Jean Hatzfeld was born in Madagascar in 1949. His Jewish parents had fled there from the Nazis 7 years previously, but the family eventually returned to the Auvergne region. In 1977 he started to work as journalist for the French daily Libération among others.
Hatzfeld worked as a special correspondent and war reporter throughout eastern Europe, from the advent of Solidarnosc in Poland until the fall of Berlin’s Wall, covering the Velvet Revolution in former Czechoslovakia and the fall of the Ceausescu regime in Romania.
For 25 years, since the end of 1970s, he mainly worked in the Middle East, including Lebanon, Israel and Iraq. He spent three years in countries of Former Yugoslavia, between Vukovar and Sarajevo. In Sarajevo he was seriously injured through a Kalashnikov salvo. Hatzfeld published two books set against this background: L’Air de la guerre (1994), evoking his experiences in the former Yugoslavia; and La guerre au bord du fleuve (1999), a novel inspired by the war. He also worked in Haiti, Congo, Algeria, Burundi and Iran.
In 1994, he travelled to Rwanda to report about the massacre there, and its aftermath, for Libération. He later decided to leave daily journalism in order to focus solely on research into the genocide. He published Dans le nu de la vie in 2000, in which he reports the stories of Tutsi survivors. The volume was awarded the Prix Culture 2000, the Prix Pierre Mille and the Prix France Culture. Hatzfeld said that after the publication of his first volume, readers expressed interest in hearing the voices of the Hutu perpetrators. Two years later, his conversations with condemned Hutus culminated in Une Saison de machettes, for which he won the essay category of the Prix Femina in 2003 and the Prix Jossef Kessel in 2004. He divides his time between Rwanda and Paris.
He won the 2006 T.R. Fyvel Book Award – Free expression award from Index on Censorship – for his books on the Rwandan genocide.