‘We Were the Lucky Ones’ Is a Gutting and Thoughtful Depiction of a Jewish Family in the Holocaust: TV Review

There has been no shortage of television series centering the horrors of the Holocaust. Last year alone, Netflix’s “Transatlantic” depicted a group of resistors living in Marseille, and National Geographic’s “A Small Light” offered a retelling of Anne Frank’s experience through the eyes of Miep Gies, the woman who aided the Franks during their years in hiding. Though both of these series and those like them are important, Hulu’s “We Were the Lucky Ones,” an adaptation of Georgia Hunter’s best-selling novel based on a true story, showcases something different. The show chronicles a family torn apart by war and hatred. Devastating, and profoundly moving, “We Were the Lucky Ones” illustrates the scope of World War II, the inhumanity of others and the anguish of disconnection and loss.

The series premiere, titled “Radom,” opens in an overcrowded Red Cross office in Poland in 1945. Halina Kurc (an astonishing Joey King), pale-faced and exhausted, receives news that leaves her breathless. Zipping back in time to 1938, we see the Kurc siblings as they gather at the home of their parents, Sol (Lior Ashkenazi) and Nechuma (Robin Weigert), for Passover. Halina, the youngest, sporting a bold red lip and an annoying naiveté, goes to collect her older brother Addy (Logan Lerman) from the train station. Though the pair are several years apart in age, a shared birthday and wanderlust make them kindred spirits. Their siblings all gather around their parents’ table. The eldest daughter, Mila (Hadas Yaron) is heavily pregnant with her first child. Jakob (Amit Rahav), a photographer, is falling in love for the first time, and Genek (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), the stoic eldest, refuses to be frightened by news from Germany. Ultimately, this holiday marks the end of an era for the Kurcs.

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Any student of history knows the basic outline of the Second World War. However, creator Erica Lipez follows the Kurcs across a near-decade to show the constant turmoil and barbarism Jewish people encountered during this time. The vast scope of the series also displays how far Hitler’s ideology was spread, and how easily others adapted it. Told over the span of eight episodes, each named for a place members of the Kurc family landed after being ousted from their home in Poland, “We Were the Lucky Ones” chronicles the siblings and their spouses fighting to exist during an impossible time, while holding steadfast to the hope that they might reunite.

Using dates and settings as markers for the war and the Kurcs’ experiences, the viewer is wholly immersed in the pain and uncertainty of this world. Lipez demonstrates how quickly lives are extinguished when others are unwilling to stand up to fascism. From depictions of the frigid cold of Siberia to horrific acts of brutal violence inflicted on the Kurcs and other Jews, “We Were the Lucky Ones” is relentless in its accurate portrayal of the anguish and terror imposed daily. However, the most moving aspect of the series is that it details circumstances not often seen in films and TV shows about the Holocaust.

For Addy, who is living in Paris during the onslaught of the war, the lack of closure and silence from his loved ones torments him for years. Likewise, for Genek, despite finding solace in the arms of his wife, Herta (Moran Rosenblatt), rage causes him to struggle with his Jewish faith and his belief in God. Sol and Nechuma, who owned the premiere fabric shop in Radom, Poland, are forced to rely on their children for survival, causing them guilt that eats at them as the war presses on. Jakob is determined to stay alive even when his wife, Bella (Eva Feiler), can’t conceive of a future. Mila, overwhelmed by the duties of motherhood, risks everything so her daughter might live. Finally, Halina is desperate to be a part of the resistance, even though she’s constantly underestimated. Spending extended time with each member of the Kurcs allows the viewer to get into their psyche while absorbing differing perspectives and opinions instead of a monolithic overview of Holocaust survivors.

Intense and often deeply upsetting, “We Were the Lucky Ones” is not an easy watch. By the end of the Holocaust, 90% of Jews from Poland had been slaughtered. The series unpacks the near-impossibility of finding joy in maddening circumstances, especially when others are content to ignore the atrocities right in front of them. The show’s narrative has some lighter moments, of course, but marriages, births and a scene involving egg whites used as a fake foreskin don’t exactly work as moments of levity. Instead, they provide small nuggets of hope, allowing the audience to be able to continue to watch the show. “We Were the Lucky Ones” is about what it means to resist, live and sacrifice. After all, stories of survival can be just as important as remembering those who are forever lost.

The first three episodes of “We Were the Lucky Ones” premiere March 28 on Hulu with new episodes dropping weekly on Thursdays.

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