Legal purge in Norway after World War II

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When the Nazi German occupation of Norway ended in May 1945, there was a legal purge of collaborators. Several thousand Norwegians and foreign citizens were tried and convicted for various acts that the occupying powers had sanctioned. The scope, legal basis, and fairness of these trials has since been a matter of some debate. The death penalty was reinstated and a total of 45 people were executed, including Vidkun Quisling, the Minister President of Norway during the occupation.

Vidkun Quisling, the Minister President during the Nazi German occupation of Norway.


The German invasion of Norway during World War II created a number of constitutional issues, chiefly related to what was the legitimate Norwegian government, and whether the constitution and Norwegian code of law remained in effect during the occupation. Although the occupying power, under Reichskommissar Josef Terboven and the puppet Norwegian regime under Vidkun Quisling claimed that the Norwegian government had abandoned its authority in the spring of 1940, the Norwegian government claimed that it had merely capitulated the military struggle for the homeland, while the executive branch had been given special powers by the Norwegian parliament through the Elverum Authorization. The Norwegian government's claim was upheld both by parliament and the Norwegian Supreme Court after the war, which in turn led to an extensive set of indictments and convictions against Norwegian citizens for treason, and German citizens for war crimes.[1]

As early as 1941 and 1942, the Norwegian government in exile put into effect a number of decrees regarding treasonous acts. Capital punishment was reinstituted as an option, prison sentences under hard labor were approved, higher upper limits for financial penalties, and a new controversial measure known as "loss of public confidence," (tap av almenn tillit), effectively depriving those convicted of various civil privileges. These decrees reached a final, workable form on 15 December 1944, the so-called Landssvikanordning. Crimes defined in these decrees notably included membership in Nasjonal Samling, the Norwegian fascist party that collaborated with the Nazis.[2]

Culpable acts during the occupation[edit]

Nasjonal Samling, the Norwegian fascist party that supported the Nazi regime, was made the only legal party in Norway in the fall of 1940, but never achieved any level of support that could justify a claim to legitimacy for its government; its claim to the government was based on the premise that the existing parties had abdicated their responsibilities by leaving Norway, and that Nasjonal Samling had taken the responsible course by assuming the mantle of governorship.

The government in exile saw things differently, viewing the German government as an enemy of war. Anything that aided and encouraged the German occupation was therefore in principle considered treason, including mere membership in Nasjonal Samling.[3] More obvious acts in support of Nasjonal Samling and/or the Nazi regime were also considered criminal, including economic support for the war effort and other financial crimes.

Norwegians who had volunteered for military service with the German military, and especially Germanic-SS were subject to criminal prosecution; as were police officers in Sikkerhetspolitiet and Norwegian members of the Gestapo. War crimes included torture, executions, and other mistreatment of prisoners.


Both the Norwegian paramilitary forces within the kingdom (Milorg) and the Norwegian police forces that had been trained in Sweden, were well briefed and prepared ahead of the official liberation on 8 May 1945. The government viewed it as paramount to avoid lynching or other extrajudicial punishment. Though this was largely avoided, 28,750 individuals were arrested over the following few days. Most of these were released quickly, but by August 1946, between 5,000 and 6,000 were still detained.[4]

The Norwegian attorney general (the highest prosecuting authority in Norway) was responsible for the prosecution, in this case Sven Arntzen. Considerable public and internal debate accompanied the trials from beginning to end, with Arntzen himself playing a highly public role in establishing the principles that should drive the trials.


The prosecution of individuals who had served with the German Red Cross was questioned, among them Hanna Kvanmo, who later rose to fame as a socialist politician. Finally, although a number of Norwegians had served in the Waffen-SS on the Eastern Front, these were only charged and tried for treason, never for war crimes.[5]

In total, 28,750 individuals were arrested as part of the purge; they were subject to various kinds of penalties, including fines, prison sentences, and in a small number of cases, 45 in total, the death penalty.

Altogether, prosecutors called for the death penalty in 200 cases of treason; of these, 30 were condemned, and 25 were carried out. From the beginning the practice was controversial,[6] in part because the government instituted the death penalty before the parliament had convened after the war.[citation needed]

During the summer of 1945, there was a fierce debate reported in Norwegian newspapers about the prosecution and punishment of war criminals and traitors. Many spoke openly of retaliation, but others argued that death penalty was a "drawback for a civilized community". As tensions hardened, those fighting against the death penalty for humanitarian reasons were stigmatized as "the silk front". Those who favored harsh penalties were known as "the ice front". The editorial pages of Norwegian newspapers (Dagbladet being one of the most prominent) demanded harsh penalties reminiscent of a witch-hunt. In later years, studies and inquiries have shown that justice was administered unevenly and – by today's standards – harshly.[specify] Those who had sided with Nasjonal Samling were often publicly shamed beyond the fines they paid and time they served.[citation needed]

To this day, there is great sensitivity on this subject in Norwegian society.[7]

People executed as part of the legal purge[edit]

In total, 45 individuals were condemned to death as a result of the legal purge – 30 for treason and 15 for war crimes. Of these, 37 were executed – the first on 17 August 1945 and the last on 28 August 1948. All were executed by an 11-member firing squad at five metres distance under the command of the local chief of police in one of the four cities (Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Tromsø) designated for execution.[citation needed]

Among the 25 Norwegians executed for treason, 10 were members of Sonderabteilung Lola, also known as the "Rinnan Gang".

