Vidkun Quisling (1887-1945) served as the prime minister of Norway during the German occupation, from 1940 to 1945. He collaborated with the Nazis and was responsible for the persecution of Norwegian Jews. Found guilty of high treason, Quisling was executed in 1945. His name entered the English language as a synonym for traitor.
Vidkun Abraham Lauritz Jonsson Quisling, whose name became synonymous with the word traitor, was born in Fyresdal, Norway on July 18, 1887 to Jon Lauritz (a priest) and Anna Caroline Bang Quisling. As a child, Quisling was interested in religion, metaphysics, and mathematics. At the age of 12, he invented a mathematical demonstration still taught in Norway today. His parents intended for him to have a career in the military. Quisling graduated from the military academy with the highest grades ever achieved there, earning him a presentation to the king. In 1917, he achieved the rank of captain and in 1931 became a major.
Quisling also had a diplomatic career. He served as a military attache to Petrograd, in the Soviet Union, from 1918 to 1919. From 1919 to 1921, he was a military attache in Helsinki, Finland. In the 1920s, Quisling was involved with the League of Nations, which was established after World War I to settle international disputes and to solve social and economic problems through international cooperation. In the early 1920s, Quisling served on the International Russian Relief Committee in the Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. There he met and married Maria Pasek. Quisling learned to speak Russian fluently and later wrote several books on the country. He also worked to help Balkan refugees. In the mid-1920s, Quisling was a delegate to the Armenian Commission of the League of Nations.
Quisling helped Fridtjof Nansen on his humanitarian missions in the USSR and Armenia from 1922 to 1925. Nansen was a renowned explorer, zoologist, and diplomat who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 and represented Norway on the Disarmament Committee of the League of Nations in 1927. Quisling may have owed his early success, in some part, to Nansen's friendship.
In the late 1920s, Quisling served as a diplomat in Moscow. He was honored by the British in 1929 for his efforts to smooth relations between the Soviet Union and England. The time he spent in the Soviet Union convinced him that Communism was a political system to be feared.
From 1931 to 1933, Quisling was the Norwegian minister of defense. His politics were very conservative. "There is little doubt that Socialism, apart from its adherents among the Jewish intelligentsia, is mainly prevalent in the short-skulled Alpine race, which includes the bulk of the lower classes in Central Europe and the majority of the original Slav inhabitants of Eastern Europe. Bolshevism might be described as an Asiatic-Slav movement led by Jewish minds," wrote Quisling as quoted in Alan S. Milward's The Fascist Economy in Norway.
Quisling feared that Norwegian labor leaders were planning revolution. In 1932, he left the Agrarian (Farmers) Party to found his own political party, called the National Unity (or Union) Party, which received subsidies from Germany and was modeled on its National Socialist (Nazi) Party. This extreme right-wing party wanted to do away with Communism and unions. National Unity was not popular with the voters of Norway. It received only 28,000 votes in the elections of 1933, and declined to only 14,000 votes in 1936. Three years later the party was falling apart.
Involvement with Hitler
Quisling became friends with Alfred Rosenberg, a Nazi ideologist. He attended Nazi meetings outside of Norway, including one in Riga, Latvia, in 1937. Quisling may have been told at that meeting that he would one day head Norway.
Historians do not completely agree on Quisling's role in the German invasion of Norway. Some feel that he gave the idea to Hitler, while others claim that Hitler had the idea all along and simply made use of Quisling to achieve it. Whichever may be the case, it seems that during a visit to Berlin in December 1939, Quisling discussed with Hitler how valuable it would be for Germany to occupy Norway.
According to Rosenberg, at another meeting with Hitler, "[Quisling] again put forward a concrete proposal for preparing a German landing at the request of a new government that would be set up. In addition, Quisling had informed Hitler that the Western powers were planning, with Norway's consent, to occupy bases of operation in Norway." The British, he said, were planning landings at the air bases of Stavanger and Kristiansand. Quisling's pro-Nazi party was willing to take over the bases and give them to the Germans. The information earned Quisling two meetings with Hitler, who paid him 200,000 gold marks.
Some historians feel that, although the Germans considered an invasion of Norway that depended on the support of Quisling and his followers, the idea was abandoned because of a suspicion that Quisling had greatly overstated his strength and capabilities. Therefore, Quisling played no role in the Nazi invasion of Norway after December 1939. Others believe that, because Quisling was in Berlin just four days before the invasion of Norway, he must have been directly involved.
