A Simple Soldier
Ronald Lasky, Professor of Engineering, Thayer School of Engineering

Being interested in WWII, I have read Eisenhower’s Armies, American Warlords, The Generals, and similar popular WWII based books.  But by far the most captivating read for me has been John Gess’s A Simple Soldier. I consider the book historical biographical fiction, as it is based on events in the life of Gess’s grandfather, Ludwig Hitzenger.

The book starts in 1933 with 14-year-old Joseph (Sepp) Scheibenzuber leaving his poverty-stricken Bavarian family to work as a farm hand. Necessity required this move, as there was not enough food in the Scheibenzuber family to feed the growing Sepp. From 1933 to 1938, Sepp works on several different farms becoming a physically strong and independent young man. He is extremely observant and analytical, but keeps to himself, not wanting to get in trouble. In 1938 he is required to join Germany’s Reicharbeitdeints, a six-month military style labor camp. The next year he is drafted as an artillery private in the German army. Sepp is aware of the political and military upheaval occurring, and he does his duty as a soldier on the Russian front for the entire war, but never becomes a committed Nazi. To me it was fascinating to see the war through the eyes of an astute yet common young man.