The making of a Norwegian traitor

Part three of four: Vidkun betrays Norway and Quisling enters the lexicon


Photo: National Archives of Norway
Vidkun Quisling was formally installed as Prime Minister of Nazi-occupied Norway in a ceremony on Feb. 1, 1942. Quisling had the hope that the “State Act” that put him nominally in charge would also give his Nasjonal Samling party real power and lead to peace between Norway and Germany, but Germany maintained oversight of the country until the country was liberated on May 8, 1945.

Alianna Boszhardt

It was Winston Churchill who first used the name Quisling to mean traitor, in his public address following the Nazi invasion of Norway in 1940. In his speech on June 12, 1941, addressed to Allied Delegates, Churchill stated that “Every dawn German volleys crack. Czechs, Poles, Dutchmen, Norwegians, Yugoslavs and Greeks, Frenchmen, Belgians, Luxembourgers make the great sacrifice for faith and country. A vile race of Quislings—to use a new word which will carry the scorn of mankind down the centuries—is hired to fawn upon the conqueror, to collaborate in his designs, and to enforce his rule upon their fellow countrymen, while groveling low themselves. Such is the plight of once-glorious Europe, and such are the atrocities against which we are in arms.”

The world was at war, and countries across Europe were falling to the Nazis. Yet it was Norway’s own Vidkun Quisling who drew the ugliest comparison. He had betrayed his king and country in a pitiful attempt to gain favor from Hitler.

Following a dismal growth for his Nasjonal Samling party (NS) in the elections of the 1930s, Quisling began looking abroad for support. His logical choice of ally was Adolf Hitler and Germany. He spewed jargon on the superiority of the Nordic race and the threat from those he deemed lesser, particularly anyone associated with bolshevism or Judaism. He and his party were becoming known as the Norwegian Nazi affiliate.

ount of support he and NS drew at home. As the 1930s drew to a close and Germany upped its own plan for world domination, Quisling saw an opportunity. With his support in Norway at an all-time low and the future of his party looking bleak, he began working to join forces with Hitler. On Sept. 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland and World War II officially began. The Nazi war machine was on the path to secure its political and racial ideology across Europe.

While back in Norway, Quisling was in a sort of limbo, the leaders of the Nazi navy began talks with Hitler, trying in vain to convince him of the importance of Norway’s coastline, and its important potential to the war effort. Hitler was unmoved. He requested a personal meeting with Quisling before he would accept this idea. Quisling took this as a sign that his dream of becoming a political prophet was soon to be realized.

At the end of 1939, Quisling began serious talks with Germany in hopes of becoming allies and equals. In December of that year, he traveled to Berlin to discuss the situation with Admiral Erich Raeder, the man who had first brought the idea of sea access via Norway to Hitler. On the 18th of December, Quisling was finally able to meet with Hitler. While sea access was important, what really drew Hitler to ally with Quisling was their shared view of a dominant race, joining together the Nazi Aryan race and Quisling’s Nordic race. The two countries could then together produce the next generations of their idealized citizens.

The strength of the Nazi party had been proven that September when Poland was invaded. Quisling was desperate to prove his country’s worth to the man he saw as his counterpart abroad. His hopes were high following his meeting in Germany; he felt he had finally showed his worth to someone who could change his role on the political world stage.

Yet, from the time Quisling left Germany his contact with the Nazis was limited. They began talks among themselves of a possible occupation of Norway, carefully keeping Quisling out of the loop and putting their focus on military actions. The plan called for the invasion to take place in the spring of 1940, with Hitler finally agreeing to move forward on March 26. Despite being kept in the dark on Germany’s plan, Quisling still believed in his role as a political prophet for Norway.

He began planning his own coup of the Norwegian labor government on April 8, not knowing that at that very moment German ships were moving up the North Sea. On April 9, 1940, the Nazis invaded Norway, and Quisling quickly seized the opportunity to proclaim himself prime minister. In his mind, he was the most important link between his homeland and the political powerhouses abroad; his prophecy was materializing. However, in the eyes of the allied nations across the world, Quisling was the ultimate traitor to his country, and his name instantly entered the global lexicon.

Alianna Boszhardt lives and works in the Washington, D.C., metro area. She grew up in western Wisconsin among a large Norwegian family, attending many events at Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center in Coon Valley, Wis., and the Sons of Norway Heritage camp outside of Eau Claire, Wis., every summer. She has a passion for Norwegian history and always enjoys a good meal of meatballs and lefse.

This article originally appeared in the April 20, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.