“Is the chance to serve as an extra for Hitler’s favorite filmmaker a chance at life --- or a detour on the path to inevitable extermination?”
Lilian ‘Lilo’ Friwald is a Gypsy girl living in Nazi-occupied Vienna. She is aware that other gypsies have mysteriously ‘disappeared’ but does not think much of it. She goes home from school, neglects her studies and plans for a trip to the movies with her parents. But everything changes in the blink of an eye when three officers of the Third Reich flood into their home and take the entire family into custody. From there they are separated, with Lilo and her mother, Bluma, being sent to Buchenwald --- one of the largest concentration camps in Germany.
"THE EXTRA is a fascinating read due to the fact that many of the events included truly occurred...Author Kathryn Lasky has eloquently written an intriguing story about a subject that is not as widely discussed as it should be."
Once there, the situation only gets worse. In order to eliminate the "Gypsy plague," women are being sterilized to prevent any further children. Lilo and Bluma are on the list for the day’s sterilization, but Lilo manages to hide and avoid the procedure all together. Sadly, Bluma does not, and never truly, recovers.
The tables appear to turn when Leni Riefenstahl, a well-known German actress and filmmaker, visits Buchenwald to find gypsies for her next motion picture. Among a select few, Lilo and Bluma are chosen to make the journey to Krun, where filming will commence. However, being an extra is not all that it seems, especially when the movie being made is financed entirely by the Third Reich.
THE EXTRA is a fascinating read due to the fact that many of the events included truly occurred. Riefenstahl was a real woman, known far and wide for being "Hitler’s favorite filmmaker." The film that Lilo and others are a part of is an actual movie, and gypsies were pulled from various concentration camps to be extras in it. While Lilo is a fictional character, she is loosely based on a woman named Anna Blach; who, besides being an extra, was a body double for Riefenstahl. Author Kathryn Lasky has eloquently written an intriguing story about a subject that is not as widely discussed as it should be. Lasky does not go into much detail about daily occurrences in the various concentration camps because she doesn’t need to --- these events have already been covered time and time again. Instead, she decides to focus on the facts we haven’t already been informed of and most likely would not know about otherwise.
Although the pace can falter somewhat and the characters appear detached at times, Lasky’s story goes far beyond anything that words can accurately convey. It is one that asks not only why these people were able to be easily imprisoned for things they could not control, but how we as humans could treat one another so terribly. While the events in THE EXTRA occurred more than 70 years ago, these questions have yet to be answered. They will most likely remain that way.
Reviewed by Lucy P. on October 28, 2013