The Case of Sergeant Grischa Characters

Arnold Zweig

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Sergeant Grischa Iljitsch Paprotkin

Sergeant Grischa Iljitsch Paprotkin (GREE-shah ee-LEECH pah-PROHT-kihn), a Russian soldier held as a prisoner by the Germans in 1917. Though not ill-treated by his captors, he wishes to return to his family, and so contrives an escape. During his lonely wanderings, he begins to lose his humanity, but he recovers it when he becomes the lover of Babka, a woman leading a band of refugees who take him into their midst. Sergeant Grischa assumes the identity of Sergeant Pavlovitsch Bjuscheff, a Russian deserter, so that he can avoid punishment as an escaped prisoner. He is recaptured and, under his assumed identity, sentenced to death as a spy. While his case is fought over by German generals after he has revealed the truth about himself, Grischa remains in prison, hoping the war will end. When his sentence is not revoked he behaves like a brave soldier, even when forced to dig his own grave before being killed.


Babka, a strong-minded, vigorous Russian woman, known affectionately as “Grandmother,” who leads a band of homeless refugees. She finds Grischa wandering across the countryside and makes him a member of her band and her lover. When he is sentenced to death, she bravely goes to him, walking many miles to do so. She hopes to free her lover by poisoning his guards, but he prevents her from carrying out the plan, believing he must meet his fate. After Grischa’s death Babka bears his child.

General von Lychow

General von Lychow (LI-chov), a Prussian officer of the military caste who is a commander of combat troops. He is jealous of upstart administrative officers who question his authority and authorizes his aide to work on the case of Grischa to save the life of the condemned man.


Ponsanski, General von Lychow’s aide, a Jewish lawyer who is interested in the case primarily from the view that it is an interesting instance of legal jurisdiction.

General Schieffenzahn

General Schieffenzahn (shee-fehn-ZAHN), an administrative officer who usurps the authority of General von Lychow. He wishes to execute Grischa to demonstrate his power. Although he is persuaded to send a reprieve for the sergeant, a snowstorm prevents delivery of the message.

Lieutenant Winfried

Lieutenant Winfried, a German officer and friend of Ponsanski.

Lieutenant Wilhelmi

Lieutenant Wilhelmi, General Schieffenzahn’s aide, who recommends the death of Grischa.

The Case of Sergeant Grischa Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Feuchtwanger, Lion. “The Case of Sergeant Grischa: Germany’s First Great War Novel.” Chicago Tribune, December 1, 1928, sec. 2, p. 21. An insightful review by a noted German novelist. Concentrates on Grischa as a symbolic character of the age, the little man whose experience stands for that of all soldiers caught in the jaws of war.

Fishman, Solomon. “The War Novels of Arnold Zweig.” Sewanee Review 49, no. 4 (October/ December, 1941): 433-451. A basic thematic and contextualizing overview of The Case of Sergeant Grischa and Zweig’s other war novels published before 1941. Provides the best place for the general reader to begin further study. Situates Zweig’s ideas in their interwar historical context and argues positively for his firm moral stance.

Pfeiler, Wilhelm K. “Arnold Zweig.” In War and the German Mind: The Testimony of Men of Fiction Who Fought at the Front. New York: Columbia University Press, 1941. A good introduction to The Case of Sergeant Grischa and other war novels in the context of German attitudes toward war in general. Though dated, the points made here are still valid. Good index.

Salamon, George. Arnold Zweig. New York: Twayne, 1975. The only comprehensive treatment of Zweig’s works in English, the bulk of the book explores The Case of Sergeant Grischa and Zweig’s other war novels. An excellent overview for the general reader, it also contains biographical information on Zweig and a brief bibliography.

White, Ray Lewis. Arnold Zweig in the USA. New York: Peter Lang, 1986. Not a critical treatment, but a collection of contemporary reviews of Zweig’s works in English in the United States. The thirteen reprinted reviews of The Case of Sergeant Grischa, though excerpted, give a good sense of the novel’s reception at the time of its publication.