Sven Hassel was the pen name of the Danish-born Børge Willy Redsted Pedersen (19 April 1917 – 21 September 2012) who wrote novels set during World War II. In Denmark he used the pen name Sven Hazel. Although he is arguably one of the most sold Danish authors, at most second to Hans Christian Andersen, Danish public libraries, as of 2012, did not stock his books.
Hassel was born in Nyhuse, Frederiksborg County, now a district of Hillerød, in Denmark on 19 April 1917; the first of seven children to miller Peder Oluf Pedersen and his 20-year-old wife Maren Hansine Andersen. On the second Sunday after Trinity in Frederiksborg Slotssogn, Frederiksborg County he was baptized Børge Willy Redsted Pedersen. Three years later, in 1920, the family moved from Agerup in Hyllinge parish where his father had been born to Copenhagen, where in 1921 they lived in Peter Fabersgade 4 with his father supporting the family as a miller foreman at the Toldbod mill. Further moves saw the family relocating to Ny Toldbodgade 23 in 1924, with his father still a foreman and in 1929 to Tverstedgade 3, Vanløse, where in 1930 his father supported the family as a miller at Dansk Sojakagefabrik. On Palm Sunday 1931 at the age of 13 he was confirmed in Vanløse church.
Hassel claimed that at the age of 14 he joined the merchant navy as a cabin boy and worked on ships until his military service in 1936. However, while his two-years-younger brother Tommy Redsted Pedersen was entered in the army levy roll for Copenhagen in 1937 when he turned 18 and his four-years-younger brother Uffe Redsted Pedersen was entered in the same roll in 1939 when he turned 18, Pedersen was not entered in the roll from 1934 through 1940. Rather, in 1935 he entered the social welfare system of Copenhagen as Arbejdsmand (laborer) Børge Villy Redsted Petersen.
In 1937, to escape the Great Depression, the unemployed Hassel moved to Germany to join the army. In an interview in 1990, he said, “Germany happened to be closer than England, I went to a Wehrmacht recruiting office to enlist, but it wasn’t as easy as I had thought. Only German citizens could serve. After six months of trying to join up, the Seventh Cavalry Regiment finally accepted me on the condition that I became a naturalized German.”
Hassel served with the 2nd Panzer Division stationed at Eisenach and in 1939 was a tank driver during the invasion of Poland. A year later he attempted to escape. He served with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment and later the 11th and 27th Panzer Regiments (6th Panzer Division) on all fronts except North Africa and was wounded several times. Eventually he reached the rank of lieutenant and received the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd class.
On 23 August 1942 the resistance newspaper De Frie Danske reported that on 13 August a Cadillac registered to leader of DNSAP Frits Clausen had crashed in Copenhagen. A Børge Petersen involved in the crash first disappeared but was later apprehended and awaited trial. DNSAP subsequently issued a statement that due to his prior convictions Børge Petersen was not and could never be a member of DNSAP. De Frie Danske opined that if this statement were true there would hardly be any members at all in DNSAP. The author Erik Haaest claimed that the criminal record of Børge Willy Redsted Pedersen shows that he was the aforementioned Børge Petersen and that he in connection with the car crash impersonated a police officer and that he was living at Høffdingsvej 21 with his parents. Haaest’s implication is that Pedersen’s claim that he was a naturalized German citizen fighting with the German armed forces is contradicted by his arrest in Copenhagen as a civilian with several prior convictions.
He claimed to have surrendered to Soviet troops in Berlin in 1945 and to have spent the following years in prisoner-of-war camps in various countries but in reality he was arrested in Denmark in 1945 after the liberation and was held in prison there, first as a suspect and then as a convicted criminal.
He began to write his first book, Legion of the Damned while he was interned.
Hassel was released from prison in 1949 after having served four years out of his ten-year prison sentence.
Post War Years
Hassel was released in 1949 and was planning to join the French Foreign Legion when he met his future wife.
On 6 January 1951 in Garrison Church, Copenhagen Hassel married the four-years-older Laura Dorthea Guldbæk Jensen, a divorced film translator from Nørre Tranders. The preceding month he had registered his intent to marry as journalist Børge Willy Redsted Arbing residing at Baggesensgade 1, Nørrebro. His best man was his younger brother Uffe Redsted Pedersen.
In 1952 his wife gave birth in St Josef’s Hospital, Copenhagen, to a son, who was baptized Michael Franz Erwin Guldbæk Angouléme Arbing in Jesus Church, Valby. For the baptism he registered as journalist and Lieutenant Colonel Børge Willy Redsted Arbing residing at Colbjørnsensgade 11 while his wife registered as Cand.mag.
He went to work in a car factory, but his wife encouraged him to continue to write about his experiences.
