Quisling: treacherous man; shameful word

Posted in Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Friday, 14 October 2011

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This edited article about World War Two originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 842 published on 4 March 1978.

Quisling, picture, image, illustration

Major Vidkun Quisling by Gerry Wood

Early one spring morning, the people of Norway’s capital were roused from sleep by the roar of aircraft flying low overhead, and the distant sound of gunfire.

The alarming rumours that had been heard during the previous few days had proved true. The Nazis had come. At that moment a German invasion force was sailing up Oslo Fiord.

That morning in April, 1940, there were some in Oslo who received the news not with fear, but with satisfaction. Chief among these was a man named Quisling. It was a name which was later to become a label of shame for any man who, in the lands occupied by the Germans, chose to serve as a puppet ruler under the Nazi conquerors.

Vidkun Quisling was born in 1887, the son of a village pastor. His career at school, and afterwards at the Norwegian Military Academy, was brilliant. Though he found it difficult to make friends, everyone respected him as a young man of great ability. He became an officer in the army, but was temporarily released in 1922-23 to assist in relief work in the USSR, then suffering from the devastation of the revolutionary wars.

On his return to Norway to resume military service, he received a disappointment that marked the first stage of the bitter sense of frustration which was to warp his character. He had expected an important Staff appointment, but no such post was offered. He now left the army, and started a new career as a journalist and politician.

His experiences in Russia had for a time given him some sympathy with socialism, but in 1930 he joined with a wealthy lawyer. Hermann Aall, in forming a new party, strongly opposed to the Norwegian Labour and Communist parties. That year, too, he met a member of the German Nazi party. Max Pferdekamper, and began to take an interest in the ideas of Adolf Hitler, soon to gain power as Germany’s Fuhrer.

The new party attracted few supporters and little attention. But Quisling was soon in the public eye when he was unexpectedly given the post of Minister of Defence in a right-wing coalition government.

His speeches, violently attacking his opponents, were badly received, and he lost his post when the government fell after two years.

Now Quisling, Aall and their associates re-formed their party, and gave it the name Nasjonal Samling (“National Unity”), generally abbreviated to NS. Among important recruits to the new party were another lawyer, J. B. Hjorth, and a fervent right-wing patriot named Harald Knudsen, later to become Quisling’s secretary. Another who was to figure prominently in the history of the party was Albert Hagelin. He had spent much of his life in Germany, and was destined to play a fateful role in establishing a link between Quisling and the Nazis.

From the start there were two sides to the activities of the NS. Publicly they campaigned like any other party, hoping to win seats in the Storting, the Norwegian parliament. In secret, they were seeking support and financial help from Germany.

Aall and Hagelin were the agents chiefly involved in approaching the Nazis. Aall was responsible for developing an intelligence organisation, by means of which he was able to provide Germany with important information.

The efforts of NS candidates to win seats in the parliamentary elections of 1933 and 1936 failed completely, and they did little better in local government elections. Though the party’s propaganda became increasingly aggressive and Fascist in tone, few Norwegians regarded it as a serious threat. They knew nothing of the strengthening ties between the NS and Germany.

In 1938, with the clouds of war beginning to gather. Quisling himself paid his first visit to Germany. Little resulted from this, but in June of the following year he arrived in Berlin to meet Alfred Rosenberg, who had important influence on Hitler’s foreign policies.

Co-operation between the NS and the German government now became closer, and with the outbreak of war in September it became closer still. Hitler was anxious that Norway should not fall under the control of Britain, as this would be a dangerous threat to his northern flank.

Finally, on 13th December, 1939, came Quisling’s first meeting with the Fuhrer in Berlin – a proud occasion for Quisling, but of ill omen for Norway.

Hitler, it seems, was impressed by Quisling. Although some of the Fuhrer’s advisers were doubtful about the extent of Quisling’s influence among Norwegians, German support now became more active. Quisling and his fellow-conspirators were at last fully committed to seeking power with German aid.

In the spring of 1940, the activities of the British Navy in Norwegian territorial waters gave Hitler the excuse he was seeking for seizing control of the country. On 4th April, Quisling travelled to Copenhagen to meet Colonel Pieckenbrock, of the German Intelligence Service. He gave the German a full account of the situation in Norway, and answered questions on the disposition of military forces.

Five days later, claiming that he was acting only to “protect” Norway against Britain, Hitler sent in his invasion troops.

Apart from Quisling and his friends, the Norwegians were taken almost completely by surprise. Only just in time, the royal family and the government fled from Oslo. Resistance to the Germans was short-lived, and a British relief expedition failed. Refusing to co-operate with the Germans, the king and some of his ministers escaped to set up a government in exile.

Quisling’s ambitions were not realised at once, for it was nearly two years before the Germans entrusted the government of Norway to him. Even then he failed to win popular support.

His regime was rather less oppressive than that imposed on some of the conquered countries, but he did little to check the ruthlessness of the Nazi occupying forces. Worse than this was his active cooperation in the transportation of Jews to the German concentration camps, and his willingness to sign death warrants when requested by his Nazi masters.

Five years after the German invasion came the defeat of Germany and the return of Norway’s lawful government. For Vidkun Quisling, the day of reckoning had come. Put on trial before a special court, he put up a vigorous and bold defence, but he was inevitably found guilty, and condemned to death.

At about 2.30 a.m. on 24th October, 1945, Quisling faced a firing squad. A man of talent and character, he had thrown away a career of great promise, and left behind a name which will be forever associated with the basest treachery.

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