NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
Inspired by the incredible true story of one Jewish family separated at the start of World War II, determined to survive—and to reunite—We Were the Lucky Ones is a tribute to the triumph of hope and love against all odds.
“Love in the face of global adversity? It couldn’t be more timely.” —Glamour
It is the spring of 1939 and three generations of the Kurc family are doing their best to live normal lives, even as the shadow of war grows closer. The talk around the family Seder table is of new babies and budding romance, not of the increasing hardships threatening Jews in their hometown of Radom, Poland. But soon the horrors overtaking Europe will become inescapable and the Kurcs will be flung to the far corners of the world, each desperately trying to navigate his or her own path to safety.
As one sibling is forced into exile, another attempts to flee the continent, while others struggle to escape certain death, either by working grueling hours on empty stomachs in the factories of the ghetto or by hiding as gentiles in plain sight. Driven by an unwavering will to survive and by the fear that they may never see one another again, the Kurcs must rely on hope, ingenuity, and inner strength to persevere.
An extraordinary, propulsive novel, We Were the Lucky Ones demonstrates how in the face of the twentieth century’s darkest moment, the human spirit can endure and even thrive.
“[Georgia Hunter is] just as courageous as the characters her writing will never let us forget.” — Harper’s Bazaar
“Love in the face of global adversity? It couldn’t be more timely.” — Glamour, “Best Books to Read in 2017”
“[A] gripping, emotional novel.” — People , “The Best New Books”
“A remarkable story of courage, love, and of course, luck.” — Book Riot’s Best Books of 2017
“[A] gripping and moving story.” — Bustle, “15 New Authors You’re Going To Be Obsessed With This Year”
“Turning history into fiction can be tricky . . . Hunter finesses the challenge. Her novel brings the Kurcs to life in heart-pounding detail.” — The Jewish Voice
“The story that so grippingly comes across in the pages of We Were the Lucky Ones isn’t strictly fiction—the characters and events that inhabit this Holocaust survival story are based on her family’s own history.” — Newsweek
“[A] must-read.” — New York Post
“[A] remarkable history . . . Hunter sidesteps hollow sentimentality and nihilism, revealing instead the beautiful complexity and ambiguity of life in this extraordinarily moving tale.” — Publishers Weekly
A Finalist for the National Jewish Book Awards’ Book Club Award
A Women’s National Book Association Great Group Read
“Reading Georgia Hunter’s We Were the Lucky Ones is like being swung heart first into history. Her engrossing and deeply affecting account . . . will leave you breathless. But the true wonder of the book is how convincingly Hunter inhabits these characters, each modeled after her own family members. This is their story Hunter is telling so beautifully and profoundly, and ours as well. A brave and mesmerizing debut, and a truly tremendous accomplishment.” — Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun
“ We Were the Lucky Ones is the most gripping novel I’ve read in years. Georgia Hunter pulled me into another world, vivid, horrifying, astonishing, and heartbreaking.” — Lauren Belfer, New York Times bestselling author of And After the Fire, A Fierce Radiance, and City of Light.
“ We Were the Lucky Ones is a skillfully woven reimagining of [Hunter’s] own family’s struggle for survival during World War II . . . with spectacular historical detail. This emotionally resonant, gripping portrait of the war is filled with beautifully drawn and wonderfully heroic characters I won’t soon forget.” — Jillian Cantor, author of Margot and The Hours Count
“Georgia Hunter has crafted her own family history into a sprawling, yet still intimate portrait of those swept up in the devastation of war and scattered to the winds. It is an astonishing saga of hope, of luck, of destruction, and most remarkably of love, made all the more astonishing because of the true story at its core.” — David R. Gillham, New York Times bestselling author of City of Women
“Elegantly executed and always clear, Hunter evokes pre-war Poland with loving detail, clearly showing what was left behind and lost. . . . We Were the Lucky Ones is a compelling read, notable for Hunter’s clear portraits of her plucky, resilient family, and for her ability to build suspense and investment without emotional manipulation.” — Courtney Naliboff, ReformJudaism
About the Author
When Georgia Hunter was fifteen years old, she learned that she came from a family of Holocaust survivors. We Were the Lucky Ones was born of her quest to uncover her family’s staggering history. Hunter’s website, georgiahunterauthor.com, offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the extensive research this project has entailed. She lives in Connecticut.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Jakob and Bella
Lvov, Soviet-Occupied Poland ~ October 24, 1939
Bella steps carefully so as not to clip the backs of Anna’s heels. The sisters move slowly, deliberately, talking in whispers. It’s nine in the evening, and the streets are empty. There isn’t a curfew in Lvov as there is in Radom, but the blackout is still in effect, and with the street lamps extinguished, it’s nearly impossible to see.
