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.