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Friedrich (initially published in German as Damals war es Friedrich) is a novel about two boys and their families as they grow together during Hitler's rise to power and reign. It is by the author Hans Peter Richter.

Plot Overview

Friedrich Schneider is a young Jewish boy growing up in an apartment house in Germany, with the narrator as his neighbor and friend. Though the story is told by his non-Jewish friend (Hans Peter Richter or the narrator), Friedrich is the protagonist. We can assume he is Hans Peter Richter. The narrator tells of the persecution of the Jews through Friedrich's eyes. Friedrich is forced to switch to a Jewish school and is thrown out of swimming pools and movie theaters. An angry mob goes to his house and kills his mother (see Pogrom). His father gets fired and has an emotional breakdown. Friedrich finds a girlfriend, Helga, whom he likes, but soon he must stop seeing her, or she will be sent to a concentration camp. Friedrich and his father are forced to do whatever they can to make money to survive. Friedrich helps his father hide a rabbi in their house, but soon Friedrich's father and the rabbi are arrested, and Herr Schneider was probably sent to a concentration camp. Friedrich, who was not home when the police came, now must live in hiding.[1]

During an air raid, Friedrich begs to be allowed into the air raid shelter but is kicked out by the air-raid warden, Herr Resch, who was also their landlord. After the raid, the narrator, his family, Herr Resch, and his wife return to the house. They notice Friedrich on the stoop, apparently unconscious. Herr Resch decides to get rid of him by kicking him, and they realize that Friedrich is dead, killed by shrapnel(not specified). Resch then remarks that Friedrich has died a better death than was expected.

Setting the Scene (1925)

The novel begins with the introduction of a garden gnome named Polycarp. The narrator talks about how he and Friedrich never met: their parents lived in a different apartment building, which was owned by a man named Herr Resch. At first, the Schneiders and the narrator's family were mere acquaintances, but with the births of the narrator and Friedrich a week apart, they become better friends. The Schneiders' religion is not revealed in this chapter, though it is assumed they are Christian because of how well-off they are. The narrator's father is unemployed, and the birth of the narrator puts a financial strain on his family. However, the narrator is still well received and feels welcomed in his home.

Potato Pancakes (1929)

One day when Friedrich and the narrator are four years old, Friedrich stays with the narrator's family while his mother attends to some business at City Hall. At first, the narrator is reluctant to share his toys with Friedrich and blocks the way to his room, but Friedrich doesn't seem to mind. He takes out a cuckoo whistle and begins blowing into it, and the narrator is fascinated by it. Friedrich gives him the whistle, and the narrator allows Friedrich to play with his toys. They later help the narrator's mother to make potato pancakes, and eventually, both children fight for the first pancake. When Friedrich drops the pancake, they decided to share and eat it from the ground. Because of the mess, the mother allows them to take a bath together, an activity both enjoy very much. This becomes the foundation of their friendship.

Snow (1929)

With the arrival of winter, snow is everywhere, so deep only the tip of Polycarp, Herr Resch's garden gnome, shows above the mounds. Spotting Friedrich and his mother out playing in the snow, the narrator urges his mother to hurry and take him outside. However, his mother is busy with her work, and when she has finally completed it, she goes out with the narrator to play in the snow.

Grandfather (1930)

Han's grandfather comes to visit and learns of Han's interactions with the Jewish Friedrich. Han's grandfather forbids Hans from playing with Friedrich anymore, although nobody listens.

Friday Night (1930)

Hans sits in on the majority of a traditional Friday night Jewish tradition (the Sabbath) after playing with Friedrich all day. He gets to see how the Jewish people worship and what they do at the Sabbath dinner. Hans leaves politely shortly after Herr Schneider comes home.

School Begins (1931)

On the first day of school, shortly after school lets out, Hans and Friedrich's families both have a day out at the amusement park. However, since Hans and his family are poor, they are helpless to Schneider's generosity, which makes them feel even poorer. When Hans' father finally jumps at the chance to buy them all photos and licorice, the family has to go without lunch.

The way to school (1933)

Friedrich and Hans see a doctors sign with "Jew" scrawled over it, they go to tell the doctor, but he already knows. They see a crowd of people outside a shop, so they push through and see a man with a swastika on his arm and a sign stating "don't buy from Jews" blocking the door. An old lady pushes past the man saying she wants to buy from the shop and everyone stares at her.

The Jungvolk (1933)

Hans and Friedrich attend a Hitler Youth camp. The leader explains why the Jews are Germany's enemy. While every other youth can repeat this mantra with no problem, Friedrich finds it hard to repeat. This is the first time Friedrich discovers Hitler's hatred for Jews. He is devastated. He runs out, and Hans is left watching.

The Ball (1933)

Hans and Friedrich were playing with a ball when Hans accidentally threw it into a shopkeeper's window, breaking it. Despite admitting to the crime, the shopkeeper's wife drags Friedrich to his house and coaxes Herr Schneider to give her the money to pay for the window. Hans fesses up to the crime again in front of Herr Schneider, but Herr Schneider still pays for the window.

Conversation On The Stairs (1933)

Herr Resch confronts Herr Schneider on the house's stairwell and asks them to leave. Herr Schneider reminds Herr Resch of the tenant's agreement, but Herr Resch doesn't care. Herr Schneider begs for time to find another apartment.

Herr Schneider (1933)

Herr Schneider loses his job because he is a Jew.


The novel was the subject of a 1972 Batch-elder Award for a publisher of an outstanding children's book translated from a foreign language in the United States. The award is unusual in that it is awarded to a publisher, yet specifies a single work. It seeks to recognize translations of children's books into the English language, with the intention of encouraging American publishers to translate high quality foreign language children's books and "promote communication between the people of the world" and "to eliminate barriers to understanding between people of different cultures, races, nations, and languages.

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