We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
Every once in a long while I read a book that I know is exceptional. The most recent is We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter.
This is a Second World War story with a difference. The novel chronicles the experience of the Kurc family, beginning in the spring of 1939. The family is Jewish, living in Poland, going about their normal lives. They are celebrating Passover. Only one of the adult children, Addy, is away from home in France.
We all know, of course, what happens to the Jews of Europe between 1939 and 1945. We know that millions were murdered and most of those who survived left Europe and established new lives on other continents. The members of the fictional Kurc family experienced many extreme hardships during the long years of the war, but they survived. The notes on the book cover reveal this, though as I read I felt that at any moment one or more of these people would not live to see the end of the war.
Every member of the Kurc family sometimes experiences extreme hardship in one way or another, starving in a Ghetto in Poland, freezing in a Siberian camp, exiled in South America, or hiding, masquerading as Christians in plain sight in Nazi occupied Poland. They each manage through luck and resourcefulness to live while so many others do not.
We follow each member of the family across Europe and across the Atlantic. They attempt to remain in contact with each other, always hoping the war will end and they will be together again. Few know the fate of the others, and no one knows what has become of Addy whom they have not heard from since 1939. Each of their stories is a fascinating portrait of people who have such a will to survive that they endure depravations we can hardly imagine, always doing what has to be done to live one more day.
What is, of course, most remarkable is that they do survive – and that this novel is based upon the experiences of a real family. When Georgia Hunter was fifteen she learned about some of the wartime experiences of her grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and cousins. She was astounded at what she heard, and began to listen and make notes of the family history – there was so much of it. She travelled to the city in Poland where it all began, interviewed everyone in the family, and others who had lived through the war years.
What began as an attempt to record family history resulted in an exceptional novel that should be read by everyone. It is the story, not of defeat and victimization, but of the power of the will to live and the resilience of the human heart.