In 1953 his debut novel Legion of the Damned was published under the pen name Sven Hazel by Grafisk Forlag after their consultant Georgjedde (Georg Gjedde-Simonsen) had abbreviated and rewritten the manuscript. In 1957 Hassel suffered from an attack of a sickness caught during the war and was paralyzed for almost two years. After recovery, he began to write more books.
On 14 April 1964 Pedersen sold Stægers Alle 9, the same year he moved to Barcelona, Spain, where he lived until his death.
On 29 September 1965 he changed his name to Sven Willy Hasse Arbing and on 28 December 1965 he had his son’s name changed to Michael Hasse Arbing while on 26 April 1966 his wife changed hers to Dorthe Laura Hazel Guldbæk Arbing née Jensen.
In 2002 Pedersen started using the internet domain “svenhassel.net” and an email address with the Spanish ISP Telefónica for the promotion and sale of his books. From 2004 to 2012 his website promoted his books as mostly auto-biographical based on his participation in the war on the German side with parts based on stories from his comrades and parts free fantasy.
Hassel’s books are written in the first person, with Hassel himself as a character, though not necessarily the lead character. The books describe the exploits of a 27th (Penal) Panzer Regiment composed of expendable soldiers – sentenced criminals, court-martialed soldiers and political undesirables. In addition to Sven, they include Alfred Kalb, “Legionnaire” (ex-member of the French Foreign Legion); Wolfgang Creutzfeldt, a giant of a man ironically named Tiny (variously Little John in some of the books); barracks fixer and shrewd thief Joseph Porta; older sergeant Willie Beier, “Old Un” or “Old Man”; Julius Heide, a Nazi fanatic, Barcelona Blom, a veteran of both sides of the Spanish Civil War, Gregor Martin, who was a removals man before the war, Chief Mechanic Wolf, and Staff Sergeant Hoffman, a non-commissioned officer. They serve on many fronts, including northern Finland, USSR, Italy (Monte Cassino), Greece (The Bloody Road to Death), the Balkans, and France (Liquidate Paris, set during and after the Normandy Invasion). The majority of the action occurs in the USSR. Due to errors in chronology, the regiment fights in several places, hundreds of kilometres apart, at the same time. In some of the books the 27th Regiment does guard duty for the Gestapo in Hamburg (Assignment Gestapo) and also at the military prison at Torgau (March Battalion). Hassel states that the characters are based on real people and events are related to historical events.
Hassel’s view of war is brutal. In his books, soldiers fight only to survive, with the Geneva Convention rarely being observed on the Eastern front. People are killed by chance or with very little reason. Occasional pleasant events and peaceful meetings are brutally cut short. Unsympathetic Prussian officers constantly threaten their men with courts-martial and execute them with little provocation. Disgruntled soldiers occasionally kill their own officers to get rid of them. By graphically portraying war as violent and hopeless in such manner, Hassel’s books have been said to contain an anti-war message.
In total he published 14 novels which have been translated into 18 languages. In 1987 his book Wheels of Terror was made into a film of the same title and also known as The Misfit Brigade.
Hassel’s books are particularly popular in the United Kingdom, where he sold 15 million of the 53 million sold worldwide. In contrast his books are not deemed suitable for the public libraries in his home country Denmark where a 2011 opinion piece on literature in Dagbladet Information described Hassel as a traitor and his debut novel as the worst book ever with its characters plagiarized from All Quiet on the Western Front.
On 10 October 1963 journalist George Kringelbach revealed in his radio programme Natredaktionen on P3 that Sven Hazel was a pen name for the convicted traitor Børge Willy Redsted Pedersen. Further, Kringelbach claimed that while Pedersen might have been in Germany during the war, it was not in a penal battalion. Rather, during the war he had been working for a German intelligence agency which collaborated with HIPO. Hassel’s publisher Grafisk Forlag subsequently offered all book dealers a refund for his most recent book and ceased collaboration with him. Pedersen therefore formed his own publishing company “Bellum” (Latin for ”War”), which published the remainder of his books.
The controversial Danish writer Erik Haaest disputed Hassel’s claims for many years. According to Haaest, the author never served on the Eastern front but spent the majority of World War II in occupied Denmark and his knowledge of warfare comes second-hand from Danish Waffen-SS veterans whom he met after the end of the war. Haaest claims that during the war period, Hassel was in fact a member of the HIPO Corps or Hilfspolizei, an auxiliary Danish police force created by the Gestapo, consisting of collaborators. Haaest also alleges that Hassel’s first novel was ghostwritten and that, when it became a success, he employed his wife to write the rest of his books.
In 1976 Hassel threatened Haaest with a lawsuit for defamation in reaction to Haasts’ publication of the book Hazel. En Hitler-agents fantastiske historie (Danish for ‘Hazel. A Hitler agent’s fantastic story‘). A review of Haaest’s book quotes Hassel’s own statements and writes that his sentence of 10 years prison for treason was given primarily because he was an informant for the German occupation force in Denmark and argues that he could not both have been an informant in Copenhagen and been fighting deep inside Soviet territory.
