Vidkun Quisling (1887 – 1945) was a Norwegian army officer and right-wing politician who led a fascist party in the 1930s that met with little success. He betrayed his country to the Nazis during WWII and collaborated with its German conquerors who, after rejecting him early in their occupation as too seedy even for them, finally relented to his entreaties and placed him in charge of a puppet government on their behalf.
Born to a pastor, Quisling’s life had a promising start that gives little hint of coming ignominy. He did well in school and graduated from the Norwegian Military College with the highest ever score since its inception. He was sent to the USSR as a military attache in 1918 and became Norway’s military expert on all matters Russian.
In 1922, he worked on League of Nations humanitarian relief efforts in Ukraine and exhibited considerable administrative talent and skill. While there, he also met and married two Russian women in quick succession, the second marriage, which lasted until his death, was either bigamous or unofficial.
Discharged from the army during a period of cutbacks, Quisling traveled throughout Europe for much of the 1920s, and returning to Norway in 1929, launched a political career marked by anti-Semitic, anticommunist, and anti-liberal positions. Joining a movement called “Rise of the Nordic People“, he became Norway’s defense minister from 1931-1933. In 1933, inspired by the Nazis’ victory in Germany, he launched a fascist party, appointing himself its Fuhrer.
Quisling’s party however never won more than 2% of the vote, which made him increasingly bitter and frustrated with his countrymen. In late 1939, he flew to Berlin, met with Hitler, and offered to assist the Germans if they tried to seize Norway. The Nazis, aware of his lack of support in Norway, were noncommittal.
When Germany invaded Norway in 1940 and its government fled into exile, Quisling opportunistically tried to set up a collaborationist government, but he was ignored by all, including the German occupiers. It took two years of wheedling before the Nazis finally recognized him in 1942 as Norway’s “Minister-President” of a puppet regime, in which position he did all he could to please his masters, including eager cooperation in their deportation of Norway’s Jews to death camps.
Captured after the war, he was tried by the Norwegians and convicted of treason, murder, and embezzlement, and executed in October of 1945. His name became synonymous with collaboration and treason, and to this day, a “Quisling” is routinely used as an epithet to denote not a run of the mill traitor, such as, e.g.; calling somebody a “Benedict Arnold“, but a traitor of the lowest, grubbiest, and most despicable kind, lording it over and repressing his own people on behalf of a conquering enemy, and eager to please the foreign occupier with shameless displays of bootlicking obsequiousness.