Norwegian Politician Quisling Is Arrested for Nazi Collaboration Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Vidkun Quisling, a one-time Norwegian army officer and minister of defense, was also the leader of a fascist party. Shortly after Germany’s invasion, he unilaterally proclaimed himself the new leader of Norway. Although he was politically and diplomatically inefficient, Quisling’s public allegiance to Adolf Hitler made him perhaps the earliest pro-Nazi collaborationist leader in occupied Europe and resulted in his name becoming synonymous with treason and collaboration.

Summary of Event

Vidkun Quisling, the son of a Lutheran pastor, was an able student but also shy and unassuming. Pressure from a success-driven mother led him to achieve outstanding grades, especially in mathematics. Academic success continued during his military career, and as a student at the Norwegian Military Academy he set record high marks before he was posted to the military’s general staff. In World War I, he served as a military attaché to the Norwegian consulate in Russia. During this time he became fluent in Russian and was acquainted with a number of Bolshevik leaders, including Trotsky, Leon Leon Trotsky. [kw]Quisling Is Arrested for Nazi Collaboration, Norwegian Politician (May 9, 1945) [kw]Nazi Collaboration, Norwegian Politician Quisling Is Arrested for (May 9, 1945) World War II[World War 02];Nazi collaborators Nazi collaborators and sympathizers;Vidkun Quisling[Quisling] Treason;Vidkun Quisling[Quisling] Quisling, Vidkun Hitler, Adolf [p]Hitler, Adolf;and Norway[Norway] Norway World War II[World War 02];Nazi collaborators Nazi collaborators and sympathizers;Vidkun Quisling[Quisling] Treason;Vidkun Quisling[Quisling] Quisling, Vidkun Hitler, Adolf [p]Hitler, Adolf;and Norway[Norway] Norway [g]Europe;May 9, 1945: Norwegian Politician Quisling Is Arrested for Nazi Collaboration[00750] [g]Norway;May 9, 1945: Norwegian Politician Quisling Is Arrested for Nazi Collaboration[00750] [c]Atrocities and war crimes;May 9, 1945: Norwegian Politician Quisling Is Arrested for Nazi Collaboration[00750] [c]Government;May 9, 1945: Norwegian Politician Quisling Is Arrested for Nazi Collaboration[00750] [c]Military;May 9, 1945: Norwegian Politician Quisling Is Arrested for Nazi Collaboration[00750] Terboven, Josef

Vidkun Quisling shakes hands with Adolf Hitler in January, 1945. Quisling was executed less than one year later.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

During the Russian Civil War Russian Civil War (1918-1922) that followed the revolution, Quisling became involved with administering humanitarian aid in Russia. During the early 1920’s, he served the League of Nations as an assistant to the high commissioner for repatriation of prisoners of war and disbursement of aid to starving Russians. The extensive famine found throughout Russia was the result of war’s destruction, a broken down transportation system, inept officials, and aggressive expropriations of farmers’ food, which left the farmers and their families destitute. Quisling’s firsthand exposure to these conditions left him strongly opposed to Bolshevik government.

After his return home, Quisling’s military career stalled, so he turned to politics. From 1931 until 1933, he served as minister of defense in a government run by the Agrarian Party. When this government fell, Quisling began to work with the founders of a new fascist, conservative party, the Nasjonal Samling Nasjonal Samling (national union), or NS. The NS was a conservative party based on the models of fascist Italy and Germany’s rising Nazi Party. The NS was anticommunist and conservative Christian, and it propounded a call for a moral rejuvenation of Norway based on a mythical racial glory that was to be focused and led by an authoritarian leader in the Adolf Hitler mold.

Although Norway suffered during the Great Depression, the fascist calls for change generated little enthusiasm. Quisling’s introverted persona did not lend itself to recruitment, as he lacked the fiery passion of street orators such as Hitler. Consequently, the NS remained an insignificant and peripheral party. In his efforts to drum up support, Quisling eventually traveled to Germany and gained the sponsorship of Rosenberg, Alfred Alfred Rosenberg, one of the political philosophers of Hitler’s Nazi Party. Ultimately, Rosenberg arranged for a stipend to be paid to the NS to defray the daily costs of running the party. After World War II began, Quisling traveled again to Germany, this time to convince the Germans to support an NS coup in Norway. During this trip he met with both Hitler and the head of the German navy and discussed secret British plans for joint actions with Norway in the case of war. Quisling’s knowledge of these plans was based on his years as minister of defense.

Although Hitler had already been planning an invasion, these talks helped convince Hitler that action was needed. However, he refused to commit to an official relationship with Quisling. When the German invasion began on April 9, 1940, Norway’s king and cabinet left Oslo for exile in Great Britain. That afternoon, Quisling acted on his own by announcing over the radio that he was forming a new Norwegian government that would accommodate the Germans. Quisling expected Hitler to sanction his action, and he also expected widespread Norwegian support; he was quickly disappointed. The NS leaders had not been contacted before Quisling’s announcement, so they were unprepared and disorganized. The common person in the street saw Quisling’s coup as self-serving and his willingness to collaborate with the invaders as treasonous. Almost immediately, Quisling’s name became synonymous with treachery and collaboration.

