Legal purge in Norway after World War II

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The legal purge in Norway after World War II took place between May 1945 and August 1948 against anyone who was deemed to have collaborated with the German occupation of the country. Several thousand Norwegians and foreign citizens were tried and convicted for crimes committed in Scandinavia during the Second World War. However the scope, legal basis, and fairness of these trials has since been a matter of some debate. A total of 40 people—including Vidkun Quisling, the Minister President of Norway during the occupation—were executed after capital punishment was reinstated in Norway. A further five were sentenced to death in Poland in 1947 for their actions in Norway.

Vidkun Quisling, the Minister President during the 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]

In autumn 1940 the Nazi-supporting Norwegian fascist party, Nasjonal Samling, was made the only legal political organization in Norway. Its claim to be the government was based on the premise that the pre-war leadership had abdicated its responsibilities by leaving Norway. As Nasjonal Samling had taken the responsible course by assuming the mantle of power, it was therefore the legal administration. However it never achieved any level of support justifying its claim to be the legitimate Norwegian government.

This was the view taken in London by Norway's government-in-exile. It saw the Nazi Party and its Third Reich to be the "enemy of war". Anything that aided or encouraged the German occupation of Norway was to be considered in principle an act of treason, this included membership in Nasjonal Samling.[3] Norway's exiled government also considered it to be a criminal act to assist the Nazi regime through economic support and commercial activities.

Norwegians who had volunteered for military service with the Wehrmacht, and especially Germanic-SS were subject to criminal prosecution after the war. Police officers who worked with the RSHA in the Sikkerhetspolitiet (Norwegian Secret State Police) or joined the Gestapo faced charges relating to war crimes, torture, executions, and the mistreatment of prisoners.

Arrests, trials and executions[edit]

In May 1945, at the close of World War II, the paramilitary Milorg (Norway's official resistance movement in the war) joined units of the Norwegian police that had been trained in Sweden. Both had been well briefed and prepared ahead of the official liberation on 8 May 1945. The Norwegian government-in-exile assembled this force because it viewed it as paramount to avoid lynching or other extrajudicial punishment against former members of the Nazi regime. Nevertheless, 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.[citation needed]

Within just a few days of the war ending, up to 28,750 people were arrested for questioning. Although many were released quickly, between 5,000 and 6,000 individuals were still detained in custody in August 1946.[4]

Former wartime resistance leader Sven Arntzen was made acting chief barrister of the Norwegian Prosecuting Authority. He was given the responsibility for bringing the cases to trial. Arntzen played a highly public role in establishing the principles that should drive the trials. This led to considerable public and internal debate about the nature of the legal purges.[citation needed]

Altogether prosecutors called for the death penalty in 200 cases of treason; of these only 30 were passed down, with 25 being carried out. From the beginning the application of capital punishment was controversial in Norway, in part because the country's first government instituted the death penalty before the Norwegian parliament had reconvened after the war.[5]


A great deal of sensitivity continues to surround this subject in Norwegian society.[6] In later years, studies and inquiries have shown that justice was administered unevenly and—by today's standards—harshly.

For example, the volunteers who joined the Waffen-SS and served on the Eastern Front were only tried for treason, never for war crimes.[7] People who sided with Nasjonal Samling were often publicly shamed and ostracised well beyond the punishment their crimes merited such as fines or a prison sentences. The prosecution of individuals who served with the German Red Cross has also been questioned, among those to be convicted was Hanna Kvanmo, who later rose to fame as a socialist politician.

Death sentences[edit]

Erich Hoffmann was brought to Hamelin Prison in Germany and hanged. Albert Pierrepoint acted as hangman in Hoffmann's execution. Hoffmann was executed by hanging because he received his death sentence from an Allied war tribunal and not from a Norwegian court.

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


  • 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

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, Danish citizen, 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

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

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

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

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



  1. ^ Andenæs, Johs (1980) [1979]. Det vanskelige oppgjøret (in Norwegian) (2nd ed.). Oslo: Tanum-Norli. pp. 91, 96. ISBN 82-518-0917-7. 
  2. ^ Andenæs (1980, pp. 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.
  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. ^ "Quisling's Fate: Controversy in Norway"
  6. ^ Ole Kristian Nordengen (2008-09-21). "Nytt lys over det norske rettsoppgjøret?". Aftenposten (in Norwegian). Retrieved 2008-01-25. 
  7. ^ Egil Ulateig (2006-12-04). "Krigsforbryterne blant oss". Aftenposten (in Norwegian). Retrieved 2008-02-25. 
  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