The making of a Norwegian traitor

Part one of four: What’s in a name?

Vidkun Quisling

Photo: National Archives of Norway
This family portrait was probably taken in Drammen in July 1896. Nine-year-old Vidkun stands in the back.

Alianna Boszhardt

For those growing up post World War II, the peculiar Norwegian name Quisling was often used as a synonym for traitor, specifically against one’s own country. But who was the man behind the name? Often forgotten and overlooked in favor of Norway’s wartime heroes, Vidkun Quisling proved himself to be one of the most evil figures in the country’s long history.

Born in 1887 in a small village in Telemark, Quisling’s youth was spent among books, reading all he could and focusing on Norway’s growing independence movement. Quisling entered the War College in the Norwegian capital of Oslo on Sept. 15, 1905, the same year the union between Norway and Sweden ended. This coincidence helped to fortify Quisling’s belief that he had a great political destiny to fulfill. However, his academic brilliance far outpaced his social skills and he made few friends.

Upon graduating from the Military Academy in Oslo in 1911, Quisling achieved the highest exam results seen to this day. He was posted with the Norwegian General Staff where he assumed administrative duties. He was assigned to study the military features of the Russian Empire, as well as studying Russian language and literature on his own.

It was this clinical Russian expertise that garnered Quisling his assignment to report on the state of the Russian Civil War that followed the October 1918 Revolution and the ultimate fall of Tsarist Russia. After arriving at Petrograd in May, Quisling and his Norwegian colleagues were forced to return home due to the dangerous conditions of the impending war. They were only able to stay for a few weeks before the war made Russia too dangerous for foreigners.

Vidkun Quisling

Photo: National Archives of Norway
Vidkun Quisling in the 1930s.

Despite his short time in Russia, his negative views toward Bolsheviks and Jews became much stronger, and upon his return to Norway he began to work tirelessly to stop his beloved homeland from falling to the “Jews and international revolutionaries.” In 1919, Quisling was assigned to a post in Helsinki, Finland, with the General Staff. His task was to track revolutionary movements in Europe and the possible spread of Bolshevism out of Russia. While in Finland he met Fridtjof Nansen, and the two quickly became close. It was with Nansen’s recommendation that Quisling was sent to Ukraine in 1922 as a representative of the International Committee for Russian Relief, a group organized by Nansen. Here was the final act by which Quisling’s anti-Bolshevism was sealed and from where he would start his quest to create his ideal Norway.

After Nansen’s death in 1930, Quisling wanted to solidify his place as Nansen’s successor and become a new national hero. He began publicly making statements, spewing his anti-Communist and anti-Russian views. He formed a small organization called the Nordic People’s Resurgence in Norway (Den Nordiske Rolkereising i Norge), which would serve as the platform for the formation of his own political party in the coming years. The foundation of Quisling’s politics came from his belief that Norway had strayed from the 1905 nationalism that had come with independence.

Though not stated outright, there was an obvious racial aspect to his political ideology. Quisling’s belief in the strength of the Nordic people would later influence his relationship with Adolf Hitler, with whom he was already being compared.

By 1933, Quisling realized that his hope for the future of Norway would not be realized within the current government system. With encouragement from his political ally and friend Frederick Prytz, he broke from Stortinget and formed a new party, calling it the Nasjonal Samling (NS), or National Unity.

He saw NS as a party above political and class lines—a party that would unify Norwegians. He drew comparisons to the romanticized Viking past of Norway and the nationalism that had surged in the mid-19th century, epitomized by such figures as Henrik Ibsen, Edvard Grieg, and Asbjørnsen and Moe. However, Quisling did not give his party a detailed platform; instead he spoke in broad terms and hoped to draw followers based on his call for national unity.

Though seemingly independent, NS drew many comparisons to other fascist movements springing up in Europe. The ideologies Quisling preached were strikingly similar to those of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany, with whom Quisling would seek an alliance. Yet unlike the charismatic and outspoken Hitler, who took every opportunity to forward his plan for a Third Reich, Quisling was disorganized.

The first members of NS were confused as to the exact aim of the new party, mostly because Quisling himself did not have a clear plan to achieve his goals.
Instead he built a nationalist party with burgeoning fascist ideas and expected Norwegians to follow along. He would not falter in his quest for his romanticized Norway.

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 March 23, 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.