Published by Viking
Publication date: February 14th 2017
Genres: Book Clubs, Debut, Fiction, Historical
According to Polish law, a person of Jewish heritage belongs not to Poland but to a Jewish nation.
Just when I think I have read as much fiction about the Holocaust as I need to, when I’m sure there can’t be another permutation of the horror and struggle for survival, I’m proven wrong. This time it was the gentle nudging of my blogging friend, Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves, that led me to Georgia Hunter’s novel, We Were the Lucky Ones. It’s the story of one family of Polish Jews, the Kurcs. Sol and Nechuma, their three sons (Genek, Addy, Jakob) and two daughters (Mila, Halina), their spouses and their small children—a family unit smashed and scattered. Prosperous businesses and careers lost as each member is peeled away by the relentless hatred of the Nazis and forced further from Poland by the war.
Given the astonishing scope of We Were the Lucky Ones it is even more stunning to find out that it is based on Hunter’s own family. Addy is her grandfather. He was in his twenties, living in Paris when Germany invaded Poland and the borders closed. He spends the war running from the Nazis and trying to find his family. The rest of the Kurcs fall directly into the path of German wrath and are forced into ghettos, separated from each other, and shipped off to concentration camps. They suffer starvation, physical abuse, and the psychological abuse of being on the run and hiding—not only from the Germans, but the Russians as well, who deport them to labor camps in Siberia. All told, four years pass before the war ends and anyone can even begin to think about anything other than staying alive.
It was Stalin who said, “The death of one is a tragedy, the death of millions a statistic.” Throughout We Were the Lucky Ones Hunter strikes a perfect balance between the concrete of one and the abstract of millions by prefacing many of the chapters with timeline data from the war.
November 1939-June 1941: Over one million Polish men, women, and children are deported by the Red Army to Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Soviet Asia, where they face hard physical labor, squalid living conditions, harsh climate extremes, disease, and starvation. They die by the thousands.
In this way, she marshals the reader past the numbing effect of numbers to the immediacy of what these numbers mean for her characters. And yet, while her copious research into her family’s history gives the novel its authenticity it doesn’t impede its emotion. We Were the Lucky Ones, is, at its heart a novel of family, courage, and yes, luck.