We Were the Lucky Ones

We Were the Lucky Ones cover. Man and woman sit on bench with their backs facing us.
Georgia Hunter
Apr 30, 2021

What a book. What a story. What a family. The Kurcs are a Polish family who will not let the cruelty and dehumanizing Nazi and Soviet rule crush their spirit.  

We see babies born, weddings, and a family desperately wishing they were all together again. They feel lucky just to be with one another.  We follow the lives of the Kurc families’ five children through the war.  

Addy moved to France to finish his studies and stayed after finding a job. Now, he cannot return to Poland because there is no safe way to get there and he doesn’t have the right paperwork. His one hopeful thought is seeing his mother and family again. He writes to them often but only receives some of her letters. Addy makes his way to Argentina, providing an interesting look at the refugee experience.  

Genek and Herta are separated from their family after moving to the wrong side of Poland. The Nazi’s take over and split Poland in half with the Soviet Union. After Genek refuses to sign a statement saying he’s a Soviet and not Polish, they are shipped to a Siberian work camp.  

Jakob and Bella are separated when he leaves to join the Polish Army with his brothers. They are high school sweethearts destined to marry. Bella dares a treacherous journey to be with him. They hide out in a basement to avoid the roundups sending Jewish people to work camps and the ghettos.  

Halina falls in love with Adam, a man who boarded with her family. After he moves and begins work with the underground, Halina and her cousin sneak across the Russian occupied land to find him. Adam creates fake documents for himself and Halina so they are able to work and avoid living in the ghetto.  

Mila and her young daughter, Felicia, have to survive after her husband disappears. No one can find a trace of him. Mila lives with her parents and hides her daughter under her factory desk where she works as a seamstress, fearing she’ll be discovered.  

Each member of the family sees different atrocities and gets taken further away from their family and hometown.  

Learning about the history of Poland and how many invading forces came in and took over was eye-opening. The strength of this family made this story shine. The faith that they would be together again got them through dark periods. Their memories glowed brighter and each character feels like they are doing whatever they can to survive just to return home and be together again. This story is moving and wonderful. My description really can’t do it justice and makes it sound confusing with all the characters. But it’s so rewarding and such a special novel. 


Reviewed by Library Staff