People executed for treason[edit]

  • Olav Aspheim, executed 19 March 1948, Akershus fortress, Oslo
  • Per Fredrik Bergeen, member of the Rinnan gang, executed 12 July 1947, Kristiansten Fortress, Trondheim
  • Hermann Eduard Franz Dragass, executed 10 July 1948, Kristiansten
  • Einar Dønnum, executed 22 April 1947, Akershus
  • Hans Birger Egeberg, Rinnan gang, executed 4 October 1945, Kristiansten
  • Harald Grøtte, Rinnan gang, executed 12 July 1947, Kristiansten
  • Alfred Josef Gärtner, executed 8 August 1946, Sverresborg fortress, Bergen
  • Albert Viljam Hagelin, executed 25 May 1946, Akershus
  • Olaus Salberg Peter Hamrun, Rinnan gang, 12 July 1947, Kristiansten
  • Harry Arnfinn Hofstad, Rinnan gang, executed 12 July 1947, Kristiansten
  • Reidar Haaland, executed 17 August 1945, Akershus
  • Bjarne Konrad Jenshus, Rinnan gang, executed 12 July 1947, Kristiansten
  • Johny Alf Larsen, executed 29 May 1947, Bremnes fortress, Bodø
  • Aksel Julius Mære, Rinnan gang, executed 12 July 1947, Kristiansten festning
  • Hans Jakob Skaar Pedersen, executed 30 March 1946, Sverresborg
  • Eilif Rye Pisani, executed 2 April 1947, Kvarven Fortress, Bergen
  • Vidkun Quisling, executed 24 October 1945, Akershus
  • Kristian Johan Randal, Rinnan gang, executed 12 July 1947, Kristiansten
  • Henry Rinnan, leader of the Rinnan gang, executed 1 February 1947, Kristiansten
  • Max Emil Gustav Rook, executed 5 June 1947, Sverresborg
  • Harry Aleksander Rønning, Rinnan gang, executed 12 July 1947, Kristiansten
  • Arne Braa Saatvedt, executed 20 October 1945, Akershus
  • Ragnar Skancke, executed 28 August 1948, Akershus, the last person to be executed in Norway.
  • Holger Tou, executed 30 January 1947, Sverresborg
  • Ole Wehus, executed 10 March 1947, Akershus

People executed for war crimes[edit]

  • Richard Wilhelm Hermann Bruns, executed 20 September 1947, Akershus
  • Siegfried Wolfgang Fehmer, executed 16 March 1948, Akershus
  • Gerhard Friedrich Ernst Flesch, executed 28 February 1948, Kristiansten
  • Nils Peter Bernhard Hjelmberg, executed 8 August 1946, Sverresborg
  • Willi August Kesting, executed 8 August 1946, Sverresborg
  • Karl-Hans Hermann Klinge, executed 28 March 1946, Akershus.[8]
  • Emil Hugo Friedrich Koeber, executed 22 March 1947, Kristiansten
  • Julius Hans Christian Nielson, executed 10 July 1948, Kristiansten
  • Ludwig Runzheimer, executed 6 July 1946, Sverresborg
  • Rudolf Theodor Adolf Schubert, executed 20 September 1947, Akershus
  • August Stuckmann, executed 28 March 1947, Akershus
  • Otto Wilhelm Albert Suhr, executed 10 January 1948, Akershus

People sentenced for war crimes by allied law in Oslo 13 December 1945[edit]

  • Hans Wilhelm Blomberg, executed 10 January 1946, Akershus fortress, Oslo
  • Erich Hoffman, executed by hanging 15 May 1946, Hamelin prison, Hamburg
  • Werner Seeling, executed 10 January 1946, Akershus fortress, Oslo

People sentenced for war crimes in Norway by Poland (Police and Gendarmerie Kaldvatten and Lappelv)[edit]

  • George Koenig, executed 14 September 1947, Lodz, Poland
  • Willi Mueckler, executed 14 September 1947, Lodz, Poland
  • Fritz Gustaw Weidemann, executed 14 September 1947, Lodz, Poland
  • Heinrich August Ossenkopp, executed 1949, Lodz, Poland
  • Friedrich Ferdinand Schlette, executed 1949, Lodz, Poland


  1. ^ Andenæs, Johs (1980) [1979]. Det vanskelige oppgjøret (in Norwegian) (2nd ed.). Oslo: Tanum-Norli. pp. s 91+96. ISBN 82-518-0917-7. 
  2. ^ Andenæs (1980, pps 52-53)
  3. ^ A landmark case was brought against the aging Nobel laureate Knut Hamsun, who had written admiring articles about Hitler and Nazism. Even though he was never proven to be a member of Nasjonal Samling, he was still convicted and sentenced.[citation needed]
  4. ^ Andenæs (1980, p. 59). Andenæs notes that no cases of extrajudicial punishments were known to have taken place, with the exception of women who had had children with German military personnel (tyskertøser), who had committed no crime but had offended public sensibilities. These often had their heads shaved and were humiliated in public.
  5. ^ Egil Ulateig (2006-12-04). "Krigsforbryterne blant oss" (in Norwegian). Aftenposten. Retrieved 2008-02-25. 
  6. ^ "Quisling's Fate: Controversy in Norway"
  7. ^ Ole Kristian Nordengen (2008-09-21). "Nytt lys over det norske rettsoppgjøret?" (in Norwegian). Aftenposten. Retrieved 2008-01-25. 
  8. ^ Trial of Kriminalassistent Karl-Hans Hermann Klinge, Source: Law-Reports of Trials of War Criminals, The United Nations War Crimes Commission, Volume III, London, HMSO, 1948, republished by Essex University. Retrieved 6 February 2010


See also[edit]