July 18, 1887 – October 24, 1945
Norway’s “Benedict Arnold”by Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
"Major Quisling has added a new word to the English language," wrote the London Times in 1940, and the term "quisling" has remained in common usage as a synonym for "traitor" ever since. "Aurally it contrives to suggest something at once slippery and tortuous," the Times continued. "Visually it has the supreme merit of beginning with a Q, which (with one august exception) has long seemed to the British mind to be a crooked, uncertain and slightly disreputable letter, suggestive of the questionable, the querulous, the quavering of quaking quagmires and quivering quicksands, of quibbles and quarrels, of queasiness, quackery, qualms and quilp."1 Most people know when they use the term "Benedict Arnold" that they are referring to a British spy during the American Revolution. Rather fewer realize the word "quisling" derives from a Norwegian traitor in World War II.
Vidkun Abraham Lauritz Jonssøn Quisling was born on July 18th, 1887, to a prestigious Telemark family in Norway. His father was a Lutheran pastor, but young Quisling branched out philosophically from his parents' beliefs. He reportedly developed his own religion or philosophy, called "Universalism." This essentially looked for the improvement of the human race ("a new world order") through "religion and morals as well as statecraft and science."2 He promoted a conglomeration of social, scientific, political, and religious ideals in this vague position of "Universalism" and seems to have had an idea of a "United States of Europe" which would employ this philosophy and create a better world.
Quisling took up a military career, carrying his childhood brilliance into adult life and graduating from the Norwegian Military Academy in 1911 with the highest honors ever received by a graduating cadet to that date. He advanced quickly to the rank of major. During the years of 1918 and 1919 he worked in Russia as a military attaché before moving on to work in Finland until 1921. Then, beginning in '22, he worked with the famous Norwegian arctic explorer Fridtjof Nansen providing famine relief in Russia. Nansen praised him glowingly as a friend, assistant, fellow-traveler, and translator. For a while Quisling served the League of Nations in the Balkans before returning to help Nansen with more relief work in Armenia. Around this time Quisling married a Russian woman, Maria Vasilijevna Pasechnikova. Moving on in his career, Quisling was the Norwegian Minister of Defense from 1931-1933 and received the Order of the British Empire in 1929 after aiding England in their diplomatic dealing with the Soviet Union.3 He also championed the campaign against pro-Bolshevik sentiment in Norway in the 1930s, forcing the formerly pro-Communist parties into a pro-Constitutional Monarchy stance.4
In 1933-on Norwegian Constitution Day, no less-Quisling and a friend named Johan Hjort founded the Nasjonal Samling, the Norwegian Nazi party. Over time the ideology of this anti-democratic group shifted ever more strongly to a "pro-German and anti-Semitic" stance. Nazi official Alfrd Rosenberg later recorded Quisling's role, connected with the Nasjonal Samling, in Nazi policies towards Norway. Rosenberg described the Nasjonal Samling as a "fighting political group, possessed by the idea of a Greater Germanic Community," explaining that the Foreign Affairs Bureau of the Nazi Party in Germany supported Quisling and his party, even financially. Apparently the Nasjonal Samling was never truly expected to effect a radical change in the anti-German sentiment of Norwegians, but the party was used to keep a Nazi presence in Norway and to gather information. Quisling had several face-to-face meetings with Nazi Party members, including one visit on Norwegian soil during the winter of 1938-39 and a personal visit to Berlin in 1939. He met with Adolf Hitler in December and during his visits essentially advertized Norway to the Reich as a strategic location from which to combat the growing threat of Great Britain. During the early months of 1940, he expressed growing fears that the Allied powers would violate Norway's neutrality and set up air bases along the coast. This would cut off Hitler's access to much-needed ore and heavy water supplies. He believed that, contrary to its official policy, Norway was prepared to ally itself with the Allied powers, or at least to offer no resistance when they invaded. Events in February seemed to bear out Quisling's opinion, for the British were "allowed" to seize a German ship full of POWs in Norwegian waters.5 On April 8-9, 1940, the Nazis invaded Norway. (The question of which side began the occupation is debatable, depending on whether the Nazid mobilized their troops before or after the British laid minefields around the Norwegian coast.) Quisling's connections in the military are held responsible for restraining the defense forces during the initial invasion.
