Author Georgia Hunter was 15 when she learned that her grandfather, Eddy Courts, whose real name was Addy Kurc, was born in Radom, Poland in 1914 into a well-to-do Jewish family. She never thought much about the fact that he was fluent in so many languages, including French, or about his love of music. She never knew that he was separated from his parents and four siblings for more than seven years, with neither knowing if the other was dead or alive.
The result is a moving novel — “We Were the Lucky Ones” — based on true facts she uncovered about her family.
Addy, a budding musician, had moved to France in the late 1930s but always came home for Passover. In 1939, his mother wrote to him, suggesting that he not come home that year, as the circumstances in Poland were unfavorable. Addy heeded his mother’s wishes, not realizing that he would not see his family again for years.
Addy’s siblings are Genek, Mila, Jakob and Halina, all of whom are adults by the time the book opens in Radom in 1939. Two are married, one with an infant, and the other two are close to marriage. Wartime circumstances make it impossible for them to stay together; each of the family members, including parents Sol and Nechuma, are propelled into different, precarious situations. Some end up thousands of miles away; others stay closer by but are forced into hiding.
At the beginning of each chapter, which alternates focus on a different family member, the author includes a date and a brief synopsis of the war’s progression, particularly as it related to where her family members were at the time or what they were doing.
The spoiler alert is in the title itself. Through some cosmic combination of miracles or fate or luck, the Kurc family managed to survive intact, though they did experience the loss of some in-laws and other relatives.
Their ultimate survival was a particularly poignant happenstance, considering that Poland lost 90 percent of its Jews, and Radom, where the Kurc family originated, lost all but 300 of its 30,000 Jews.
Perhaps it’s because the characters are based on real people, but Hunter manages to create authentic personalities with distinct voices, all of whom have fascinating stories to tell.
Despite their uncertain circumstances, some having been forced into a ghetto, others bound for a train to Siberia, life goes on. Marriages were celebrated, even if they had to take place quietly in dark basements, children were born, and they worked when they could find work. In the end, though, nothing was more important than family.
It is an incredible story of resilience, of hope, of survival. Although there are scenes in the book that are difficult to read (after all, this took place during the German and Soviet occupation of Poland), this is one of the more hopeful World War II era novels that I have read.
Perhaps the most poignant moments in the book are the several scenes in which various family members were reunited.
This was clearly a labor of love for the Connecticut-based author, who spent years researching the time period as well as the stories of her family members. The book is expansive in scope, the language is vivid, and the storyline compelling.
The book begins and ends with a Passover seder, a fitting symbol of exodus and freedom.
Hilary Daninhirsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.