The German invasion of Norway and Denmark began on April 9, 1940. Denmark surrendered immediately. The Germans attacked Norway using warships and paratroopers, but met several weeks of stiff resistance. Norwegian troops retreated north for several weeks. Immediately after the invasion, Quisling proclaimed himself the new head of government and revoked the order for mobilization. Instead, he called for voluntary war efforts in support of Germany. These actions were undertaken without the support of the people or government, violating Norway's laws and constitution. Norway would have preferred to remain neutral.
The Norwegian people resisted not only the Germans, but also Quisling and his government. Within days people began calling him a traitor and loathed his name. His speeches were not well received. In Bergen, Quisling was met by a demonstration of several thousand people shouting, "down with the traitor." He became the butt of Norwegian humor. A few days after Quisling came into power, people were telling the joke: "Have you heard the latest news? Quisling has taken over the tram-ways." "Why?" "It's the only way he can get any more hangers-on!"
King Haakon VII and his government, fleeing before advancing German troops, would not give in to Nazi demands. When the king refused to abdicate or recognize his government, Quisling resigned, after holding the reins of power for only a week. Ingolf Elser Christensen replaced him. After two months of occasional fighting, the king and his government fled to England. Norway surrendered to the Nazis on June 10.
Anti-Semitic persecutions began days after the German invasion. The Nazis issued orders to Norway's Jewish community to turn over its membership lists. Jews were also commanded to give up their radio sets to the authorities. In August 1940, the first detentions of Norwegian Jews took place.
Became Leader of Norway
On August 16, 1940, the Norwegian Communist Party was the first political party to be outlawed in Norway. Their newspaper was suppressed and their leaders arrested. The Nazis soon banned all political parties except for Quisling's. Quisling made another bid for the premiership in late August 1940, but the Germans could not agree on whether to support him or not. The Norwegian Parliament failed to form its own puppet government. As leader of the State Council of 13 Nazi-dominated commissioners, Quisling was made the sole head of Norway on September 25, 1940.
Repression grew worse, with the Jewish population being the first group to suffer. In October 1940, Jews were forbidden to hold academic positions. Norwegian communities were forced to create lists of "pure Jews." On April 21, 1941, German troops desecrated the synagogue in Trondheim, one of only two in Norway, and used it as a residence for German troops.
"Quisling took over his job with the explicit promise of changing the mentality of his nation. Newspapers and theater, church, school and literature were gradually brought under pressure to serve the grand idea of German propaganda: that after centuries of Western contamination Norway is now at last finding its way back to its real self. He had not only persuasion to apply, but all the methods and means of the Nazi machine, from the bribe to the thumb screw," wrote Halvdan Koht in The Voice of Norway, published in 1944. Throughout the Second World War, Quisling collaborated with the Nazis and tried to impose their agenda on Norwegian society. This was met with passive resistance, general strikes, and large-scale industrial sabotage. The Quisling government responded with martial law and internment.
The Germans installed Quisling as prime minister on February 1, 1942. In June of 1942, his government forced the registration of all Jews. Four months later, all Jewish property was confiscated. On October 25, 1942, Jewish men over the age of 16 were sent to Auschwitz, a German concentration camp in Poland. Jewish women and children followed them on November 25. Of the 770 people deported, 740 were killed in the extermination camps. Only 12 returned. Quisling also used terrorist methods to deal with those loyal to the king.
On April 30, 1945, when Hitler committed suicide, thousands of German soldiers were stationed in Norway. On May 8th, the leader of the resistance movement accepted their surrender at the Akershus Fortress in Oslo and Quisling was arrested. He was found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death. Quisling was shot in Oslo on October 24, 1945.
Quisling has the dubious distinction of giving a new word to the English language. The noun "quisling" means a traitor who serves as the puppet of the enemy. The word came into use not long after the Germans invaded Norway. "To writers, the word quisling is a gift from the gods. If they had been ordered to invent a new word for traitor they could hardly have hit upon a more brilliant combination of letters," wrote The (London) Times. Plans exist to make Quisling's former home into a Holocaust memorial and human rights center.
Further Reading on Vidkin Quisling
Dahl, Hans Fredrik, Quisling: A Study in Treachery, Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Hoidal, Oddvar K., Quisling: A Study in Treason, Norwegian University Press, 1989.
Kersaudy, Francois, Norway 1940, St. Martin's Press, 1991.
Koht, Halvdan and Sigmund Skard, The Voice of Norway, Columbia University Press, 1944.
Hurrell, Greg, "Why Did Quisling Betray Norway?," Wincent's Web Site, http://dove.net.au/%7Eghurrell/docs/quisling.html , (January 19, 2000).
"Vidkun Quisling, Norwegian Traitor," Museum of Tolerance Online: Multimedia Learning Center, http://motlc.wiesenthal.com/text/x20/xm2068.html , (January 19, 2000).