Friedrich (novel)

Friedrich (originally 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), Friedrich is the protagonist. 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 really 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. 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 first met: their parents lived in the same 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.[2] 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's hat shows. As a hyperactive four-year-old, the narrator wants to play in the snow, but his mother doesn't let him - after all, she has work to do. Friedrich goes out and begins playing around in the snow. When the narrator mentions this, the mother replied that she is nearly done. Soon Friedrich's mother, Frau Schneider, comes outside and surprises Friedrich by throwing snow at him. The two begin sliding on the ice on the road, which makes the narrator even more anxious to join in. When they begin building a snowman, the narrator is very distressed. Watching the snowman being made, he gives up hope of being able to join them. His mother replies that she is almost done with her work. Frau Schneider, apparently unsatisfied with the snowman, goes back in the house for some materials. Friedrich then romps around in Herr Resch's flowerbed, causing Herr Resch to poke his head out of the window and yell "dirty Jewboy".


The novel was the subject of a 1972 Batchelder 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."


  1. Heiming, Anne. "Hans Peter Richter "Damals war es Friedrich" summary". Reading is a Pleasure. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
  2. Hans Peter Richter (2010-11-02). "Friedrich Chapter Summary & Analysis - "Potato Pancakes (1929)"". BookRags. Retrieved 2012-02-14.
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