About the Author

Sven Hassel portraitSven Hassel (born Pedersen) was born in 1917 in a small town in Denmark called Frederiksborg. Here he was raised in an impoverished Danish working-class family that drove him to join the merchant navy as a ship-boy at the very early age of 14 to earn a living. Later, in 1936, 19-year-old Sven had completed the Danish mandatory military service.

After completion he found himself in the midst of increasing unemployment and an overall crisis in Denmark. He therefore decided to try his luck and moved to neighboring Germany in hopes of finding employment: “Germany was obviously not the right country to move to, but then again, you must remember that those times were chaotic and at that point there was still no war,” Sven related in hindsight.

Even so, his job hunt was unsuccessful and he therefore decided to join the German army
(Wehrmacht) as a volunteer in 1938. In order to sign up, however, he had to take on German citizenship, which he was granted by falsely stating his father was of Austrian origin (to enlist in the Wehrmacht it was a prerequisite for a foreigner to have a father of German or Austrian descent). He initially enrolled in the 2nd Panzerregiment and later in the 11th and 27th Panzerregiment (both in the 6th Panzer Division). An unsuccessful attempt to desert landed Sven within the penal battalion of the 27th. It was here that Sven encountered the comrades that would motivate and inspire the novels to come.

As a soldier on the front, Hassel was exposed to the dangers of fighting on various front lines and the injuries that came with it. He was wounded 8 times in total and during one of these stints he was temporarily transferred to the
Abwehr (espionage) in Denmark for a few months (from December 1944 to January 1945). By the end of the war, Hassel had gone from enlisting as a volunteer to making the ranks of a lieutenant and earning the Iron Cross, first and second class.

Nonetheless, when the war ended in 1945, as a consequence of fighting on the German side, he had to serve multiple prison terms in various camps as a P.O.W., which included Russian, American, and French. Afterwards and upon returning home to Denmark, Hassel’s German citizenship was cancelled and he was initially condemned to 10 years in Danish prison for treason (for serving in the German army), but in 1949 amnesty was granted to a great majority of political prisoners, having them hereby released. Hassel’s entire career in the German army was carefully written down in his
Heeresstammkarte (a card handed to each soldier to be carried on their person at all times) showing his rank, positioning, and whereabouts throughout the war.

It was while serving sentence in one of these prison camps Hassel began writing his first book. The
Legion of the Damned was first published in Denmark in 1953. To this day, it is the only Danish novel that has been sold consecutively for more than six decades since its first edition. But it was not an easy start, and 12 publishers initially rejected the novel, prior to its first release. Also, he had to write under a pen name (Sven Hassel) because of the hostile feelings towards Danes who had served on the German side. “It was necessary to write under a pseudonym after the war when one had been convicted of German military service, you could easily get fired from work because of this. The fact that I used a pen name has been used against me on numerous occasions, but many writers through history have chosen to do the same,” Hassel explained.

“Hassel,” however, was a protected family name in Denmark, and so his publishers changed it to “Hazel” in Denmark, Norway and Iceland – elsewhere it remained “Hassel.” In later years, Sven was legally able to acquire the name “Hassel,” but due to the popularity of his books the name continued with a “z” in the above-mentioned 3 countries.

Initially, post-war, Hassel had the intention of joining the French Foreign Legion, like many of his comrades, as that seemed to be the only option since the trade of a soldier was all he knew. However, and luckily, he met his future wife before enlisting, and that change of fate drove him to eventually become the writer we know of today. Sven married Dorthe in 1951 and together they had a son a year later.

Meanwhile, and despite of having released his first novel, Hassel continued to work at a Mercedes Benz distributor in Copenhagen, Denmark, among other jobs, to support his wife and son, as authorship was still not in the cards and certainly not a reliable means of income.

His career could have been short-lived. In 1957, Hassel fell ill with a rare disease causing total paralysis and a dramatic weight-loss. He was forced to leave his job at the time, which left the family without earnings. It wasn’t until he was admitted to the
Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, in Hamburg, Germany, that they were able to discover the source of his illness - a rare fever originating in the Caucasus region - and thereby treat it. Hassel made a full recovery and was completely cured one year later. Shortly thereafter, his wife encouraged him to start writing again.

Hassel went on to create a series of 14 World War II inspired novels, drawing from his own encounters and experiences of the war. The books take the reader on a journey following the trial and tribulations of Hassel and his comrades from the penal battalion:
Porta, Tiny, the Legionnaire, Old Man, Heide, Gregor Martin, Barcelona Blom and the author himself. The few to survive the war were Sven, Tiny, the Legionnaire, Heide, and Gregor Martin.

Gregor Martin became the owner of a large transportation company and proved to be a real entrepreneur. “Julius Heide became a major in the Eastern German army. I kept in touch with him, the Legionnaire, and Tiny for many years. The Legionnaire and Tiny both joined the French Foreign Legion, and eventually ended up in a home for retired legionnaires. But they all passed away a long time ago,” Hassel explained in his last interview in 2010.

Sven Hassel’s 14 novels include:
The Legion of the Damned, Wheels of Terror (also a motion picture), Comrades of War, Marchbattalion, Assignment Gestapo, Monte Cassino, Liquidate Paris, SS General, Reign of Hell, Blitzfreeze, The Bloody Road to Death, Court Martial, O.G.P.U. Prison, and The Commissar. These novels have seen worldwide success with over 53 million copies sold, translated into 25 languages and published in more than 50 countries. In Great Britain alone, the books have sold more than 15 million copies.

Hassel’s antiwar novels portray the ordinary soldier - showing us the flipside of the medals. These soldiers are not men who provoke wars, but instead are used as pawns forced to fight them. The novels are based not only on the author’s own experience fighting in WWII, but also incorporate fictional elements and plotlines, accentuated with a tremendously witty sense of humor. It should be noted that the books while based on Hassel’s experiences and those of his battalion, contain fictional elements and should not be considered autobiographical nor historical documentary pieces. His hopes are to warn younger generations against the atrocities of war, stressing that war is the last resort exploited by flawed politicians.

Sven Hassel peacefully passed away on September 21st, 2012, in Barcelona, Spain, where he had been residing since 1964
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