Geor­gia Hunter is the author of We Were the Lucky Ones, a nov­el based on her exten­sive research into her Pol­ish Jew­ish family’s mirac­u­lous sur­vival of World War II. With the long-await­ed release of her book, Geor­gia is guest blog­ging for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil this week as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series here on The ProsenPeo­ple.

Nine years ago on a rainy day in Jan­u­ary, I sat down with a binder full of con­do­lence let­ters my moth­er had saved after my grand­fa­ther died. I remem­ber the day well, as I had cir­cled it on my cal­en­dar as the one on which I would offi­cial­ly com­mit to unearthing and record­ing my fam­i­ly his­to­ry. I was four­teen when my grand­fa­ther passed away, fif­teen when I dis­cov­ered he wasn’t raised in the States, as I’d assumed, but in cen­tral Poland — and that he came from a fam­i­ly of Holo­caust sur­vivors. I had thought for years about research­ing his story.This was the day, I decid­ed, I would begin.

Pag­ing through the let­ters, I read each one slow­ly, set­ting aside those that need­ed trans­lat­ing. Some were from old busi­ness acquain­tances in places like France and Switzer­land, oth­ers from friends in the music indus­try — my grand­fa­ther was a com­pos­er. Some were from nieces and nephews in Paris and in São Paulo, and one was from an ex-fiancée, Eliska, who met my grand­fa­ther in 1941 when they were both flee­ing Europe.

I read and read, my throat tight­en­ing as I real­ized what an impact my grand­fa­ther had had on the peo­ple around him. His warmth, sin­cer­i­ty, and hard work inspired every­body who came into con­tact with him, one let­ter effused. He gave me a pow­er­ful mes­sage to make the best of things right now, no mat­ter what, anoth­er read. The won­der of know­ing some­one as flam­boy­ant as Eddy is a reward in itself…

Of all adjec­tives, I remem­ber think­ing, flam­boy­ant wasn’t one I would have cho­sen to describe my grand­fa­ther. Quirky, per­haps — he used to insist that we speak French at the din­ner table, and his house was filled top-to-bot­tom with things he built by hand. My most vivid mem­o­ries, how­ev­er, were of him at the end of his life, con­fined to his wheel­chair; by then, Parkinson’s had tak­en its toll.

He was a remark­able man… I read on, of pas­sion, excel­lence, wit, and tal­ent, and we will miss him. And in a let­ter to my grand­moth­er from my moth­er: Father influ­enced the way I see the world with­out much fear. The more I know oth­ers, the more unusu­al I find this out­look to be, and I will be glad if I pass some of this out­look on to the next generations. 

I closed my eyes, search­ing for com­mon ground between the man I remem­bered and the one described in the let­ters rest­ing on my lap. My research, I real­ized, would not only involve uncov­er­ing his Holo­caust sur­vival sto­ry, but also the side of him I nev­er knew.

Over the next sev­er­al years, in a series of inter­views with his clos­est fam­i­ly and friends, includ­ing a vis­it with Eliska, his ex-fiancée, I would come to under­stand the exu­ber­ant, fear­less, nev­er-take-no-for-an-answer Eddy Courts — or Addy Kurc, as my grand­fa­ther was once called. I would begin to see him for who he once was, and for how present he was, and still is, in my life today. Near­ly a decade would pass before my research would be com­plete, but I’ll nev­er for­get that rainy day in Jan­u­ary when I knew, with­out a doubt, that my grandfather’s was a sto­ry I need­ed to preserve.

In 2000, a fam­i­ly reunion opened my eyes to the astound­ing war sto­ries of my grand­fa­ther and his fam­i­ly. Eight years lat­er, armed with a dig­i­tal voice recorder and a mole­skin note­book, I set off to unearth and record my family’s sto­ry. I spent near­ly a decade tra­vers­ing the globe, inter­view­ing fam­i­ly, and dig­ging up records from every pos­si­ble source I could think of, even­tu­al­ly piec­ing togeth­er the bones of what would become my nov­el We Were the Lucky Ones.