Read Legion of the Damned Online

Authors: Sven Hassel

Legion of the Damned

BOOK: Legion of the Damned
10.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Sven Hassel


Translated from the

Danish by Maurice Michael

Copyright 1957 by Sven Hassel
Library of Congress catalog card number 57-8132


This book is dedicated to the unknown soldiers who fell for a cause that was

not theirs, my best companions in the 27th Armored (Penal) Regiment and the

brave women who helped me in those grim and dreadful years:

  • Oberst Manfried Hinka
  • Oberstleutnant Erich von Barring
  • Oberfeldwebel Willie Beier
  • Unteroffizier Hugo Stege
  • Stabsgefreiter Gustav Eicken
  • Obergefreiter Anton Steyer
  • Gefreiter Hans Breuer
  • Unteroffizier Bernhard Fleischmann
  • Gefreiter Asmus Braun and
  • Eva Schadows, Student of Law
  • Ursula Schade, Doctor of Medicine
  • Barbara von Harburg, Nurse
  • Countess Mirza Testanowa-Golynska
  • Erika Wolter, Actress
Publisher's Note

The American publisher is presenting this book as a documentary novel rather

than as an autobiography, primarily because this is Sven Hassel's wish. It was

originally presented in autobiographical form in Denmark. Though the story is,

in the author's words, "ninety per cent fact," he has taken a few of

its manifold episodes from the experiences of others.

Proofer's Note

The character known as "The Old Un" in this work is known as

"The Old Man" or "Willie Beier" in many of Sven Hassel's

other works. I believe that "Pluto" is the character known as

"Tiny" or "Little John". However, some aspects of this work

do not hold true with others. Julius Heide is not mentioned, nor is Barcelona,

or the Legionnare (well there is on passing reference, see if you can spot it).

Many later works take place
the later stages of this novel. A lot

of later novels do not appear to fit in with this work, for instance the lack

of "Oberstleutnant Erich von Barring"'s appearance in those works.

The original proofer's german sucked, so much has been corrected.



"Well, the five minutes are up. You must take the consequences!"

He pressed a bell. Two big SS men in black uniforms came in. A brief order--and they dragged Eva across to a table covered with leather.

Filthy Deserter


The previous day the big sapper had been before the courtmartial and received a sentence of eight years' hard labor. Now it was my turn. I was taken to the court, guarded by two "watchdogs." I was held in a large room, one wall of which was covered with a gigantic painting of Adolf Hitler, while Frederick the Great hung facing him. Behind the president's chair hung four huge flags--those of the air force, navy, army and SS. Along the wall were lined the standards of the different arms: white with a black cross for the infantry; red for the artillery; yellow for the cavalry; pink for the armored troops; black with silver trimmings for the engineers; the jaeger regiments' green with a hunting horn, and all the others. The judge's desk itself was covered with the black-white-red flag of the Wehrmacht.

The court consisted of a legal adviser with the rank of major; two judges--one a Hauptmann, the other a Feldwebel; and a prosecutor, an SS Sturmbannfuhrer.

A filthy deserter is not entitled to a defending counsel.

The charge was read out. I was examined. The judge ordered the witnesses to be produced. First came the Gestapo man who had arrested Eva and me when we were bathing out by the mouth of the Weser, and the summery sound of lazily lapping waves suddenly imposed itself upon the proceedings in court. The hot, shimmering white dune-sand... Eva standing there, drying her rounded thighs... her bathing cap... the heat on my back... the heat, heat.

"Yes, I jumped up onto the desk and from there out through a window."

In all, five different police officials had interrogated me, and they came now and gave their evidence. "Yes, I gave him a false name." "No, the explanation I gave him was not the truth."

It was queer seeing the kriminalsekretar, who had ordered Eva to be whipped. The others were sadists, but he was just correct. You cannot do anything with people who are correct. There are far too many of them. I began a lovely daydream: everybody had deserted, we all had. Only the officers were left. And what could they do? All of us. There were hordes on all the roads. Soldiers going home. The officers were there at the front, and behind the front, with their maps and their plans and their natty officers' caps and polished boots. The others were going home, and they had not forgotten me. In a little while the door would open and in they would come. They would not say anything, and the president, the legal adviser and the two judges would leap to their feet, their faces pale.

"Bring in the witness. Eva Schadows!"

Eva! You here?

Was it Eva?

Oh yes, it was Eva, just as I was Sven. We could recognize each other by our eyes. Everything else, all the rest that we knew--the little roundings, the intimate living secrets that only we knew, that we had drunk in with eyes and mouth and seeing hands--all that no longer existed; only our eyes remained, they and their fear and their promise that we were still us.

Can so much vanish in so few days?

"You know this man here, Eva Schadows, don't you?"

"Oily grin" is an expression I hate. It has always seemed coarse, vulgar and exaggerated, but there is no other for the prosecuting counsel's expression--it was an oily grin.

"Yes." Eva's voice was almost inaudible. A paper rustled, and the sound of it roused us all.

"Where did you make his acquaintance?"

"We met each other in Cologne--during an alert."

You did that in those days.

"Did he tell you that he was a deserter?"


The arrogant silence was too much for her and she went on, faltering, "I don't think so."

"Think well what you are saying, young lady. You know, I hope, that it is a very grave matter to give false evidence in a court of justice."

Eva stood looking at the floor. Not for a moment did she look at me. Her face was gray, like that of a patient just after an operation. Fear was making her hands tremble.

