ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 237

Lior Ashkenazi as 'Sol' in episode one of Hulu's 'We Were the Lucky Ones.' (Vlad Cioplea/Hulu)
Main image: Lior Ashkenazi as 'Sol' in episode one of Hulu's 'We Were the Lucky Ones.' (Vlad Cioplea/Hulu)
Behind the scenes'It's really important to tell this story these days'

‘How many miracles can we get?’: Holocaust saga comes to life in new Hulu miniseries

Stars Joey King and Logan Lerman are joined by many Israeli cast members, including Lior Ashkenazi, Hadas Yaron and Michael Aloni, in ‘We Were the Lucky Ones,’ set in WWII Poland

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Main image: Lior Ashkenazi as 'Sol' in episode one of Hulu's 'We Were the Lucky Ones.' (Vlad Cioplea/Hulu)

It was Passover 1938, and the Kurc family gathered around the Seder table in Radom, Poland, to celebrate.

By the next year, with the onset of World War II, the family found itself scattered far and wide, trying desperately to survive the Holocaust with almost no knowledge of the fate of their loved ones.

The Kurc family’s story is at the center of “We Were the Lucky Ones,” a new eight-part Hulu miniseries that covers close to a decade of their harrowing journeys. The series follows the family members everywhere from Siberia to Warsaw, Paris, Casablanca, Rio de Janeiro and even a brief stint in wartime Palestine.

Based on a book of the same name by author Georgia Hunter, the tale is a lightly fictionalized version of the true story of Hunter’s own family, which she discovered only as a teenager following her grandfather’s death, and researched diligently for nine years.

The first three episodes will premiere on Hulu on March 28, with the remaining five released weekly. It will be distributed internationally by Disney+ later this year.

Speaking to The Times of Israel via Zoom from Los Angeles, Hunter said that she hopes even those viewers familiar with the Holocaust are “maybe surprised by the breadth of the story, and then inspired by the moments in between the darkness, of hope and happiness, courage, perseverance — those are the things that kind of got me through my research.”

Headlined by Jewish stars Joey King (“The Kissing Booth”) as Halina Kurc and Logan Lerman (“Hunters”) as her brother, Addy Kurc, the show’s ensemble cast includes a number of prominent Israeli actors, including Lior Ashkenazi as family patriarch Sol, Amit Rahav (“Unorthodox”) and Hadas Yaron (“Shtisel”) as siblings Jakob and Mila Kurc, Moran Rosenblatt (“Fauda”) as daughter-in-law Herta, and Michael Aloni (“Shtisel”) as son-in-law Selim – reuniting in matrimony with his Shtisel wife Yaron.

Hunter told The Times of Israel that it was a very conscious decision to cast so many Jewish actors in the main roles.

“That was a choice we made early on in the casting,” she said. “This is a story about a Jewish family, and it was important to us to cast a Jewish cast, and I’m so glad we did… People came at it with many different experiences of what it meant to be Jewish, and they all brought a little piece of either their own family histories or their own traditions.”

For Yaron, whose character, Mila, is a young mother separated from her husband and trying desperately to keep her young daughter safe, the story felt uniquely personal, as the granddaughter of two Holocaust survivors.

“Even though we were telling Georgia’s family story, it did feel like I was also, in a way, telling my family’s story, so that was definitely meaningful,” she said via Zoom. “I know so much about [the Holocaust] and it’s basically in my DNA.”

Ahead of her interviews with the press, she said, “My mom was like, ‘[remember] you’re the granddaughter of Masha and Gustav’… the fact that it’s so personal is really meaningful.”

Hadas Yaron as Mila (left) and Robin Weigert as Nechuma in the Hulu miniseries ‘We Were the Lucky Ones.’ (Vlad Cioplea/Hulu)

The story of the Kurc family is so statistically unlikely as to seem impossible if it were not based on a true story. While the show’s very title hints at the unlikeliness of their survival, it is still hard to fathom the unthinkable twists of fate that guided them along the way.

When Germany invades, some family members escape to Lvov, which is initially Soviet-occupied. One brother is sent to Siberia, others bounce between Radom, Warsaw and Lvov, confined in ghettos, prisons and hiding out, some fighting for the resistance. Addy, who was in Paris at the war’s start, ends up on the infamous Alsina ship, which was bound for Brazil but gets caught up in a 10-month web of bureaucracy and repeatedly denied entries.

“We have scenes shot in what’s meant to be Dakar and Casablanca and in the mountains of Italy and in Siberia and, of course, in Poland and Brazil,” noted Hunter. “We’re offering this very global perspective, yet told through a really personal lens that I hope will feel a little bit new and different to audiences.”

Ashkenazi, who played family patriarch Sol, said the experience taught him many things about the Holocaust era that he was not previously familiar with.

“You think you know everything because we grew up in Israel… it’s like in your blood,” he said. “But it was new, I didn’t know about all those things, I didn’t know that the Jews, [many] of the men ran away from the country and got into the Soviet Army or the Polish resistance… so I was pretty amazed by that.”

