‘We Were the Lucky Ones’ Author Georgia Hunter on Entrusting Hollywood With Her Family’s Holocaust Experience Despite Reservations

As a kid, I adored my grandfather. I knew he loved chocolate (the dark kind) and hated ketchup. I knew he enjoyed a good pun and could speak seven languages — around the dinner table it was French. I knew his Steinway was his happy place, and that he made many of the things in his home by hand (like the curtains that hung in his living room, woven on a loom he built in his basement).

What I didn’t know about my grandfather was that he grew up one of five siblings in a town in central Poland called Radom; or that he was raised in the Jewish faith; or that he, his parents and his siblings were Holocaust survivors. These were truths I learned at 15, a year after he died, thanks to a high school English assignment and an interview with my grandmother Caroline.

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The discovery sparked a lot of questions. Six years later, my curiosity was further piqued at a family reunion, where I found myself sitting around a table listening to stories about the war. They were unlike any I’d ever heard before — a baby born in Siberia, a hike over the Austrian Alps, a mother-daughter escape from the ghetto. At the end of the night, my great-aunt Felicia, who was a year old at the start of the war, looked around at her cousins and said, “It’s a miracle that we’re all here today. We were the lucky ones.”

It was at that Kurc family gathering that I realized someone needed to write our story down. Eventually, I decided that someone would be me. I set off with a digital voice recorder and a belly full of butterflies, my mission a simple one: to do the story justice. Nine years later, my novel, We Were the Lucky Ones, was born. It landed on the New York Times best-seller list and my agent began floating it for screen adaptation, the prospect of which was both thrilling and terrifying. What if it fell into the wrong hands? What if it was produced in a way that didn’t feel authentic to the history, to my family? And then Tommy Kail called.

Tommy and I go back. He and my husband, Robert, met as kids at summer camp. My earliest memories of Tommy are from the summer of 1999, when he joined us at our family home on Martha’s Vineyard. He and my father would spend the afternoons in beach chairs, discussing theater and film. (My dad was an actor and writer and, Tommy says, an inspiration as he contemplated his own path in the arts.)

Tommy and I have spent the past 25 years cheering each other on in our respective careers. When he called to ask if I’d like to partner with him to bring We Were the Lucky Ones to the screen, I cried, then laughed, and immediately agreed to it. To be able to work with a dear, remarkably talented friend felt like a dream. Tommy introduced me to Erica Lipez, who took the story into her heart just as he had — I knew from the moment we met that the project had found its home. We pitched and we pitched some more, and two years later, Hulu took the leap.

Tommy, Erica and I agreed early on that we didn’t want our show to feel glossy or sepia-toned but, rather, vivid and colorful and modern. We wanted audiences to live alongside the Kurc family, to see the world through their eyes, to tell their story with as much honesty and authenticity as possible. This commitment trickled down into each of our departments, and of course to the cast. I heard it over and over again throughout production: “Thank you for bringing us this story. We’re going to do everything in our power to do it justice.” The refrain was constant, the vision reminiscent of my own.

We filmed the bulk of the series in and around Bucharest, Romania. I arrived a few days before we kicked off our 123-day shoot, rolling straight from my red-eye to a table read — and boy, was it surreal to walk into a roomful of television relatives for the first time! We hugged. We cried. We laughed. They asked questions. I told stories. I showed them photos. The next day, we visited the Kurc family apartment together. James Merifield, our set designer, teared up as he showed us around, and we all got really quiet. I ran my fingers along the patterned wallpaper, the etched-glass doors, the linen napkins on the dining table. There wasn’t a single detail overlooked. It felt like we’d stepped back in time. Like my relatives were right there with us.

On our first day of shooting, I got to set early, my stomach once again a barrel of butterflies. I was handed a call sheet and had to sit down when I saw the 250 names on it. I knew the project had taken on a new life, but still I was bowled over by how many people would put their fingerprint on it. Tommy gave a welcome speech. He called action. I held my breath, and as I stood behind the monitors as the cameras started rolling, I saw for the first time what the series was going to be. The color, the lighting, the costumes, the set — it was all so stunningly beautiful. The scene of my grandfather waiting at the Polish embassy in Paris for permission to get home to his family in Poland was just how I’d imagined it.

Now that the show is out, people often ask if there are any big surprises about the adaptation, if there is anything I wish we’d done differently. I try, I really do, to think of something. But truth is, I can’t. I was involved from the writers room to postproduction — I learned so much in the process and enjoyed every second of the collaboration. I slept well at night knowing my family’s story was in the most capable hands.

I suppose if I were granted one wish, I’d bring my grandfather Addy back for a day, so we could watch the show together. I’d point out the snakeskin wallet Logan Lerman, who plays Addy, carries — an exact replica of the one my grandfather kept — and I’d show him a photo of his wedding day, so he could see how precisely Lisa Duncan and her costume team re-created the outfits. I’d watch his face as he listened to two of his compositions, “List” and “Lullaby,” arranged for the series by the brilliant Rachel Portman and Jon Ehrlich. I’d freeze on the frames of our family cameos, of me and Robert and our two boys, as Addy sprints down a street in Rio to collect a telegram with news from Poland, and of my mother (his middle child), standing behind him, wearing the real-life brooch his own mother, Nechuma, once wore, as he waits at a pier for a ship to come in, carrying the family he hasn’t seen in eight years. I’d tell him what I’ve been told: that it doesn’t often happen this way in Hollywood, that it’s rare for such a personal project to get off the ground. I’d tell him how grateful I am for Tommy and Erica and for the hundreds of orbits that collided at the right time in the right place in order to make it work. And I’d ask him what he thinks. If he feels like we did the story justice. I have a hunch his answer would be yes.

This story first appeared in a June standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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