As family historians we recognize the need to gather our family stories, but what happens when we uncover stories that were never discussed? What if we found our family was part of one of the most dramatic and disturbing eras of the 20th century – the Holocaust of World War II? In Georgia Hunter’s We Were the Lucky Ones we learn the remarkable story of her family’s survival as Polish Jews.
Wanting to know more, Georgia asked her grandmother for details, but her grandmother didn’t know much more about her in-laws. Then in 2000, a reunion of the Kurc family in the United States gave Georgia the opportunity to hear more of the story. She discovered that her grandfather’s siblings and parents all survived despite incredible odds. She would learn that of the 30,000 Jews in Radom, only about 300 survived. That her grandfather’s nuclear family came through the war intact was a miracle.
We Were the Lucky Ones is written as a novel, each chapter from the point of view of one of the family members. Georgia researched the family stories for years: gathering interviews from family members; traipsing across the world revisiting the many locations, researching the Holocaust, interviewing survivors, and locating records. A short historical account of the war prefaces each chapter, helping the reader to connect the personal stories with the broader view of the conflict. Set in the European theater of World War II, the true stories take us to Poland, France, Siberia, Africa, Italy, and Brazil.
I reached out to Georgia to learn more about her work as a family historian.
How did you get started in family history? Do you remember an initial “spark” or incident that inspired you? Did you have any experiences as a child/teen in school or at home that helped you be more inclined toward family history?
My junior-year high-school English teacher assigned an “I-Search” paper, requiring us to research and write about an ancestor or family member. That triggered my first interview with my grandmother, Caroline, which then whetted my appetite to dig deeper. Getting to know my cousins as I learned about their parents’ and grandparents’ wartime experience was hugely inspiring.
What is the most rewarding part of researching your family’s history?
In my case, apart from keeping the family’s story alive, I was rewarded by connecting – as part of my research – with relatives whom I barely knew before embarking on the project. These connections have since produced close and lasting relationships, which I treasure.
What’s the best discovery you’ve made about your family?
In uncovering my family’s story, I’ve been inspired by some of my relatives’ character and personality traits, such as ingenuity, perseverance, devotion to family, sense of humor, and love of music.
Who is your most interesting ancestor?
It’s hard to pick one, since the entire family had incredible experiences of adversity and survival. If you asked about my favorite, it would probably be my grandfather, Addy, since I grew up just a mile away from him and was therefore close to him during my childhood.
If you’re interested in reading more about Georgia’s research, check out this article: Following the Footsteps of the Characters in We Were the Lucky Ones.” The article includes an interview with Georgia describes her research journey – just as fascinating to us as family historians as the book. She used a color-coded timeline to track the various family members through the war. That timeline became the outline for the book. As we’re creating timelines for our own families, we might be prepping for our future book!
We Were the Lucky Ones reveals what is possible when we dig deeper into our family history. Each of our ancestors has a story and it is up to us to tell it.
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I tried to read this book, but found it too emotional, as my father’s family’s experience was similar…he was only 5 when they were sent by cattle car to the steppes of Kazakhstan. She captures everything so well – for those who won’t be triggered by the circumstances, I recommend reading about this oft-forgotten crime of WWII…
Thanks for this comment. There are so many stories from WWII and your family’s sounds heart wrenching. Have you started recording their experiences?
I agree this story is heart wrenching. I found myself reading a bit and putting it down for a day or two so I could process what was going on. The members of this family did everything imaginable (and more than I could ever have imagined) to stay alive during this terrible time. Truly a testimony to the human spirit.
Yes, it is an amazing story. It’s hard to know how we would have reacted in the same circumstances.
Survival is a common concept that can be found in numerous works of literature, both fiction and non-fiction. Survival stories are, more often than not, compelling stories that emphasize the importance of courage, hope, and resilience.
Check my blog https://www.anitarfisk.com/the-ultimate-advice-on-writing-a-story-about-survival/ its all about The Ultimate Advice on Writing a Story about Survival.