“I can’t believe we didn’t bring a flashlight,” Bella whispers.
“I walked the route earlier today,” Anna says. “Just stay close, I know where I’m going.”
Bella smiles. Slinking through backstreets in the pale blue light of the moon reminds her of the nights she and Jakob used to tiptoe at two in the morning from their apartments to make love in the park under the chestnut trees.
“It’s just here,” Anna whispers.
They climb a small flight of stairs, entering the house through a side door. Inside, it’s even darker than it is on the street.
“Stay here for a moment while I light a match,” Anna says, rummaging through her handbag.
“Yes, ma’am,” Bella says, laughing. All her life it’s been she who bosses Anna about, not the other way around. Anna is the baby, the family’s sweetheart. But Bella knows that behind the pretty face and quiet façade, her sister is whip smart, capable of anything she sets her mind to.
Despite being two years younger, Anna was the first to marry. She and her husband, Daniel, live just down the street from Bella and Jakob in Lvov—a reality that has softened Bella’s pain at leaving her parents behind. The sisters see each other often and talk frequently about how to convince their parents to make the move to Lvov. But in her letters, Gustava insists that she and Henry are getting by on their own in Radom. Your father’s dentistry is still bringing a bit of income, she wrote in her last correspondence. He’s been treating the Germans. It doesn’t make sense for us to move, not yet at least. Just promise to visit when you can, and to write often.
“How on earth did you find this place?” Bella asks. She’d been given no address, just told to follow. They’d snaked through so many narrow back alleys on their way, she’d lost her sense of direction.
“Adam found it,” Anna says, striking a match over and over without a spark. “Through the Underground,” she adds. “Apparently they’ve used it before, as a sort of safe house. It’s abandoned, so we shouldn’t have any surprise visitors.”
Finally, a match takes, emitting a cloud of sharp-smelling sulphur and an amber halo of light.
“Adam said he left a candle by the faucet,” she mutters, shuffling toward the sink, a hand cupped over the flame. Adam had found the rabbi, too, which Bella knew was no easy task. When Lvov fell, the Soviets stripped the city’s rabbis of their titles and banned them from practicing; those who were unable to find new jobs went into hiding. Yoffe was the only rabbi Adam could find, he said, who wasn’t afraid to officiate a marriage ceremony, under the condition that the wedding take place in secrecy.
In the match’s faint glow, the room begins to take shape. Bella looks around, at the shadow of a kettle resting on a stove top, a bowl of wooden spoons silhouetted on the counter, a blackout curtain hanging in a window over the sink. Whoever lived here left in a hurry, it seems. “It’s incredibly kind of Adam to do this for us,” Bella says, more to herself than to her sister. She’d met Adam a year ago, when he leased a room in the Kurcs’ apartment. Mostly she knew him as Halina’s boyfriend, calm and cool and rather quiet—oftentimes his voice was barely heard around the dinner table. But since arriving in Lvov, Adam has surprised Bella with his ability to orchestrate the impossible: handcrafting false identification cards for the family. As far as the Russians know, Adam works at an orchard outside the city, harvesting apples—but in the Underground, Adam has become a prized counterfeiter. By now, hundreds of Jews have pocketed his IDs, which he produces with such a meticulous hand, Bella would swear they are real.
She’d asked him once how he was able to make them look so authentic.
“They are authentic. The stamps, at least,” he’d said, explaining how he’d discovered that he could remove official government stamps from existing IDs with a peeled, just-boiled egg. “I lift the original when the egg is still hot,” Adam said, “then roll the egg over the new ID. Don’t ask
why, but it works.”
“Found it!” Darkness envelops them once again as Anna fumbles for another match. A moment later, the candle is lit.
Bella removes her coat, lays it over the back of a chair.
“Cold in here,” Anna whispers. “Sorry.” Carrying the candle, she makes her way from the sink to stand beside Bella.
“It’s okay.” Bella suppresses a shiver. “Is Jakob already here? And Genek? Herta? It’s so quiet.”
“Everyone’s here. Getting settled in the foyer, I imagine.”
“So I’m not to be married in the kitchen?” Bella laughs and then sighs, realizing that for as many times as she’d told herself she’d marry Jakob anywhere, the idea of wedding him here, in the shadowy, ghostlike home of a family she’ll never know, was beginning to make her feel uneasy.