Gnomes and Yellow Stars (Friedrich – A Book Review)

Friedrich
Author: Hans Peter Richter
Published: 1961

Friedrich

My Rating: Full boltFull boltFull boltFull boltFull bolt

 

“If today, or tomorrow, you should see Jews being mistreated, reflect on one thing—Jews are human beings, human beings like us!” (Herr Neurdorf, p. 63)

During the 1930s, employment was down, but Friedrich and his family seemed to be doing well. His father had a good job and he had a brand new bike. Adolf Hitler comes to power and suddenly he’s expelled from school, he’s blamed for things that aren’t his fault, forced to wear a yellow star of David, and he can’t go out to movies. Then his father is fired from his job and his mother dies. Amid the war that breaks out, Friedrich is trying to survive and nobody tries to help him nor wants to because he is Jewish.

 

This book was difficult to read. The further I got, and it is a small book, the more I felt myself crumbling, feeling helpless and nearly breaking down. Unlike The Diary of Anne Frank, this novel brings you up close with a Jewish family that experienced the Holocaust firsthand from discrimination to being collected up and deported rather than the diary of a young girl hiding with her family and another family in a small space. It was scary and I was gasping in horror more than once during the novel. Little by little I read as this family had everything taken away and it felt as if I were right there witnessing it. Anne Frank is compelling and Friedrich stands right beside it, telling a strong tale of another child during one of the darkest times in history.

You truly see this tragedy from the perspective of children growing up. The innocence and perversion of that innocence by what Hitler did scared me. These were two children, just two out of millions, that were affected by this. It was utterly heart wrenching to witness through our nameless narrator’s eyes.

You start the book with a garden gnome named Polycarp that is seemingly happy and end with the same Gnome, destroyed by terror. Each chapter follows a memory for the narrator and Friedrich, and a chronological point during the Holocaust in which Adolf Hitler took action against the Jewish and others. I can pinpoint exactly when it all began too. It was when the narrator said he was allowed to sit next to Friedrich, as if he needed permission to sit next to his friend. More dreadful “laws” followed and the boys even went to a Nazi meeting not knowing what it was, that it was just what all the cool boys were doing.

The story was real and deep and eye-opening. The horrors of what happened during the Holocaust are given an up-close and innocent perspective from confused children as Hitler came to power and the Nazi group grew. This is a book that I wasn’t prepared for, but was definitely a great read. I don’t think anybody can prepare themselves for something like this.

 

More to come soon…

-K.

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