Jakob played by Amit Rahav and Bella played by Eva Feiler in a scene from the Hulu miniseries ‘We Were the Lucky Ones.’ (Vlad Cioplea/Hulu)

Close to 90 percent of Polish Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. According to Yad Vashem, 30,000 Jews were living in Radom in 1939; only around 300 are believed to have survived the war. Every Jew in Poland who lived did so only by virtue of a series of miracles. The same could be said about every Jew in much of Europe who managed to survive.

As Aloni’s character asks in one episode, while they contemplate the fate of their estranged loved ones: “How many miracles can we get? How many can we hope for?”

In a way, it makes sense for these to be the stories that are told. After all, the entire families who were wiped out by the Nazis — parents and children, aunts, uncles, cousins — have no descendants to research their lives and tell their stories.

And yet “We Were the Lucky Ones” is not easy viewing. There are scenes of violence, despair, unthinkable cruelty, and the horrors that typified the Holocaust, even when hinted at, are harrowing to witness.

Herta, played by Moran Rosenblatt, and Genek (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), are sent on a grueling train ride in an episode of the Hulu miniseries ‘We Were the Lucky Ones.’ (Vlad Cioplea/Hulu)

Ashkenazi said there were moments on set that were jarring even – or perhaps especially – for someone steeped in the history of the era.

“I remember the first scene I had, in a shop, and then the Nazis are coming and putting these [arm]bands on [the Jews], with the Star of David, and I froze, I couldn’t move,” he recounted. “There were extras dressed as Nazis, and I was so afraid.”

In one particularly chilling scene, Yaron’s character is rounded up by the Einsatzgruppen, the Nazi death squads who drove masses of Jews into the forests, forced them to dig their own graves and shot them dead.

“This story is actually kind of crazy because my great grandfather actually was murdered this way,” said Yaron. “So when I was there, I was just like, I can’t believe that this was actually something that happened – and somehow, 70, 80 years later, the fact that his daughter survived and escaped and her granddaughter is here telling [this] story… life is surreal and crazy.”

Hunter said it was moving to see her family and their history come to life on screen, “watching the cast embody my relatives.”

“It’s set during World War II and the Holocaust, but they brought these characters to life in such a modern, kind of youthful way that, to me, feels so relatable,” she said. “Really, at its core, it’s a family story, it’s a family that wants to come together again around a dinner table.”

Michael Aloni as Selim pictured with baby Felicia in a scene from the Hulu miniseries ‘We Were the Lucky Ones.’ (Vlad Cioplea/Hulu)

Felicia, the baby born to Mila and Selim in late 1938, was still alive when Hunter began researching her family’s history, and was able to recount some of her wartime memories. She died not long before the miniseries was completed.

“I wish so badly she could have seen the show, she was so proud of it,” said Hunter, noting that nine of the 10 first cousins born to the Kurc children are still alive, and many of the family members are slated to attend an event tied to the show in Washington. “The fact that they’re flying from Israel and France and Brazil and California and Miami and all over the world speaks to the support that I’ve felt from them from day one.”

Aloni, who played Selim, the husband of Yaron’s character Mila, said the cast all got to know each other well before filming began – mostly in Romania and Spain – before they largely split off into their own storylines.

“Kind of like the same thing that happened to the characters in the story happened to the actors in the show – we were together and we were separated,” Aloni told The Times of Israel via Zoom. “Each had to go through what he’s going through, and then to be reunited together was very emotional and very happy.”

The cast of the Hulu miniseries ‘We Were the Lucky Ones’ at a Passover Seder scene set in Radom, Poland. (Vlad Cioplea/Hulu)

Filming wrapped up months before Hamas’s shocking October 7 onslaught against southern Israel, sparking the ongoing war in Gaza, and turning life upside down for many Israelis, as well as for Jews around the world facing spiking levels of antisemitism.

In the WhatsApp group for the cast, said Yaron, “everybody reached out” in the days following the attack, “and were like, ‘if you need a place to stay’… people were very, very supportive. I think it’s hard to explain what’s going on in Israel to people that are not there.”

Aloni said the timing of the show’s premiere, amid the ongoing turmoil, feels particularly apt.

“I think it’s a show that reminds everyone how the face of evil can be and look like and how easily it can rise and how antisemitism can rise its ugly head again,” he said. “And I think it’s a very important reminder for people who watch the show, that ‘we were the lucky ones.’ There were so many people who weren’t.”

The hatred and dehumanization of the Holocaust, he noted, “is not so long ago… I think it’s a great time and a great place for the series to come.”

Yaron said she watched the first finished episode of the series a couple of months after October 7, which added a layer of complex emotions to the viewing experience.

“It was triggering in a way I did not anticipate a year ago when we were filming it,” she said.

“It’s really important to tell this story these days, for sure,” added Yaron. “Because a year ago, if you asked me if antisemitism existed, I was like, ‘It’s probably just a few crazy people, randomly across the world. There’s no way it’s a thing.’ Because we are in modern times. But apparently, it is a thing, which is very weird to understand that it actually exists.”

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