‘We Were the Lucky Ones’ Author Georgia Hunter on Her Family History That Inspired the True Story

Logan Lerman and Joey King lead the Hulu miniseries adaptation of Hunter’s book

Halina (Joey King) in "We Were the Lucky Ones" (Photo by: Vlad Cioplea/Hulu)
Halina (Joey King) in "We Were the Lucky Ones" (Photo by: Vlad Cioplea/Hulu)

“We Were the Lucky Ones” author Georgia Hunter had two goals while writing her bestselling novel, based on true events that her ancestors endured and now adapted for the small screen in the form of a Hulu limited series starring Logan Lerman and Joey King.

At the heart of the story lies the Kurc family, Hunter’s first-generation relatives who experienced the Holocaust during World War II. The Hulu adaptation — like Hunter’s book — unfolds from the different perspectives of her grandfather Addy (portrayed by Lerman) and his four siblings Genek (Henry Lloyd Hughes), Jakob (Amit Rahav), Mila (Hadas Yeron) and Halina (King). The historical drama series features a cast of all-Jewish actors.

“One [was] to honor the family story,” Hunter told TheWrap in February during the Television Critics Association press tour. “I put on the family historian hat and I just said, ‘I want to get this down to capture their path to survival so it’s recorded somewhere.’ I didn’t even know what shape it would take when I set off. It just had my little digital voice recorder in my notebook.”

Hunter said that after she completed her research, she made a conscious decision to make this important story accessible for kids.

“Once the research came together and I had traveled in the family’s footsteps, I realized I wanted to tell it in a way that my kids and their kids and so on could pick it up and relate to it,” she said. “So in a way that didn’t feel like they were reading about history because it is ancient history to them already. It’s sad. So I tried to write it in a way that felt colorful and visceral. I tried to balance the darker moments with the lighter moments.”

Hunter’s grandfather Addy never talked about his Jewish upbringing in Poland and memories from the Holocaust, but Hunter learned of the family history when she interviewed her grandmother for a high school English project.

“Years later at a family reunion, I started hearing these other unbelievable stories that were unlike any I’d ever heard before, a baby born in Siberia and a hike over the Alps and a secret illegal wedding and so on. That’s when the idea was seeded that I needed to write the stories down,” she said. “I do think it has something to do with the space that those who survived have from having lived through those events that they certainly wanted to put behind them and the third generation not being as close so being a little bit less afraid to ask the hard questions.”

The book resulted from almost a decade of intensive travel and research to reconstruct her family’s footsteps as they spread out to flee the Nazi occupation of Poland. Collectively, the Kurcs children and their significant others covered four continents over nine years.

“The family was so global. You don’t often see Holocaust accounts that are set on the beaches of Dakar or the streets of Rio or in Siberia so the scope of our show is unique, and also the fact that it is told solely through the lens of this one Jewish family. It goes back to the telling it through the eyes of one very ordinary family faced with extraordinary times makes feel it relatable in a way that I think is unique,” she said. “It’s a story of courage and perseverance and love and hope and it’s got babies and laughter and music being made, and romance is blossoming. We need stories that we can connect to and imagine what it was like to be there and be them at the time. We can learn so much from it.”

When she was offered involvement in the production process from beginning to end, her answer was an emphatic yes. Hunter has known director Thomas Kail for 25 years, and once he optioned the rights for Hunter’s novel, he asked her to board the project as a co-executive producer.

“He offered me the option to be involved every step of the way. And I said, ‘Yes, please.’ So everything from the casting process to — I was in the writer’s room every day for five months. I was on set, I’m now in post-production so I have been involved truly every step of the way,” she said.

Hunter called her inclusion in the adaptation a gift.

“It doesn’t feel like work. It is such a gift to be able to be a part of this. I was there to act as a resource or to provide source materials,” she continued. “Questions would come up and either I would have an answer from my own research or I would go get an answer from a relative. So I think the writers were really excited to have that sense of authenticity. It was in such good hands from the very beginning.” 

As Logan Lerman and Joey King inhabited the roles of people Hunter knew, the author explained how closely they hewed to their counterparts.

“Every actor brings a piece of his or herself into the character. [Logan] and my grandfather have a similar soul. I think Halina and Joey were sisters in some past life. Everybody who we brought onto the show embodied those relatives so genuinely,” Hunter said.

But Hunter didn’t demand rigidity when it came to the portrayals. In fact, a sweet moment from the series was inspired by one of the actors’ ancestors.

“We were always open to ideas from them. Michael Alonii, who plays Selim, there’s a scene where he’s humming to baby Felicia before he goes off to war and he said, ‘Can I hum the lullaby that my grandmother used to hum to me?’ We wanted the cast to know ‘You don’t need to be replicas of these people. Just keep the character essence with you,’ and they did it so beautifully. I’m bowled over by their performances.”

The first three episodes of “We Were the Lucky Ones” are now streaming on Hulu.

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