Setting

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 177

Set in Germany just before and during the Third Reich, Friedrich begins in 1925 with the births of the two protagonists, Fritz and Friedrich. The narrative then follows the events leading to Hitler's installation as chancellor of the German Reich in 1933, recounts Hitler's treatment of Jews as it affects the novel's characters, and ends in 1942 when all the Jews still in German concentration camps are transferred to the Auschwitz extermination camp.

The novel mentions no specific town, but the setting appears to be a representative suburb of a large city. Most of the residents know each other, and many townspeople know where Friedrich lives and that he is Jewish even before the government forces Jews to wear identifying yellow stars. Friedrich is expelled from school, cursed on the town streets, and barred from the swimming pool and theater because he is Jewish. When Friedrich appears in court, however, the judge surprisingly renders a fair decision and thus represents the single person in the town willing to risk his personal reputation and safety to defend a Jew from injustice.

Literary Qualities

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 402

This piece of historical fiction effectively puts readers into the atmosphere of World War II and provokes them to think seriously about what they might have done had they been members of either Fritz's family or the Schneider family. The simple and direct language of both the narrative and dialogue speaks more profoundly through what is not said than what is said. Told from an objective, first-person point of view, Friedrich does not reveal the inner thoughts of the characters. This technique gives the portrayal of escalating violence against the Jews a sense of incompleteness that elicits strong internal responses from the readers by prompting them to supply what the characters themselves do not provide.

Because the characters are not fully rounded and the war does not change their attitudes in a recognizable way, they appear more as symbols of real people rather than individuals with distinct personalities. For example, interactions between Fritz's and Friedrich's parents remain minimal and superficial throughout the novel. Because Fritz's surname is never revealed, his family appears as an unremarkable middle-class German family whose responses typify those of the general population. Fritz's grandfather's strong anti- Semitism, Fritz's mother's slight prejudice, and the close friendship between the Jew and non-Jew in the third generation appear to represent the culture. Likewise illustrative of the German population as a whole are Fritz's family's motivations for joining the Nazi party and the rationale preventing them from active rebellion against the horrors they witness.

Herr Resch evicts and informs against the Schneiders, looting their few remaining possessions and finally committing a premeditated murder, thus identifying himself as an extreme anti-Semite. Meanwhile, the Schneiders exemplify the middle-class Jewish-German families who considered themselves German first and Jewish second and could not even imagine the depravity to which humans could sink: therefore, they died.

The novel becomes more realistic and credible because Richter reprints actual mandates issued against the Jews by Hitler and terminates the narrative before the war ends. The episodic narrative details each of the mandates and their impact on both Jews and non- Jews.

The reader should note that in 1942 Hans Peter Richter, the author himself, became part of the German Army and won medals for bravery in a three-year military career. Perhaps the ultimate meaning of the novel rests in the sequence of events that led Richter to publish Friedrich in 1961, nineteen years after the last date noted in the novel.

Social Sensitivity

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 408

Originally published for German readers, Friedrich has been acclaimed in both Germany and America. Extreme authorial sensitivity is evident when both German and American readers respond with similar praise to a treatment of the Holocaust by an author who fought in the German Army. Richter attempts to explain why the average German citizen did not rebel against the Holocaust, noting difficult economic times and implying overwhelming odds against success and understandable fear for the safety of loved ones. Unfortunately, he places considerable responsibility for the genocide upon the victims themselves because they did not do the "sensible" thing that Jews have done in the past: flee for their lives. Even when Allied bombs kill Friedrich, the narrator blames Friedrich himself because, after being denied entry to the bomb shelter, he sits outside on the porch during the raid instead of staying inside the apartment house as Fritz's father has advised.

For readers unfamiliar with Jewish customs and history, some scenes require careful explanation. For example, before expelling Friedrich from school as ordered by the Third Reich, Herr Neudorf explains to his students why Jews are hated by many people. He says, "Jews are accused of being crafty and sly. How could they be anything else? Someone who must always live in fear of being tormented and hunted must be very strong in his soul to remain an upright human being." He further explains, "Because Jews did not believe Jesus to be the true Messiah, because they regarded him as an impostor like many before him, they crucified him." These statements, among others, are typical of past and present anti-Semitic propaganda. Because on the surface they appear to be sympathetic phrases, they may not be recognized as slogans of hate. Even more importantly, after the expulsion, Herr Neudorf attends Friedrich's Bar Mitzvah and gives his former student a pen with his name engraved on it. Toward the end of the novel, Friedrich has nothing but the dirty clothes on his back and one memento— the part of the pen bearing his name. Because Richter portrays the teacher as a sympathetic friend whom Friedrich admires, readers may not recognize his statements as subtle anti-Semitic propaganda.

With discussion, this book can provide young people with valuable information about the Holocaust. If the text's voids in emotional responses are filled with an empathetic understanding of Fritz, Friedrich, and their families, readers can formulate answers to the past and prescriptions for the future.

For Further Reference

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 50

De Montreville, D., and E. Crawford, eds. Fourth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1978. Biographical materials supplement this short autobiographical sketch translated from the German.

Evory, Ann, ed. Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series. Detroit: Gale Research, 1981. This short biographical sketch covers personal and career highlights.

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