In 1940 the Nazi regime’s deadly fingers have reached into Austria, and Jews are disappearing. Vienna’s Gypsy population knows that they are also in danger when the Nuremberg Laws have ordered all of them over the age of 14 to be fingerprinted. Lilo is fifteen, and purple ink still stains her fingertips when Gypsy classmates begin to vanish.
Lilo’s parents are artisans, but skill and craft cannot save the Friwald family. Lilo’s father is gone in a trainload of men and boys, never to be seen again. Lilo and her mother are starved and tortured in the name of “medicine.” Then Leni Riefenstahl comes to camp. The Nazi filmmaker is directing – and starring in – a romantic movie, and thinks that imprisoned Gypsies would make perfect “Spanish” extras. She picks the dark-haired Lilo, who insists that her ailing mother come with her to the movie set.
Luck plays a huge part in whether Lilo will survive, but the protagonist of The Extra is one strong and resourceful girl. She is also clever enough to see through Riefenstahl’s artifice, to the malice which drives the Nazi’s life and death decisions.
The award-winning Kathryn Lasky has produced a heart-rending historical novel for adults and teens, and reminds us that the Holocaust encompassed Gypsies, gays, the disabled, and other groups which the Nazis considered undesirable. The Extra would be a worthy introduction to this horrific topic for school classes, and for all who enjoy a tale of survival and determination.