Jonathan Hammel
Writer, physician, host of "The Bloodflow Podcast".

Leaning on the past: We were the lucky ones

Ms. Hunter at home. (Photo credit: Andrea Carson)

How author Georgia Hunter turned her family history into a bestselling novel and a hit TV show.

A few months ago, I interviewed astronaut Nicole Stott for my podcast (The BloodFlow podcast). Reflecting on her two spaceflights and 104 days in space, Ms. Stott (who is also an accomplished artist), shared this insight with me: “You know, from up there, you realize we are all passengers on Spaceship Earth”.

When studying history – or, for that matter, the present – it is easy to notice how often we human passengers forget this simple fact and become obsessed with destroying each other.

Through her debut novel, We Were the Lucky Ones, author Georgia Hunter brings us back to a time when this destruction was at one of its all-time highs. The book follows one family’s destiny as the Nazi regime sweeps across Europe. In 1939, the Kurcs – Patriarch Sol, his wife Nechuma, their five children and their granddaughter Felicia, who is one year-old at the start of the war – are living peacefully in the city of Radom, Poland. When the German army invades their city, spreading violence and death, the family is dispersed across the globe, in an effort to survive.

Ms. Hunter says the inspiration for her novel stemmed from a conversation around the dinner table on the back porch of her family home on Martha’s Vineyard. The year was 2000. Georgia’s mother had invited her nine first cousins—the grandchildren of Sol and Nechuma—for a family reunion. They seldom saw each other, but had all flown in from around the world to spend the week together. The conversations were flowing freely, and then, Ms. Hunter recalls, the subject shifted to the war. Stories of a faked circumcision, of false IDs, an illegal wedding in occupied Lvov. Stories of a baby, whose eyelids had to be defrosted by his mother’s breastmilk every morning, deep in a Siberian Gulag. Georgia, twenty-one at the time, listened in, fascinated by this unexpected unraveling of family lore. After a while, she turned to Felicia.

“Are these stories true, Aunt Felicia”?

“Yes, yes…these are all true. How we survived, it is a mystery… we were the lucky ones.”

Those words stuck in Ms. Hunter’s mind for years. Through College and a career as a brand strategist. Sure, she had interviewed her grandmother about her beloved grandpa Addy for a school project years before, but she had never grasped the scope of her family legacy until that night.

Finally, it was time. She quit her day job and spent years researching her family history. Her first stop was Paris, where she spent time interviewing Felicia, who had survived innumerable ordeals during her first years as a passenger on Spaceship Earth, and whose memory of those years was scarily precise.

From there, Ms. Hunter hopped around our planet, following threads of information that led her from Poland to Italy, from France to Brazil. Like a master puzzler, the author reconstructed her family’s exceptional destiny. Then, one day, she sat down at her desk and through her fingertips, brought this story to the world.

The result, We Were the Lucky Ones, has touched the hearts of over a million readers worldwide (it has been translated, fittingly, into twenty languages). Disney +/ Hulu has adapted the story as a miniseries. The show features so many standout performances it’s difficult to name them all: Joey King as Halina Kurc brings out the youngest sibling’s fierce drive to survive while taking care of her family and finding love in the midst of disaster. Logan Lerman portrays Addy Kurc, the author’s grandfather, with a smoothness and charm that help us connect with the character’s deepness. The ensemble cast of American, English and Israeli actors brings to life this uplifting tale of a family dispersed across the world and whose “luck” (to paraphrase Felicia) and grit ended up bringing them back together.

The show – like the book – is sometimes hard to watch: how humans can inflict such pain on their fellow Earthlings is truly beyond belief. But in these days of violence and doubt, not only for the Jewish people but for the citizens of the world, it is a welcome reminder that we are all, indeed, the lucky ones: we get to live as passengers on this beautiful Spaceship Earth, where unfathomable odds have made life possible.

Let us try and not forget how blessed we are.


About the Author
Jonathan Hammel is a Paris-based physician specializing in vascular medicine. He's an accomplished author with three novels to his name, notably "Stéthos & Cie," recipient of the prestigious Hippocrates prize in 2008. In 2023, Hammel ventured into podcasting, launching "The Bloodflow Podcast." This captivating show features insightful interviews with top-tier professionals across various fields, including writers, doctors, actors, and philanthropists. Hammel's expertise, literary achievements, and passion for highlighting exceptional creators make him a prominent figure in the realm of medicine and artistic expression.
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