"Well, which was it? Did he not tell you that he was a deserter?"

"Yes, I suppose he did."

"You must say 'yes' or 'no'; we must have a clear answer."


"What else did he tell you? After all, you took him to Bremen and gave him clothes, money and all the rest of it. Didn't you?"


"You must tell the court about it. We should not have to drag every word out of you. What did he tell you?"

"He told me that he had fled from his regiment; he said that I should help him; he said that I should get him papers. And I did so. From a man called Paul."

"When you first met him in Cologne was he in uniform?"


"What sort of uniform?"

"Black tank uniform with a gefreiter's stripe."

"In other words, you could not be in any doubt that he was a soldier?"


"Was it he who asked you to go with him to Bremen?"

"No, I suggested that. I said that he should. He wanted to give himself up, but I persuaded him not to."

Eva, Eva, what in all the world are you saying? What are you telling them?

"In other words, you kept him from doing his duty and giving himself up?"

"Yes, I kept him from doing his duty."

I could not listen to this. I leaped up and shouted at the top of my voice, shouted at the president that she was lying to save me, to contrive mitigating circumstances for me, but that she had no idea that I was a soldier, no idea at all. I had taken off my uniform in the train between Paderborn and Cologne. I was in civilian clothes when I met her. You must let her go; she had no idea of it till I was arrested; I swear that.

Perhaps a president of a court-martial can be human; I didn't know, but I thought that perhaps he might. But his eyes were as cold as slivers of glass, and they drew blood from my shouts.

"You must remain silent until you are questioned. If you say another word I shall have to have you removed," and he turned his glass slivers back onto Eva.

"Eva Schadows, will you take an oath that your statement is correct?"

"I will. It is exactly as I said. If he had not met me he would have given himself up."

"You helped him, too, when he escaped from the secret police?"


"Thank you. That is all... except that... have you been sentenced?"

"I am serving five years' penal servitude in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp."

As she was led out she looked across and gave me a long look and pointed her lips in a kiss. Her lips were blue, her eyes both infinitely sorrowful and happy. She had done something to help me. She hoped, she believed that it would save my life. For a fragile hope of being able to make a tiny contribution to my defense she had been wiffing to sacrifice five years of her life. Five years in Ravensbruck!

I was very far down.

They also brought Trudi in as a witness, but she fainted soon after she had embarked on a crazy statement that was meant to substantiate Eva's evidence.

It is queer when a witness faints in court and is borne off. Trudi was carried out through a little door, and when it closed on her it was as though the whole of my case had been carried out as well.

They did not take long to make up their minds. While the sentence was being read everybody stood up, and the officers and officials present held their arms out in the Nazi salute.

"In the name of the Fuhrer.

"Sven Hassel, gefreiter in 11th Regiment of Hussars, is hereby sentenced to fifteen years' hard labor for desertion. It is further decreed that he is to be dismissed from his regiment and that he is to be deprived of all civil and military rights for an indefinite period.

"Heil Hitler!"

Why don't you faint? Isn't everything black in front of your eyes, as it was when they stopped beating you? What is it they call it: shame worse than death? That's it. That's the cliche. You thought you would never use it. But cliches are there to be used. And now you can go and tell people what it means.

No, you are not going anywhere.

I was so bewildered and bemused that I only heard without grasping what the president then said by way of comment on the sentence.

He said that they had tempered justice with mercy; they had let me off with my life. I had not been sentenced to death. They had taken into account that I was an
and had been called up in Denmark and that irresponsible women, women who did not deserve to be called German women, had enticed me into deserting.

We were chained together two by two with handcuffs and fetters and, lastly, a chain was run round the whole detachment. We were driven to the station, guarded by heavily armed military police.

We were in the train for three days and nights

They Died by Day, They Died by Night


"Before I welcome you to our delightful little spa you had best know who and what you are.

"You are a pack of dirty sluts and scoundrels, a swinish rabble; you are the dregs of humanity. That you have always been, and that you will remain until you die. And in order that you may enjoy your revolting selves, we shall see to it that you die slowly, very slowly, so that you have time for everything. I give you my personal assurance that nobody will be cheated out of anything. Your cure will be properly adhered to. I should be most dreadfully sorry if any of you should miss any of it.

"So now I bid you welcome to the SS and Wehrmacht's Penal Concentration Camp, Lengries.

"Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Lengries extermination camp."

He gave his glossy knee boot a light tap with his switch and let his monocle drop from his eye. Why do people of this type always have monocles? There must be some psychological explanation.

An SS Hauptscharfuhrer read out the rules, which amounted to this: that everything was forbidden and the punishment for all transgressions was starvation, beating, death.

The prison was a five-storied erection of cages, there being no walls dividing the cells, just bars. We were searched and bathed and had one side of our heads shaved. Then all the hairy places on our bodies were smeared with a stinking, searing fluid that had the time of their lives. Their souls stank worse than their prisoners' sick, tortured bodies.

I do not wish to reproach our guards in any way. They were victims of a situation others had created, and to a certain extent they came worse out of it than we did. They acquired stinking souls.

BOOK: Legion of the Damned
10.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Fairy by Shane McKenzie
Happily Ever After by Harriet Evans
Pesadilla antes de Navidad by Daphne Skinner
Rebound by Michael Cain
Diary of an Angel by Farnsworth, Michael M.
The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian