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Josef Terboven
Terboven statsakten.jpg
Terboven in February 1942, during the Akershus Government Act ceremony.
Reichskommissar for the Occupied Norwegian Territories
In office
24 April 1940 – 7 May 1945
Appointed byAdolf Hitler
Preceded byPosition created
Succeeded byFranz Böhme (acting)
Gauleiter of Gau Essen
In office
1 August 1930 – 8 May 1945
Appointed byAdolf Hitler
Preceded byPosition created
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Oberpräsident of Rhine Province
In office
5 February 1935 – 8 May 1945
Preceded byHermann Freiherr von Lünick
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Personal details
Josef Antonius Heinrich Terboven

(1898-05-23)23 May 1898
Essen, Rhine Province, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
Died8 May 1945(1945-05-08) (aged 46)
Asker, Akershus, Norway
Political partyNazi Party (NSDAP)
ProfessionBank clerk
Military service
Allegiance German Empire
Branch/serviceImperial German Army
Years of service1915–1918
UnitFeldartillerie Regiment 9
Battles/warsWorld War I
AwardsIron Cross, 1st and 2nd class

Josef Terboven (23 May 1898 – 8 May 1945) was a Nazi Party official and politician who was the long-serving Gauleiter of Gau Essen and the Reichskommissar for Norway during the German occupation.

Early life

Terboven was born in Essen, the son of minor landed gentry. The family name comes from the Low German dar boven ("up there"), referring to a farmstead on a hill.[1] Josef Terboven attended volksschule and realschule in Essen until 1915 and then volunteered for military service in the First World War. He served with Feldartillerie Regiment 9 and then with the nascent air force. He was awarded the Iron Cross, 1st and 2nd class, and attained the rank of Leutnant before being discharged on 22 December 1918. He studied law and political science at the University of Munich and the University of Freiburg, where he first got involved in politics. He dropped out of the university in 1922 without earning a degree and trained as a bank official in Essen, working as a bank clerk through June 1925.[2]

Nazi Party career

Terboven joined the Nazi Party in November 1923 with membership number 25,247 and participated in the abortive Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. When the Party subsequently was outlawed, he continued to work at the bank until after the ban was lifted in February 1925. In August 1925 Terboven went to work full-time for the Party, becoming the head of a small Nazi newspaper and book distributorship in Essen. At this time he also founded the Ortsgruppe (Local Group) in Essen, becoming its first Ortsgruppenleiter. He also joined the Sturmabteilung (SA) becoming the SA-Führer in Essen. He formally re-enrolled in the Party on 15 December 1925. From 1927 to December 1930, Terboven was the editor of the weekly Nazi newspaper “The New Front: The Weekly Sheet of the Working People.” By 1927 he had advanced to Bezirksleiter (District Leader) of the Essen district in the Großgau Ruhr. In the 20 May 1928 election, Terboven failed in his attempt to be elected to the Prussian Landtag.[3]

On 1 October 1928 upon the dissolution of the Großgau Ruhr, the Essen district became an independent unit subordinated to the central Party headquarters in Munich. However, on 1 August 1930 the Essen district officially was raised to Gau status and Terboven was named Gauleiter. He would retain this post throughout the Nazi regime.[4]

In 1930 Terboven also became a City Councilor in Essen and a member of the Provincial Landtag of the Rhine Province. On 14 September 1930, Terboven was elected to the Reichstag from electoral constituency 23, Dusseldorf-West; he would serve as a Reichstag deputy until the end of the Nazi regime. From 15 December 1930, Terboven was also the editor of the National-Zeiting in Essen.[5]

After the Nazi seizure of power, Terboven was promoted to SA-Gruppenführer on 1 March 1933 and made a member of the Prussian State Council on 10 July 1933. On 28 June 1934, Terboven married Ilse Stahl, Joseph Goebbels's former secretary and mistress. Adolf Hitler was a witness at the wedding, and while in Essen put into play preparations for the Night of the Long Knives. On 5 February 1935, Terboven was appointed Oberpräsident (High President) of Prussia's Rhine Province which included Gau Essen and three other Gaue. He thus united under his control the highest party and governmental offices within his jurisdiction. On 27 April 1935 Terboven received the Golden Party Badge. He was promoted to the rank of SA-Obergruppenführer on 9 November 1936. On the outbreak of war on 1 September 1939, he was named Reich Defense Commissioner for Wehrkreis (Military District) VI, which included his Gau together with Gau Dusseldorf, Gau Cologne-Aachen, most of Gau Westphalia-North and Gau Westphalia-South and part of Gau Weser-Ems. On 16 November 1942, the jurisdiction of the Reich Defense Commissioners was changed from the Wehrkreis to the Gau level and Terboven remained Commissioner for only his Gau of Essen.[6]

Reichskommissar of Norway

Main article: Reichskommissariat Norwegen

Terboven (seated 2nd from right) with Quisling, Himmler and von Falkenhorst.
Terboven (seated 2nd from right) with Quisling, Himmler and von Falkenhorst.