By October of 1940, since the Norwegian government had fled but refused to condone Nazi rule, the Germans announced an end to the Monarchy and the Parliament (Storting) and to all Norwegian political parties except the Nasjonal Samling. Vidkun Quisling was eventually appointed "Minister President," the official head of the new Norwegian government which acted as a puppet force under the Nazi-appointed Reichskommissar Josef Terboven. Hitler supposedly wrote of Quisling that, "[b]y his many years' work against world bolshevism, minister Quisling has involved the German people and myself in a debt of gratitude to him, a debt of honour, that will be paid in full both to him personally, and to the Norwegian people that bred him."2 During his time as Minister President, Quisling faced sharp opposition from the Norwegian people. The Resistance movement in Norway was strong and active, and Quisling was intensely unpopular. The German government even had to forbid press criticism of their newly appointed official. He attempted to promote National Socialism in Norwegian society, using schools and churches as channels. Here, again, he met heavy opposition.
Quisling's power ended in May, 1945, when he was arrested from his home in Oslo. He was blamed for having caused the deaths of some 1,000 Jews and executed by a firing squad in October of '45. His home town would not even accept his ashes for burial.6 This Norwegian man, who turned from the Christianity of his family to more "inclusive," progressive, and shadowy philosophy, was not surprisingly lured into the false optimism of Nazism. His belief in Universalism appears to have encouraged his Nazi loyalties, causing him to view the Reich's agenda as a springboard to his vision of global (or at least western) unity under a modern philosophy. Some documentation suggests Quisling genuinely believed he was acting in Norway's best interests, serving as a mediator of a foreign regime and paving the way for some greater global good.2 Romans 1:25 comes to mind. It says men have "exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things," (in Quisling's case, false idealism about what would bring peace and prosperity to the world), "rather than the Creator." And thus a new, grim word was added to the English language.
1 This quote appears in Time Magazine, quoted from the London Times. Time Magazine, April 29, 1940. "Quislers."
(May 18, 2009.)
2 The documents in which Quisling is known to have laid out his philosophical theories are inaccessible, purportedly kept in Oslo archives. However, "The Slaying of a Viking" offers a detailed account of Quisling's life and beliefs from a distinctly pro-Quisling (and pro-Nazi) perspective. While best taken with many grains of salt, this site offers some unique information.
5 Although the ship, the "Altmark," was technically being conducted by the Norwegian navy at the time of its capture, the Norwegian forces really had no feasible way of resisting the British rescue operation. Thus Quisling's insistence that this event signified Norwegian loyalty to England was probably exaggerated. Overall, the instance involved an indisputable, British violation of Norway's neutrality. Time Magazine, February 26, 1940. "World War: Rescue in a Fjord." (May 18, 2009.)
1. Image courtesy of Jewish Virtual Library. "Vidkun Quisling." The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 2009. (May 18, 2009.)
2. Rosenberg, Alfred (Einsatzstab Reichsleiter). "Brief Report on Activities of the Foreign Affairs Bureau of the Party from 1933-1943" (with appendices). The Avalon Project at Yale Law School, January 1, 1970. (May 18, 2009.)
3. Swigart, Soren and Schudak, Axel. "Vidkun Quisling." The World at War, June 2000. (May 18, 2009.)
4. Time Magazine, April 22, 1940. " Tale of Two Brothers." (May 18, 2009.)
5. Time Magazine, October 7, 1940. "Commission State." (May 18, 2009.)
6. Walsh, Michael. "The Slaying of a Viking." Nazi Lauck NSDAP/AO, 2006. (May 18, 2009.)