In 2010 the Danish public service television channel DR2 dedicated one of its five episodes on scandals in Denmark to Hassel. The program explained that he at first was wildly popular among his Danish readers and celebrated as a Danish Ernest Hemingway, until in 1963 he was exposed as a fraud with a dubious wartime past. He became an outcast and had go into exile to continue publishing. The national Danish Radio which aired the exposure were subsequently forced to issue a retraction after Hassel purportedly provided corroborating documentation of his wartime service. With more than 50 million books sold, he is the most sold Danish author ever but never received recognition nor forgiveness.
In March 2010 Berlingske Tidende gave a detailed account of Hassel’s exposure as a fraud and his post-war prison sentence. In 1963 the radio journalist George Kringelbach participated in a reception Hassel gave to celebrate his ten years as a vastly successful writer. The reception saw participation by numerous dignitaries including ambassadors and envoys of six foreign countries. Until then the public was under the impression that Hassel was a real person and that his books were autobiographical. When during his late night radio programme Kringelbach subsequently revealed that Sven Hassel was a fictitious person and that the author was a convicted traitor a major scandal ensued. The national radio of Denmark and Hassel reached a settlement, which at the time was seen as a retraction by the national radio. The settlement enraged Kringelbach’s colleagues and Kringelbach subsequently left his employer. According to Berlingske, the settlement actually acknowledges that Hassel was affiliated with the German intelligence agency E.T., the intelligence gathering branch of HIPO. Based on the settlement, Berlingske went on to detail the 1947 sentence of Hassel. The sentence does indeed state that Hassel served in an armoured regiment of the German Wehrmacht. However, the newspaper goes on to explain that the author Haaest in 1976 had interviewed Hassel’s defence attorney, member of parliament and mayor of Copenhagen Edel Saunte. According to Haaest, Saunte had explained that in court Hassel had insisted that the charges against him should be extended with a clause that he had also served as a German soldier, although he had obviously never done that. After insisting several times, the judge ended the discussions with a statement to the effect that she could no longer bear his insistence on this non-sensical front line service, but that he would also be convicted for that, although it would not add to nor detract from his prison sentence. Berlingske’s account ends with a statement from Haaest, that what actually happened is still a matter of belief and a statement from Hassel’s son who refers to the official retraction from the national radio and said that his aging father had nothing more to add.
In 2012 the Danish World War II historian Claus Bundgård Christensen who coauthored the first scientific dissertation on Danes in the Waffen SS was quoted for his assertion that Hassel never served on the Eastern front and that his books are a fraud and not based on his personal experiences. The historian went on to speculate that Hassel got his information from his contacts in the German intelligence service.
During the last five years of his life Hassel acknowledged the controversy in his home country over his authorship with a statement in Danish that In Denmark Sven Hassel has been put down (I Danmark er Sven Hazel blevet rakket ned), which he compares to the worldwide sale of his books in 53 million copies.
On 21 September 2012 Hassel died, aged 95, in Barcelona.
Hassel was survived by his son who as of 2014 holds the exclusive rights to his father’s works and administers Hassel’s official website from an address in Barcelona.
- The Legion of the Damned (1953)
- Wheels of Terror
- Comrades of War
- March Battalion
- Assignment Gestapo
- Monte Cassino (The Beast Regiment)
- Liquidate Paris
- Reign of Hell
- The Bloody Road to Death
- Court Martial
- O.G.P.U. Prison
- The Commissar
Haaest was born on 14 March 1935 in Hundslev on Funen to tenant Sigurd Hansen and wife Esther née Andersen and baptized Erik Hansen in Kølstrup church on 22 April 1935.
On 23 March 1953 he changed his name to Erik Haaest.
On 20 December 1962 Haaest formally left the Church of Denmark.
Haaest’s father was an active member of the Danish resistance. After the war, his father refused to accept any awards from Denmark’s post-war government, because many officials who had collaborated with the Germans, were still unpunished, in positions of power and were now posing as anti-Nazis. Haaest was intimately familiar with the subjects of Danish resistance, and Danish pro-Nazi collaborators.
On 18 July 2007 the newspaper Information wrote that Haaest in September 1977 had published a pamphlet asserting that the nazi concentration camp gas chambers never existed and that the Diary of Anne Frank was a forgery. This caused the Danish Arts Council to be condemned since it had funded Haaest’s research into Danes who had served in the SS. Information subsequently brought a retort from Haaest where he claimed to have been deliberately misquoted and referred to the allegations as an outrageous lie made to discredit and sabotage his authorship regarding Danish pro-nazi collaborators.
Denmark in WWII
Read about WWII here