History Wars World War II

The collaborator whose name became a synonym for traitors

Logan Nye Avatar
quisling traitors
Quisling on the podium during a party meeting in the 1930s

In the U.S., we all know what someone means when they call someone a “Benedict Arnold,” the traitor of the American Revolution. But in most of the world, a little more recent name is used for traitor and collaborator, especially in Europe. That name is Quisling.

The fascist traitor of Norway

Vidkun Quisling joined the Norwegian army as an officer in 1911. First funny aside: As a young officer, he created his own “new world religion” that combined physics and Christianity. The religion called for a “world unity” achieved through collective consciousness.

quisling traitors
So, not this, but also not not this.

He eventually served as a minister of defense from 1931 to 1933 as a member of the Farmers’ Party. But Quisling, like many at the time, got swept up in nationalist fervor. And he really got swept up in it. Like, it’s a bit surprising that he didn’t get a Scuttler haircut.

Quisling left the Farmers’ Party and started his own organization in 1933, the Nasjonal Samling or “National Gathering.” If you’re starting to get nervous, what with “1930s,” “nationalist,” and “new political party,” give yourself a pat on the back and a stiff drink.

Because, yes, of course Quisling was into the Nazis. He even gave himself the title of “Fører” of the party.

For the average Norwegian at the time, that would likely be forgivable. But Quisling did lose some popularity and his Nasjonal Samling lost completely in 1933 and 1936, earning no seats in the Norwegian Storting. But then Quisling had a brilliant idea. If his friend Hitler just took over the country, he wouldn’t need no stinking election.

Yes, Quisling, a former minister of defense, sold out his country for power

Oh, yeah, “Spoiler Alert.” But you already knew this was an article about a traitor who was into Nazis. You knew where this was headed. In 1939, as the rest of the Norwegian political class was considering what issues to run on in 1940, Quisling had a meeting with Hitler and encouraged him to invade Norway.

Hitler did just that in April 1940. Second sort of funny aside, though. Quisling declared a new government as soon as it was clear the Nazis would win. But the Nazis, most of whom thought he was a bit dense and useless, waited less than a week to replace him with their own government.

Quisling did get selected as “minister president” in 1942. He was seemingly still dedicated to Nordic racial superiority and attempted to re-organize schools and civic society around far-right nationalism.

vidkun quisling traitor
Vidkun Quisling c. 1919.

It, uh, did not go well for this traitor

Did the people eventually see their own racial superiority and embrace Quisling? No, of course not. They knew he was a traitor, and they would later learn that his meeting with Hitler triggered the invasion of Denmark, as well.

Worse, he ordered Norwegian authorities to assist with rounding up Norwegian Jews for deportation to Germany and Auschwitz. Some policemen warned Jewish people of the threat and helped them escape, instead. But approximately a third of all Norwegian Jews were deported and only 34 of those deported survived the war.

When Germany eventually lost the war, average Norwegians were understandably pretty pissed about the “treason,” “coup,” and “mass murder.” Quisling faced a short trial and then a firing squad. Both of those things went about as well for him as you would imagine.

But the peoples of Scandinavia and Europe weren’t done, yet. They remembered his name in such infamy that it’s now shorthand for a traitor, a collaborator.

The first use of his name to mean traitor was in London, though, where an editorial writer said this just 10 days after the Quisling coup:

“We should all be profoundly grateful to Major Quisling. He has added a new word to the English language … as a plain synonym for ‘traitor.’ … If [writers] had been ordered to invent a new word for ‘traitor’ and given carte blanche with the alphabet, they could hardly have hit upon a more brilliant combination of letters.”

Suck it, quisling. You were worse than Benedict Arnold.