Quisling, Vidkun (1887–1945)

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QUISLING, VIDKUN (1887–1945)


Norwegian "minister president" (1942–1945) during the German occupation.

Vidkun Quisling was born in an isolated area of Telemark in southeast Norway. His father was a well-read parson interested in old Norwegian history, a subject that greatly inspired Vidkun. He was deeply affected by nationalist feelings in 1905, when the Swedish-Norwegian union was dissolved, and became an officer with the highest marks ever from the military academy. As an aspirant in the general staff from 1911, he worked with Russian affairs. After missions as a military attaché, he was engaged in relief work in Russia with the Arctic explorer and national hero Fridtjof Nansen. At that time Quisling admired the Bolshevik Revolution. He offered both the still-revolutionary Norwegian Labor Party and the Communist Party his help in creating the Red Guards.

However, back in Norway in 1929, he had swung to the right. In an article commemorating the death of Nansen in 1930, Quisling declared his sympathies for corporative arrangements, religious norms, and elitist rule. He also paid tribute to "the Nordic race." In 1930 the Nordic Folk Awakening was founded, a tiny organization that can be seen as a forerunner to Nasjonal Samling (NS). Well-known landowners, lawyers, academicians, and the president of the Industrial League became members. Quisling was empowered to act as an executive committee on his own. The fascist principle of having a "führer" was thus adopted for the first time in Norway.

As defense minister in the Farmer's Party government (1931–1933), Quisling spent most of his time combating the labor movement. Harsh measures were taken against strikers, and he accused the Labor Party of treason and of collaboration with the Soviet Union. After the tumultuous years in government Quisling had become a well-known politician. He founded the NS in 1933, but its support in the election—2.2 percent—was a disappointment. The following year the fascist character of NS was strengthened: brown uniforms, the Nazi salute, a pro-German foreign policy, Quisling's unrestricted power, and anti-Semitism. The 1,700 Jews in Norway were described as a threat to the Nordic race. But Quisling failed this time also, with the local elections in 1934 and the parliament elections in 1936 being clear setbacks. While the main enemy, the Labor Party, formed a coalition government with the Farmer's Party in 1935, NS went into the political wilderness. Many leading figures left the party. Right up to the German occupation in 1940, Quisling was an isolated extremist with an insignificant group of followers.

Quisling's most important allies in Berlin were the Nazi ideologist Alfred Rosenberg and the head of the navy, Erich Raeder. Not before 1939 did Hitler pay any real attention to him. When they met in December 1939, Hitler was influenced by Quisling's firm belief that Norway would not uphold its neutrality against Great Britain. Quisling wanted to gain support for a coup d'état in Norway, but he was not informed of Operation Weserübung, the German invasion of Norway and Denmark on 9 April 1940. After the invasion Quisling proclaimed himself head of the government but was soon removed by the Germans. However, in February 1942 Quisling was appointed "minister president" by the real man in power, the Reich commissioner Josef Terboven.

Quisling's efforts to Nazify Norwegian society were strongly resisted by the church, the teachers, and other professional and industrial organizations. Later on sabotage and the shooting of collaborators also occurred. The membership of NS rose to 43,000 in 1943, far from the proclaimed goal of 100,000. Quisling was totally dependent on Terboven, and he contributed to the recruitment of young Norwegians to the eastern front and to the deportation of Norwegian Jews. Quisling was so alienated from public opinion that he thought he would be allowed to negotiate with the resistance after the German capitulation in May 1945. Instead, he was arrested as a common criminal and tried, accused of treason in accordance with civil and military law. His lawyer asserted that Quisling had aimed to rescue the country from warfare while the king and the government had left their duties, but Quisling was sentenced to death and executed in the old fortress Akershus in Oslo on 24 October 1945.

The term quisling as a synonym for traitor was introduced by a Swedish journalist in April 1940. As an insult the term has gained worldwide currency. However, in Norway the historical person Quisling is still a living memory, and therefore quisling usually means a Norwegian collaborator during the war or refers to Quisling himself.

See alsoCollaboration; Norway; Occupation, Military; World War II.


Dahl, Hans Fredrik. Quisling: A Study in Treachery. Cambridge, U.K., 1999.

Hoidal, Oddvar K. Quisling: A Study in Treason. Oxford, U.K., 1989.

TorbjÖrn Nilsson