IS THE SVEN HASSEL SERIES BASED ON FICTION, REAL EVENTS, OR BOTH?
Both! The books are based on Hassel’s own experiences as a soldier in the Wehrmacht during WWII where he became a lieutenant. There are fictional elements introduced in the novels, as well. These novels were Hassel’s catharsis. His work is not meant to be interpreted as an autobiography and should not be read as historical or documentary-type literature. They are novels. Sven wrote about his own encounters and those of others, but also included what he calls “the author’s legitimate right to the use of free fantasy.” Nevertheless, all the main characters are (or were) real people.
On an interesting side note, Sven Hassel’s own experiences are comprised in the two characters of “Sven” and “Lieutenant Löve” throughout the series.
WHAT ORDER SHOULD THE BOOKS BE READ IN?
The books can be read in any order as they do not follow each other chronologically but they were written as follows:
Legion of The Damned
Wheels of Terror
Comrades of War
Reign of Hell
Bloody Road to Death
ARE THERE ANY UNPUBLISHED MANUSCRIPTS?
In his last few years, Hassel had started to work on the 15th novel of which 50 unedited pages have been found. Unfortunately, he passed away before completing it. The title would have been The Marvelous Defeat. This last book in the series takes place during the final days of the war and talks of the defeat of Berlin. These 50 pages have been published in special editions in Norway, Denmark and Finland.
WHAT WAS SVEN HASSEL’S WRITING PROCESS LIKE?
Sven Hassel would write his drafts in the afternoons and the following day he would dictate these to his wife. Once this was done they would go through the drafts together. After school, his son would then likewise go through the drafts and add his comments. Hassel’s wife was his editor at the time, so to speak. They were a team. Chapters and excerpts would also be read out aloud to friends and family for feedback. When this first round of edits was completed, he would go back and rewrite the book with his handwritten comments. It was all done on the old and trustworthy typewriter. This process would be repeated numerous times until he was satisfied and ready to turn in his manuscript. It took 2-3 years to write each book back then.
WILL THERE BE AN OFFICIAL SVEN HASSEL BIOGRAPHY, A NON-FICTION VERSION OF HIS LIFE?
This is an idea that has been toyed with in the past, but that’s all it’s ever been, an idea. Hassel was a storyteller and a novelist and his catharsis of his time during the war, so to speak, is comprised of the novels he wrote, not an autobiography. He has left us with the 14 novels based on his experience in WWII and that remains his heritage. For the time being there will not be a biography released. We did, however, write a small biography on the site.
IS SVEN HASSEL A PEN NAME?
His given surname at birth was Pedersen, but later on in life, he adopted the pen name Hassel as it was difficult to use your given name being on public record and especially admitting to having been on the German side in post-war Denmark. Later on he acquired the name Hassel for good. “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 in his 2010 interview with Nova Publishing in Norway.
WHY IS HASSEL SPELLED HAZEL IN SOME COUNTRIES?
“Hassel” 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.
HOW DID SVEN HASSEL AS A DANE END UP IN THE GERMAN WEHRMACHT?
Due to unemployment in Denmark in the thirties Sven went to Germany looking for work and ended up joining the German army (Wehrmacht) 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).
WHERE WAS HASSEL BASED DURING THE WAR?
He enrolled in the German army (Wehrmacht) in 1938, and fought on multiple frontlines throughout the war, such as the Eastern Front, Normandy, Monte Cassino… Towards the end of the war, while injured, Hassel was temporarily transferred to the Abwehr (espionage) in Denmark for a few months (from December 1944 to January 1945).
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.
DID SVEN KEEP IN TOUCH WITH HIS COMRADES AFTER THE WAR?
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.
Hassel had been in touch with Tiny and the Legionnaire after the war, but they both passed away in later years. Today, none of his fellow comrades are alive.
WHEN AND WHERE DID TINY, JULIUS HEIDE, AND THE LEGIONNAIRE PASS AWAY?
They all survived the war. Tiny and the Legionnaire died in a hospice for ex-legionnaires in France and Julius died in East Germany. For more information on these or other characters, please visit the character descriptions on this site.
WHAT HAPPENED TO CHIEF MECHANIC WOLF?
He tried to sell a Gauleiter (nazi party civil servant) to the Americans, but was caught and ended up in prison.
WHAT IS THE NAME OF ODIN’S PIG?
His name was Serimer.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO PORTA’S CAT, STALIN?
Porta explained, in one of the novels, that his red-haired cat, Stalin, tried to desert to the Soviets due to his communist conviction but was run over by a train.
WHERE WERE SVEN’S COMRADES BURIED? CAN I VISIT THEIR GRAVE?
It was not a time for tombstones.
All there would be left of their graves would maybe be a wooden cross long gone and rotten. As countless other graves at the time, they would have most likely have disintegrated and disappeared rapidly.
WHEN WAS THE FILM MADE AND WILL THERE BE A NEW MOTION PICTURE IN THE FUTURE?
The film, Wheels of Terror, was produced in 1986.
We, as much as Hassel’s readers, would love a proper cinematic representation (on the small or big screen) of the books.