Friedländer was born in Prague to a family of German-speaking Jews in 1932. He was raised in France and from 1942 until 1946 he was hidden in a Catholic boarding school near Vichy. His parents were both killed at Auschwitz. In 1948 Friedländer left France for Israel. He later taught at the University of Geneva and then returned to Israel to teach at the Hebrew University and at Tel Aviv University. He has written and edited more than twenty books about the Holocaust, including Nazi Germany and the Jews: The Years of Persecution, 1933–1939 (1997) and The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945 (2007).