Vidkun Quisling was born on July 18th, 1887 in the Norwegian County of Telemark. His father was a pastor, but the son proved more interested in a military career. He enrolled in the Norwegian Military Academy, and then the Norwegian Military College. He proved an extremely successful student, earning the highest graduating score in the history of the academy, before joining the General Staff. In 1918, he was appointed Military Attache to Russia for a few months, before the military withdrew its delegation because of the raging Russian Civil War. He was re-deployed to the Norwegian delegation to Finland, and then did League of Nations work in Ukraine in the early 1920s.
While in Ukraine, he met his wife, and left the army, instead beginning to write on philosophy, history and morality.When he returned to Norway, he became associated with the Norwegian extreme left, but after several years, underwent a strange reversal to become a fascist. He became interested in Nazi-esque racial “science” and openly called for war against the Soviet Union, eventually founding a party named the “Nordic Popular Rising in Norway” with himself as “Fører,” or Führer. Within a year of founding this party, he left it in order to serve as Defence Minsiter in 1931, to national astonishment. He spent much of his time and energy cracking down on the labour movement, which he viewed as Communist and subversive, by creating McCarthy-like lists of Communist union figures, many of whom were arrested on spurious charges, and breaking strikes with military force. After Quisling was attacked by an unidentified knife-wielding assailant in his office, he used his testimony of the incident to instead launch attacks on the parties of the left, earning him massive support among rightist voters. Using this new popularity, Quisling renamed his old party “National Unity,” and began to prepare to contest elections in his own right, with a new raft of far-right policies. The new party managed to do better than the Communists in vote percentage, but Quisling was so uncharismatic that his party failed to gain even one seat in Parliament.
This caused Quisling’s ideas to harden, and he became more and more associated with the Italian Fascists and the Nazis, and antisemitic, which caused the party to split, losing several of its most prominent members. Through the late 1930s, Quisling and his gang of fascists operated on the Norwegian political periphery, until 1939, when he publicly gave his support to Germany in the newly declared Second World War. He traveled to Germany and met personally with Hitler, where he proposed to mount a coup with German aid, and allow Germany to use Norwegian naval bases against Britain. Hitler found this plan unrealistic, but ominously stated that Germany would respond preemptively to any British operations in or against Norway. At this time, Quisling was taken off the scene by a case of double-nephritis, which he for some reason refused treatment for, but after the Altmark Incident, in which a Royal Navy vessel boarded a Kriegsmarine transport ship in Norwegian waters, liberating 300 British prisoners, Quisling was summoned to Berlin, to give the German general staff intelligence about Norwegian defence and military strength.
On April 8th, Britain began to mine Norwegian waters, triggering a German combined arms invasion of the country the next day. Norway proved a tougher nut to crack than the German military had anticipated, as the government managed to escape Oslo, and the transport ship carrying the administrators Germany intended to use to run the occupation was sunk in Oslo harbour by Norwegian anti-ship guns. The Norwegian armed forces fought bravely, but could not stand against the Wehrmacht for long. Quisling proclaimed himself Prime Minister, but Hitler preferred to try to bend the King of Norway to his will. Only when this failed, and Haakon VII fled to Britain, did Quisling become Prime Minister. From the beginning of his rule, Quisling was little more than a puppet of the Nazis. He outlawed pluralism, enacted Nazi-style racial policies and censored the press. Political terror against the Communist Party and labour unions began, with many of their members and leaders being rounded up and executed.
In 1942, he was finally proclaimed Head of State as Minister-President of the Government, under the German occupation authorities. All of his previous policies were stepped up; Jews were forbidden from entering Norway, had their property confiscated and were turned over to the SS to be sent to Germany and eventually the death camps, and Norway formed an SS Unit to fight alongside their German counterparts. The Norwegian people resisted Quisling as best they could, by isolating National Unity members and taking part in civil disobedience campaigns. By 1944, even Quisling could see that Germany was going to lose the war, and began to undertake negotiations for Norway’s independence, and, surprisingly for a puppet ruler, refused to sign the execution orders for partisans arrested by the German military in 1944. In the last few months of the war, Quisling tried to save himself by ordering the Norwegian military not to attack allied forces, and committed his government to not offer armed resistance against the allies. When he was arrested after the end of the war, he was put on trial for murder, theft, embezzlement, illegally altering the constitution, and treason by conspiring with Hitler over the 1940 invasion. Quisling was condemned to death, and executed by firing squad on October 24th, 1945 at Akershus Fortress.
Quisling is one of the most pathetic figures in Norwegian and European history. A wannabe Hitler, he was only able to achieve power with German aid and by actively conspiring to bring about the invasion by a hostile country of his own nation. He did not even have to be ordered to take over government; unlike all of the many Poles the Nazis tried to have head a puppet government in Poland, who all refused and were consequently shot, Quisling took power on his own initiative. It is clearly just that his name has entered a host of languages as a synonym for traitor.