• Review
By – February 13, 2017

We Were the Lucky Ones chron­i­cles the expe­ri­ences of a large extend­ed fam­i­ly dur­ing the Holo­caust. The nov­el starts before Germany’s inva­sion of Poland in 1939 and con­cludes a few years after World War II ends. Togeth­er and sep­a­rate­ly the many fam­i­ly mem­bers — grand­moth­er and grand­fa­ther, numer­ous adult chil­dren and their part­ners, and grand­chil­dren — encounter a wide range of cir­cum­stances, includ­ing liv­ing in the ghet­to; being forced to work in Nazi Germany’s fac­to­ries and farms; serv­ing in the resis­tance; going into hid­ing in pri­vate homes, a Catholic school, and in plain sight with false iden­ti­fi­ca­tion; serv­ing in var­i­ous coun­tries’ mil­i­taries; being abused in prison; strug­gling against the cold in Siberia; and emi­grat­ing from Europe both dur­ing and after the fight­ing. While the novel’s title dis­clos­es the family’s sur­vival, death is all around: in the Nazis’ indis­crim­i­nate vio­lence toward Jews, from the SS mobile killing squads, and in the sharp hunger and squalid con­di­tions that are con­stant and unyield­ing throughout.

As author Geor­gia Hunter explains at the end, she based this book on her own family’s expe­ri­ences. She describes how she became aware of her family’s his­to­ry, inter­viewed fam­i­ly mem­bers to learn their sto­ries and gath­er mem­o­ries, and researched the under­ly­ing facts for the places, his­tor­i­cal events, and peo­ple fea­tured in the nov­el. Of course this per­son­al con­nec­tion con­tributes great­ly to the com­pelling nature of the indi­vid­ual sto­ries. Each chap­ter is tight­ly and expert­ly writ­ten so that the sto­ries con­stant­ly push for­ward with­out short­chang­ing the descrip­tions and dia­logue, which feel com­plete and engag­ing. That said, each chap­ter switch­es from the per­spec­tive of one indi­vid­ual or pair to anoth­er, and this can be con­fus­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly at the begin­ning. For­tu­nate­ly the chap­ter head­ings help clar­i­fy, as does the reader’s increas­ing famil­iar­i­ty with the var­i­ous char­ac­ters as the nov­el progresses.

Unlike many nov­els set dur­ing the Holo­caust, this one sets the right tone with its mat­ter-of-fact descrip­tions and emo­tion­al bal­ance. This approach makes We Were the Lucky Ones appro­pri­ate for read­ers knowl­edge­able about the Holo­caust as well as those unfa­mil­iar with the vari­ety of cir­cum­stances indi­vid­u­als faced dur­ing that time, not just in Europe but all over the world, from the Mid­dle East to South Amer­i­ca. By the end all read­ers will appre­ci­ate the resource­ful­ness and, yes, luck that con­tributed to this family’s survival.

Hid­den in a Stash of Old Let­ters, a Grand­fa­ther I Nev­er Knew

Chap­ter One, Revis­it­ed — with a Cheetah

Rachel Sara Rosen­thal is an envi­ron­men­tal attor­ney in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Orig­i­nal­ly from Greens­boro, North Car­oli­na, she grad­u­at­ed from Duke Uni­ver­si­ty in 2003 and Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty School of Law in 2006.

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