Legal purge in Norway after World War II

Legal purge in Norway after World War II

When the German occupation of Norway ended in May of 1945, several thousand Norwegians and foreign citizens were tried and convicted for various acts that the occupying powers sanctioned. The scope, legal basis, and fairness of these trials has been a matter of some debate since then.


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 crimescite book |last=Andenæs |first=Johs |authorlink=Johs. Andenæs |coauthors= |editor= |others= |title=Det vanskelige oppgjøret |origdate= |origyear=1979 |origmonth= |url= |format= |accessdate= |accessyear= |accessmonth= |edition= 2nd |series= |volume= |date= |year=1980 |month= |publisher=Tanum-Norli |location=Oslo |language=Norwegian |isbn=8251809177 |oclc= |doi= |id= |pages=pps 91+96 |chapter= |chapterurl= |quote=] .

Already in 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 December 15, 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. [Andenæs (1980, pps 52-53)]

Culpable acts during the occupation

Nasjonal Samling, the Norwegian fascist party that supported the Nazi regime, and was made the only legal party in Norway in the fall of 1940, never achieved any level of support that could justify a claim to legitimacy for its government. Quisling's 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 the mere membership in Nasjonal Samling [A landmark case was that 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.] . 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 May 8th, 1945. The government viewed it as paramount to avoid lynching or other extrajudicial punishment. Though this was largely avoided, 28,750 individuals were arrested the first few days. Most of these were released quickly, but by August, 1946, between 5,000 and 6,000 were still detained. [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 wtih 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.]

The Norwegian attorney general (which is to say, 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 profile 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 SS on the Eastern Front, these were only charged and tried for treason, never for war crimes [cite web |url= |title=Krigsforbryterne blant oss
accessdate=2008-02-25 |accessmonthday= |accessdaymonth= |accessyear= |author=Egil Ulateig |last= |first= |authorlink= |coauthors= |date=2006-12-04 |year= |month= |format= |work= |publisher=Aftenposten |pages= |language=Norwegian |doi= |archiveurl= |archivedate= |quote=

In total, 28,750 individuals were arrested as part of the purge; these were subject to various kinds of penalties, including fines, prison sentences, and in a small number of cases, death.Earlier in the war, Crown-Prince Olav stated to the "New York Times" that he anticipated that all members of Nasjonal Samling would be executed, which would have been over 2% of the Norwegian population.Fact|date=January 2007

Altogether, prosecutors called for the death penalty in 200 cases of treason; of these, 30 were condemned, and 25 were carried out. The practice was controversial from the beginning, in part because the government instituted the death penalty before the parliament had convened after the war.Fact|date=January 2007

During the summer of 1945, there was a fierce debate 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, the ones fighting against 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 demanded harsh penalties reminiscent to many of a witch hunt.Specify|date=January 2007 In later years, studies and inquiries have shown that justice was administered unevenly and - by today's standards - harshly.Specify|date=January 2007 Those who sided with "Nasjonal Samling" during the war were often publicly shamed beyond the fines they paid and time they served.Fact|date=January 2007

To this day, there is great sensitivity on this subject in Norwegian society. [cite web |url= |title=Nytt lys over det norske rettsoppgjøret? |accessdate=2008-01-25 |accessmonthday= |accessdaymonth= |accessyear= |author=Ole Kristian Nordengen |last= |first= |authorlink= |coauthors= |date=2008-09-21 |year= |month= |format= |work= |publisher=Aftenposten |pages= |language=Norwegian |doi= |archiveurl= |archivedate= |quote=]

People executed as part of the legal purge

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 August 17 1945 and the last on August 28 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 designated cities (Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, and Tromsø) for execution.Fact|date=January 2007 As all those involved in the execution were sworn to secrecy, there are few reliable accounts of the executions.Fact|date=January 2007

Executed for treason:

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

Executed for war crimes:

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


* [ University of Oslo: The Legal Purges in Norway after 1945 - A Research Project: Project Description]
* [ Home page for project]
* [ The Norwegian SS Volunteers] In addition to general information about the Norwegian SS volunteers, also contains information about what happened to these soldiers after the war.

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