Quisling’s relationship with Hitler and the Germans was compromised from the start. Quisling anticipated that an NS-run Norway would be treated by Germany as a partner in the war against both Britain and, eventually, Bolshevik Russia. In exchange for a friendly but independent Norwegian government, Quisling expected preferential treatment in Germany’s new European order. Hitler did not consider Quisling a strong leader, nor did he want a divisive Norwegian leader with delusions of independence, for such a person could obstruct German plans for the vigorous exploitation of conquered territories. Thus, within six days, Hitler ordered Germany’s ambassador to depose Quisling and coordinate directly with the NS. Norway was to be treated as a conquered land administered by a Reichskommisar (Reich commissioner). The person chosen for this post was a veteran and loyal Nazi Party member named Josef Terboven. Terboven was tasked with milking Norway for the raw materials, foreign laborers, and financial resources necessary to help sustain Germany’s war effort.

Throughout the war, Terboven was Norway’s real leader. He quickly concluded that, like Rosenberg, Quisling was a doctrinaire with neither the capacity nor ruthlessness necessary for leadership, and during the occupation Terboven either ignored or bypassed Quisling’s requests and concerns. Terboven’s appointment was a real blow for Quisling, for Terboven was an experienced player in the byzantine arena of turf battles and internal squabbles for prominence that marked the true nature of Nazi Germany. Quisling’s German sponsors, such as Rosenberg, were ineffective players in this arena and, thus, Quisling was rendered ineffective through his lack of personal charisma, naïveté in internal politics, and the weakness of his supporters.

Eventually, Hitler decided that Norway did need a figurehead leader. On February 1, 1942, he appointed Quisling as minister president of Norway. In this capacity the Germans expected him to turn Norway into a willing satellite nation. Quisling was expected to reinvigorate the NS, Nazify Norwegian society, enlist volunteers to fight in the German armed forces, and recruit laborers to work in German factories. Quisling’s efforts were consistently unsuccessful. The NS failed in its efforts to create a vibrant Hitler Youth type of organization to inculcate fascist values and to force public school teachers to adopt fascist curricula. Both efforts floundered in the face of anemic support and widespread passive resistance. Quisling’s attempts to “tame” the Lutheran Church likewise failed.

In spite of an extensive propaganda effort, only about fifteen thousand Norwegians volunteered to serve in the German armed services, and less than one-half of those persons reached the front line. Likewise, the NS failed to grow into a functional equivalent of the Nazi Party. At its heyday, the NS had just forty-three thousand members—approximately 1.5 percent of Norway’s population.

While Quisling’s efforts fell far short of German expectations, they were more than enough to make him look like Hitler’s stooge. As Norwegian resistance coalesced during the war, increasingly repressive occupation policies made Quisling’s collaboration ever more demeaning for Norwegians. When the German regime collapsed on May 9, 1945, Terboven committed suicide and Quisling was arrested. Because Norwegian law did not allow the death penalty, an exemption for traitors was made during Quisling’s trial for treason. Quisling’s defense claimed that his collaboration was the only way to preserve an independent Norway, a claim made hollow by Germany’s occupation policies. The final nail in Quisling’s coffin was the British discovery of German naval documents detailing the plan for a coup that Quisling had discussed with Hitler before the invasion. In the end, Quisling was condemned to death for treason and shot by a firing squad on October 24.

While Quisling did not appear to be venal or corrupt, his diffident personality was at odds with the decisive kind of leadership he espoused. Without a ruthless drive or a strong party as a base of support, Quisling was doomed to failure. The width and depth of these failures angered the Germans, caused suffering and humiliation for the Norwegians, and doomed Quisling when Hitler fell. When these personal failures were added to Norwegian hostility engendered by the exploitive nature of German occupation, it is little surprise that Quisling’s name was linked to the two concepts of ineptitude and spineless collaboration with a pitiless and exploitative regime.


Quisling was far too irresolute and unassertive to live up to the expectations inherent in fascist leadership; that is, he would never become a strong leader, whose will and determination would unite a people and drive them to a new era of prosperity. Instead, Quisling’s actions as a leader were marked by ineptitude and an inability to navigate through the byzantine politics of the Third Reich. This isolated him from the Norwegian populace and reinforced its anger at the exploitive nature of German occupation. In the end, Quisling’s execution was as much about Norwegian anger at Nazi policies as it was about Quisling’s acts of treason. As a result, “quisling” came to be associated with crass opportunism, treachery, and spineless ineptitude. Norway World War II[World War 02];Nazi collaborators Nazi collaborators and sympathizers;Vidkun Quisling[Quisling] Treason;Vidkun Quisling[Quisling] Quisling, Vidkun Hitler, Adolf [p]Hitler, Adolf;and Norway[Norway]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Andenaes, Johs, and O. Riste. Norway and the Second World War. Oslo, Norway: Johan Tanum Forlag, 1966. Though a dated publication, this important work provides a thorough history of the efforts of both collaborators and resistors in Norway.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barth, Else Margarete. A Nazi Interior: Quisling’s Hidden Philosophy. New York: Peter Lang, 2003. This work by a philosopher looks beyond the failures of Quisling’s administration to find the philosophy and principles that animated his efforts.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dahl, Hans. Quisling: A Study in Treachery. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. A balanced account of Quisling that identifies many details of his life and explains his failures as a state figure.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hewins, Ralph. Quisling: Prophet Without Honour. New York: John Day, 1965. A British journalist argues that Quisling made errors of judgment but was not a traitor.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kersaudy, François. Norway, 1940. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990. A detailed description of the unsuccessful attempt by Norway and the Allies to resist the Nazi invasion. Includes discussion of Quisling.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mann, Chris. Hitler’s Arctic War: The German Campaigns in Norway, Finland, and the USSR, 1940-1945. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2003. Includes a chapter on Norway that discusses Quisling’s treachery.

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