The Jewish Chronicle

Life and love in a grim milieu

Anne Garvey admires a work of fact-based fiction. Owen Lowery enjoys a major poetic journey to serenity We Were the Lucky Ones

- By Georgia Hunter Allison & Busby,

£14.99 Reviewed by Anne Garvey

THE KURC family are Polish Jews living in Radom during the Second World War. Their story is full of suffering in a country occupied by some of the most savage of Hitler’s invading forces, and follows the grim path of history — each chapter has a factual résumé. Yet it celebrates the individual­ity of these young people in a precarious world, where lives so often hung by a thread.

American author Georgia Hunter was 15 years old when she discovered the truth about her extraordin­ary family. She turned investigat­ive journalist and spent an entire decade travelling the world to accumulate first-hand testimonie­s. Hundreds of taped interviews infuse her narrative; detail informs every scene. The novel is as much a historical document as an imaginativ­e reconstruc­tion

We first meet Addy in a Paris nightclub. At 25, the baby of the family, he is an engineer working in Toulouse as well as being a consummate pianist and composer. He enlists in a Polish/ French regiment but fears for his fate as a Jew in occupied France. He forges his demob papers, quits the army and takes ship for Brazil. In Rio, he writes home every week but no one remains to reply.

Elder brother Gemel and his wife Herta are in a Siberian labour camp, logging wood for pieces of bread in its snowy wastes, while Jacob, whose heroically faithful girlfriend Bella has joined him in the dangerous city of Lvov, works for the Russians. Her journey there, wading across the freezing river in the deep darkness of a winter night with patrols everywhere, is a breathtaki­ng act of devotion. She and Jacob are married undergroun­d at midnight by a rabbi in a sequence of immense tenderness describing the bride’s appearance in the “marriage vault”.

Mila, with her baby Felicia, struggles in the ghetto. Each morning, she straps the child to her and defies the ban on children at her factory.

Petite and attractive younger sister Halina has the kind of lightning initiative and dogged courage that sees her through weeks of brutal interrogat­ion by the Nazis in Krakow’s notorious prisons. There is a tender sexuality between her and her young husband Adam, a fighter in the resistance. Remarkably, there is humour here, too.

From Persia to Tel Aviv and then to Monte Cassino and the near-suicidal assault on that German stronghold, the book traces the heart-stopping adventures of each of the ever resourcefu­l, always brave Kurc children.

We Were the Lucky Ones is a striking re-creation of the breathtaki­ng courage of an ordinary family inspired by their deep love for one another.

Anne Garvey is a freelance writer and reviewer Georgia Hunter: novel based on a decade of research into the formerly unknown experience­s of her family

Hundreds of taped interviews infuse her narrative

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