“Be the light in the darkness” is the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2021, 27th of January.
The theme “encourages everyone to reflect on the depths humanity can sink to, but also the ways individuals and communities resisted that darkness to ‘be the light’ before, during and after genocide…We can all stand in solidarity. We can choose to be the light in the darkness in a variety of ways and places – at home, in public, and online.”
To commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, Chelsea Library held a virtual Chatterbooks last Saturday, reading the novel Friedrich, with a group of local children. Ten copies of this poignant book were bought, giving an opportunity to our young readers to read it.
Hans Peter Richter – ‘Friedrich’
Superb, sensitive, honest and compelling
Hans Peter Richter wrote his novel ‘Friedrich’ in the style of a memoir. When the book was published in 1961, it was one of the first German books to deal with the Nazi period.
It is about two German families, who live in the same apartment house. It is the story of friendship of the non-Jewish narrator and his Jewish neighbours. ‘Friedrich’ begins in 1925, when the narrator was born, and ends in 1942, when he is 17. It takes place during the period when the Nazis came to power and into the early years of World War II.
“Before every genocide, perpetrators divide society into those considered worthy of human treatment, and those who are not. Distortions are deployed using propaganda and stereotyping to identify and victimise a specific group (or groups), followed by discrimination – often enshrined into law. The darkness leading to genocide also causes deep emotional trauma. For those affected, fear, hopelessness and dread all have a profound and long-lasting impact.” https://www.hmd.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/HMD-2021-Theme-vision-summary.pdf
This is exactly described in Hans Peter Richter’s novel.
A snowy day in 1929, the narrator is five years old and watches from his window Friedrich and his mother playing in the snow and making snowman. He is begging his mum to hurry up, so they could go downstairs and join the Schneiders. Eventually, they are ready, just about to leave, when this incident happened. The landlord, Herr Resch insulted the child, as soon as Mrs Schneiders went inside, and the five-year-old was on his own. The narrator’s mother did not say anything comforting to Friedrich or to her son, just to move away from the window. Neither did she want to be associated with the Jewish family (hence her delaying getting ready), nor did she want to get into trouble with their landlord.
Richter’s style encourages the reader, not only to learn about growing up in Nazi Germany, but to develop a nuanced view of the characters and circumstances of the period. The novel provides an accessible and complex picture of the issues of this period, tied to a historically accurate chronology.
Since the narrator and Friedrich are two, eight year-old boys, young readers more readily engage with them. As the boys grew older, the situation in Germany was getting worse.
This extract from “The Ball” (1933) illustrates that the boys were eight years old.
“Initially the Schneiders, the Jewish family, are much better off than the narrator’s family but gradually their lives become restricted and diminished, economically, politically, and socially. During this period the overwhelming majority of Germans came to believe in and support Hitler and the Nazi Party. The vast majority of Germans were neither sadistic nor perverted; they were normal people in extreme circumstances. The narrator’s father joins the Nazi Party and the narrator joins the “Jungvolk” (usually called “Hitlerjugend,” or Hitler Youth) and participates in Kristallnacht. One of the core issues that Friedrich allows students (readers) to explore is how, and why, the narrator and his family become Nazis.
As the events and incidents unfold, told from a boy’s point of view, we see the confusion and misunderstanding about the changes in society under the Nazis, and wonder who, if anyone, attempted to understand where things were heading.”
(Museum of Jewish History, Teacher’s Guide)
I would like to express my gratitude to Carla and Maximilian Lubin, our regular Chatterbookers, who read the novel and recorded “Potato Pancakes” and “Snow” for us to share with our readers.
Zvezdana, Chelsea Library