Drawing on a wide range of archival sources, this article project examined the role of the penalty of ‘loss of civil rights’ during the so-called treason trials – the Norwegian authorities’ reckoning with wartime collaborators after 1945. At the beginning of the 20th century, the penalty had grown out of fashion for being out of line with ‘modern’ punitive theory. But during the occupation, the Norwegian exile government and resistance revisited the penalty ahead of their planned ‘reckoning’ with Nazi collaborators and significantly expanded its scope.
The wartime provisions concerning the loss of civil rights were draconian. They posed an existential threat to sentenced collaborators in that they curtailed not only their political, but also their economic and social rights. Individuals sentenced to a ‘loss of civil rights’ for example lost the right to acquire certain types of property, access to a wide range of professional licences and their public pension rights. However, the wartime provisions were never fully implemented following the liberation.
This article argues that for policy makers, the penalty of ‘loss of civil rights’ had ‘two lives’: during the war they relied on it to signal to the Norwegian population that collaborators would be punished harshly, which they hoped would help prevent popular violence following a liberation. But after the war, political pragmatism, economic necessity and an increasing desire for social reconciliation were key motivations for the government to begin ameliorating the effects of the penalty. The article demonstrates how the official handling of the penalty of ‘loss of civil rights’ points to ways that the rationales for the punishment of collaborators during the treason trials changed over time.