1941, the girl evacuees were drafted and assigned to the newly formed 201st Latvian Division. Esther underwent intensive medical training and, as a military nurse, joined a "sanitary company", i.e., a unit to provide first aid to wounded soldiers of the division. In December 1941 and January 1942, the unit with which she served took part in the defense of Moscow and then in the following counter-offensive. During this period the Latvian Division lost a half of its contingent. Etia bandaged the wounded, gave injections, treated fractures, etc., and, during her brief periods of rest, studied nursing– both from books and from more experienced orderlies. In the spring of 1942 her division was transferred northward, to Staraia Russa, where it remained until the end of the year. In 1943 her division fought in northwestern Russia. In July 1944, with the Latvian Division Esther entered Latvia, where she had grown up. Her rank at this time was sergeant major (starshina) in the medical service.
Esther Mankova was more than once the object of men's attention, receiving proposals from various officers that she become their "frontline wife". She staunchly resisted such proposals. However, while fighting in Latvia, she had a brief affair with a Russian who was temporarily attached to the Latvian Division. Within a short time Etia discovered that she was pregnant. Meanwhile, the officer had returned to his division, which was also fighting in Latvia. Etia failed to locate him. She was dismissed from army service and sent to a hospital to Moscow. She had to reach the city by hitchhiking rather than take a train. In the hospital, she gave birth to a boy whom she called Lev (later, in Israel, his name was changed to Arie; both names, the Russian Lev and the Hebrew Arie, mean "lion"). Since thebaby was premature and weak and his mother had no milk, from the hospital she was transferred to a mother and child sanatorium in a Moscow's suburb. Having no support from family members – all of whom had been killed in 1941 -- Etia succeeded in restoring the baby to health by her own efforts. In December 1944, after Riga was recaptured from the Germans by the Soviets, she returned to the city.
In Riga Esther happened to meet a comrade from her prewar group of Hashomer Hatzair in Ludza. This comrade was connected with the clandestine "Brikha" organization (that engaged in the smuggling of Jews into the Land of Israel) in Lithuania and Latvia. He suggested that she go to Vilnius and from there be helped to reach the Land of Israel. In her memoirs Esther Fein failed to mention that in 1946 she had stolen across the Soviet border carrying her infant in her arms. Esther arrived in Israel in 1948. She settled on the kibbutz of Ein Gev, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
In Israel Esther graduated from Bar Ilan University. She authored four books, including her memoirs. For her historical novel Hadas, she was awarded the Zeev Prize for the best book for Israeli youth) in 1989.
Esther Fein died in 2012. [Based on the book of memoirs Ester Fein, Be-darkei ha-seara, Tel Aviv: Sifriyat Hapoalim, 1992, as well as on her interview taken in 1999,