We Were the Lucky Ones
by Georgia Hunter
We Were the Lucky Ones is the story of a Jewish family during World War II, based on the author’s own family history. When the war begins, they are separated from each other one by one, and are unable to receive news from the others. One family member tries to flee Europe. Some are forced to work long hours in the ghetto, always with the fear that they will be the next to be murdered in the streets. Yet others are made to labor for years in camps with barely enough food to keep them alive. Throughout all this, it is hope and a fierce determination to reunite with each other that keeps them alive.
All the main characters in this book are real people from Hunter’s family. For Hunter, the making of this story began when her high school English teacher assigned the class a project that required the students to learn more about their families’ pasts. Hunter chose to interview her grandmother, opening up a whole new dimension of her family’s history that she never knew existed. Hunter’s grandfather, called Addy Kurc before he changed his name, is one of the main characters in the book.
We Were the Lucky Ones is written in present tense. As I have mentioned before, this is not my favorite style of writing, and I usually find it a bit clumsy. However, I found Hunter’s writing to be graceful despite this. She switches back and forth between the perspectives of different family members, illustrating the differences and similarities between their lives during the war. They live in different environments, some harsher than others, but they all share the same concern for each other, constantly worried that they may never see each other again, or that the lack of communication from one family member might mean his or her death. Occasionally, Hunter inserts short paragraphs between chapters, giving a brief summary of the major events that took place during that time period. I like this approach as it provides historical context and helps the reader form a more holistic view of the story.
While Hunter does not describe in detail the many atrocities committed by the Nazis against the Jews or the brutalities of war itself, she does paint a vivid picture of what it meant to be a Jew in German-occupied territory. For many, it was the never-ending fear that they or a loved one would be the victims of the next pogrom. For some, it was the peril of hiding as a gentile in plain sight. And there was always the burden of bringing home food for the family’s survival, and the dread that one day it would not be enough. These are the aspects of Jewish life during the war that Hunter chose to focus on.
I highly recommend this book for mature young readers and older readers. There are a handful of strong four-letter words in the book that parents should be aware of, but otherwise there are no inappropriate scenes. We Were the Lucky Ones is a poignant story of a family simply trying to survive during the German genocide of Jews, and I think everyone will enjoy reading it.