YA historical fiction
When you think of movie production, images of splendor and
ritziness probably pop into your head. When you imagine the
circumstances of imprisoned Gypsies during the time of Adolph Hitler,
you probably imagine anything but. If you're anything like me, you
probably never imagined those two worlds ever colliding.
Filmmaker, dancer, actress Leni Riefenstahl was a favorite of
Adolph Hitler, getting Third Reich backing for her artistic
endeavors. She wanted to direct and star in a movie, Tiefland, that
would bring to the big screen a Spanish folk opera. She planned to
produce it in Spain but was stymied by the Spanish Civil War and the
start of World War II. Germany did not boast a Spanish population,
but the Gypsies who were being rounded up and murdered along with Jews
and other enemies of the Reich had a strong resemblance to Spaniards.
This very little known historical episode inspired master
storyteller Kathryn Lasky to pen The Extra. "...It is a Holocaust
story, but one that has for the most part slipped between the cracks
of history. It is the story of two people, one real and one
fictionalized; Leni Riefenstahl, a real person who rose to prominence
during the early 1930s as Hitler's favorite filmmaker, and Lilian
Frewald, a fictional Gypsy girl who became Riefenstahl's film double
in the making of the film Tiefland."
As the story begins, Lilo (Lilian's nickname) is a 15-year-old
Vienna. The Nazi Nuremberg laws are altering life for Jews there and
worse is rumored to be in store for them. But she still lives in a
comfortable home with her master clockmaker father who plays violin in
an exclusive restaurant and her lacemaker mother.
That is until officers of the dreaded SS imprison them in a
holding camp for Gypsies. They're crammed into a primative and filthy
facility with hundreds of others. Rumors of their destination
multiply. Lilo is told of a surgery being done to Gypsy girls and
"Lilo felt all the blood suddenly drain from her face. It was
as if the future had been erased, any hope for a future obliterated.
Being in this barbed-wire cage was nothing compared with the utter
darkness of the black wall of sterility, of a childless world, of a
family that simply ended forever and ever. The Friwalds would be
Imagine facing that at fifteen.
One night, separated from her father with no idea where he might
be or if he is even alive, Lilo and her mother arrive at a camp.
Standing in formation under watchtowers where guards train guns on
them, they and the others glimpse a shocking and surreal sight: a
glamorous movie star making her way toward them.
"...It was not supposed to be this way, Lilo thought. Leni
Riefenstahl belonged on the billboard, hovering in the moonlight of
the clock-tower square, or on the movie screen in the Palace Theater,
but not here--not here with them, dirty Gypsies, women still bleeding
from terrible operations."
Riefenstahl is casting extras for her new movie. Lilo is chosen
and gets her fragile mother included. She is under no delusions of
safety. Now she must search for a way to use this opportunity to help
them not become part of Hitler's final solution.
When it comes to YA novelists, Kathryn Lasky is in a small
special league. In my book reviewing years so far I've read the work
of many good to great authors. Some very frustratingly show real
potential and then vanish. Some produce a steady supply of
commendable work. Lasky keeps improving with publication. Her plots
and characters become richer and more nuanced. Her ability to show
rather than tell grows beautifully, as you can see in the piece quoted
above where Lilo encounters Riefenstahl.
Can even Kathryn Lasky top The Extra? I'm certainly eager to
On a personal note, last Saturday my church held the fund raising
supper and silent auction I designed to help girls in Tanzania get
education. It was a rousing success. Everyone had a wonderful time.
We are sending Jane Goodall Institute over $300. People are already
talking about next year.
A great big shout out goes out to all who help people recognize and
treasure our common humanity. It is when we objectify those who are
different from us that demogogues like Hitler have a chance to prevail.
Julia Emily Hathaway
Sent from my iPod