Hulu’s 'We Were the Lucky Ones’ is a good reminder to talk to your elders while you still can

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In Hulu’s limited-series “ We Were the Lucky Ones, ” the Kurc family in Poland is separated during World War II and spends years trying to reunite. This was before the Internet and cell phones so tracking each other’s whereabouts was hard.

It’s based on a non-fiction book of the same name by Georgia Hunter, who wrote about her own family’s story. As a teen, Hunter discovered her late-grandfather Eddy, (who had changed his name from Addy), along with this parents and siblings — were Holocaust survivors.

Logan Lerman, who plays Hunter’s grandfather, says the character’s story resembles his own grandfather’s. Addy escaped to South America during the war and built a life in Brazil, while Lerman’s family went to China.

“My grandfather was a refugee with his family,” said Lerman. „He fled Germany in the late 1930s and ended up on this long journey similar to my character. He ended up in Shanghai with his parents and sister because I guess it was one of the countries that was letting Jews in at the time. Addy also had a long journey as a refugee, seeking a country that would let them in.”

It took years for Hunter to trace the Kurc’s lineage. “We Were the Lucky Ones” serves as a reminder to learn your family’s history.

Joey King, who plays youngest daughter Halina, values having a close relationship with her grandmother and says they are “thick as thieves.” King says her ancestry and heritage has “always been such an open conversation.”

„There wasn’t ever a moment that I learned about the Holocaust that I can recall. It was just something that was always talked about in my home. When you grow up in a Jewish family, it’s not this defining moment in school where they’re like, ‘And this is the Holocaust.’ I knew about it well before we learned about it in school.”

When it comes to sharing accounts of the Holocaust, not every survivor wants to go into detail about their experiences.

“They had to go through such horror and such dark times,” said Michael Aloni, who plays Selim, husband to Kurc sibling Mila. “Some did not say a word about what they went through. They just continued with their lives and that was their victory.”

Don M. Fox, a historian and author, says many former WWII combat veterans also keep that part of their life to themselves.

„So many of them just exited the war and, particularly if they didn’t stay in the service, they just went on with their lives.”

Communication is so vital to sharing knowledge and the National WWII Museum now uses AI for an exhibit that allows visitors to have virtual conversations with photographs of veterans.

When speaking with actual Holocaust survivors or former military members, Fox suggests approaching the conversation with open-ended questions.

“I would start out by saying, ‘I know that you were in Europe during the Second World War. Can you tell me what that was like?’ or ‘If you don’t mind, start from the beginning when you first became aware of what was happening around you.’”

Even if your relatives are no longer alive, Henry Lloyd-Hughes, who plays oldest sibling Genek Kurc, points out that, like Hunter, anyone can do research.

“It’s not always a question of listening,” he said. “There are diaries and photos in attics with stories in everyone’s family that someone might not be (aware of).”

Sam Woolf says portraying Halina’s boyfriend and later husband on the series led him to dig into his own background. “I’ve had so many more conversations with my mother since,” he said. While filming in Poland, the Britain born-and-raised actor was able to visit a nearby town where his grandfather was born and found his birth certificate. It’s made Woolf want to honor his Polish heritage.

“Now I’m applying for Polish citizenship,” he said. “It was this sort of knitting together of information I’ve never had because you often don’t think to ask and then sometimes it’s too late. I lost all my grandparents quite young at 13 or 14. I could have asked. You never get that opportunity back.”

Earlier this year, a study released by the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, known as the Claims Conference, reported about 245,000 survivors are still living across more than 90 countries.

Kurc family matriarch Nechuma is portrayed by Robin Weigert, who admits to carrying guilt about the sobering fact that Holocaust survivors are dying.

“There are Holocaust stories in my family that I will never know. My (grandfather) had relatives. I don’t know their names. I don’t think my father ever heard about them. I regret every single conversation I didn’t have,” she said.

This week, the Claims Conference announced a global initiative to combat antisemitism by using Holocaust survivors’ stories as a way to educate.

“There’s a difference between reading something in a history book or on Wikipedia, and talking to a human being that actually went through (the Holocaust),” said Hadas Yaron, who plays Selim’s wife, Mila.

Even if you’re personally not interested in your family’s history, or aren’t a fan of clutter and want to cull artifacts, Fox advises to purge wisely and keep a record of information to pass on.

“Keep it in your family. Study it yourself in more detail. Share it within your family. What’s more important, from my perspective, is that on a multi-generational basis, you develop a culture within your own lineage… There’s always the chance that a generation or two down the line, there will be some some great appreciation or desire to know more.”

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