Terboven was named Reichskommissar for Norway on 24 April 1940, even before the military invasion was completed on 10 June 1940. He moved into Skaugum, the official residence of the Crown Prince of Norway, in September 1940 and made his headquarters in the Norwegian parliament building. Nothing in Terboven's background and training particularly qualified him for this post, though he had Hitler's full confidence. He was responsible to no one but Hitler, and within the Nazi governmental hierarchy his office stood on the same level as the Reich Ministries. Terboven regarded himself as virtually an autonomous viceroy with what he termed “limitless power of command.” His conception of his role resulted in his attempting to ignore any directives not issued by Hitler himself.[7]

Reichskommissar Terboven had supervisory authority over only the German civilian administration that was very small and that did not rule Norway directly. Day-to-day governmental affairs were managed by the existing seven-member Norwegian Administrative Council set up by the Norwegian Supreme Court after the king and cabinet had fled into exile. On 25 September 1940, Terboven dismissed the Administrative Council and appointed a thirteen-member Provisional State Council to administer affairs. All the members were Terboven's hand-picked appointees and worked under his control and supervision. A proclamation was issued deposing King Haakon VII, outlawing the government-in-exile, disbanding the Storting and banning all political parties except Vidkun Quisling’s Nasjonal Samling.[8] Terboven therefore remained in ultimate charge of Norway until the end of the war in 1945, even after permitting the formation of a Norwegian puppet regime on 1 February 1942 under Quisling as minister-president, the so-called Quisling government.[9]

Terboven also did not have authority over the 400,000 regular German Army forces stationed in Norway which were under the command of Generaloberst Nikolaus von Falkenhorst but he did command a personal force of around 6,000 men, of whom 800 were part of the secret police. In contrast to the military forces commanded by Falkenhorst, which aimed to reach an understanding with the Norwegian people and were under orders by Falkenhorst to treat Norwegians with courtesy, Terboven behaved in a petty and ruthless way and was widely disliked, not only by the Norwegians but also by many Germans. Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda, expressed annoyance in his diary about what he called Terboven's "bullying tactics" against the Norwegians, as they alienated the population against the Germans. Though Terboven's relations with the army commander were strained, his relations with the Higher SS and Police Leader, Wilhelm Rediess, were very good and he cooperated in providing Rediess' staff a free hand with their policies of repression.[10]

Repression and crimes against humanity

Terboven established multiple concentration camps in Norway, including Falstad concentration camp near Levanger and Bredtvet concentration camp in Oslo in late 1941. At one of these camps on 18 July 1942 the Beisfjord massacre took place – the murder of hundreds of Yugoslavian political prisoners and prisoners of war by German and Norwegian concentration camp guards. Some 288 prisoners were shot to death and many others were burned to death when the barracks were set on fire. Terboven had ordered the massacre a few days earlier. In July 1942 at least one German guard assigned to the Korgen prison camp was killed. The commandant ordered retribution: execution by gunfire for "39 prisoners at Korgen and 20 at Osen"; in the days that followed, Terboven also ordered retribution: around 400 prisoners shot and killed in various camps.[11]

From 1941, Terboven increasingly focused on crushing the Norwegian resistance movement which engaged in acts of sabotage and assassination against the Germans. On 17 September 1941, Terboven decreed that special SS and Police Tribunals would have jurisdiction over Norwegian citizens who violated his decrees. These were summary proceedings with the accused provided no adequate defense. The trials were not open to the public and the proceedings were not published. Sentences were carried out shortly after being pronounced, with no right of appeal. It is estimated that some 150 individuals were sentenced to death by these tribunals. Many more were sentenced to long terms at hard labor.[12]

On 26 April 1942, the Nazis learned that two members of the resistance were being sheltered by the inhabitants of Telavåg, a small fishing village. When the Gestapo arrived, shots were exchanged and two Gestapo agents were killed. Terboven was outraged and personally led a reprisal raid on 30 April that was quick and brutal. All buildings were burned to the ground, all boats were sunk or confiscated and all livestock taken away. All men in the village were either executed or sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany. Of the 72 who were deported from Telavåg, 31 were murdered in captivity. The women and children were imprisoned for two years. Another 18 Norwegian prisoners (unrelated to Telavåg) held at the Trandum internment camp were also executed as a reprisal. In another incident, the shooting of two German police officials on 6 September 1942 led to Terboven personally declaring martial law in Trondheim from 5 to 12 October 1942. He imposed a curfew from 8:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. and suppressed all newspapers, public assemblies and railroad transportation. On Terboven's orders, ten prominent citizens were executed in reprisal and their assets confiscated. In addition, Terboven set up an ad hoc extrajudicial tribunal to try Norwegians considered “hostile to the state.” An additional 24 men were tried and summarily executed over the next three days.[13]

Despite the small number of Jews in Norway's population (around 1,800) Terboven persecuted them relentlessly. Some 930 managed to escape to neighboring Sweden but some 770 were rounded up and deported to Germany. The main deportation occurred on 26 November 1942 when 532 Jews were shipped to Stettin aboard the SS Donau. From there, they were transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp; only 9 survived the war. On 25 February 1943 another 158 were similarly deported aboard the MS Gotenland; only 6 survived.[10]

Last months of the war and death

On 25 September 1944, Terboven, in his capacity as Gauleiter of Essen, was named commander of the Volkssturm units in the Gau. In reality, it was his Deputy Gauleiter, Fritz Schlessmann, who executed these duties as he had been Acting Gauleiter in Essen during Terboven's absence in Norway since 1940. In October 1944, in response to the Red Army advance in to the Finnmark region of northern Norway, Terboven instituted a scorched earth policy that resulted in the forced evacuation of 50,000 Norwegians and widespread destruction, including the burning of 10,000 homes, 4700 farms and hundreds of schools, churches, shops and industrial buildings.[14]

As the tide of the war turned against Germany, Terboven's personal aspiration was to organize Festung Norwegen (Fortress Norway) for the Nazi regime's last stand. However, after Hitler's suicide, his successor, Großadmiral Karl Dönitz, summoned Terboven to his headquarters in Flensburg on 3 May 1945 and ordered him to cooperate with winding down hostilities. However, Terboven expressed his desire to continue fighting. Consequently, Dönitz dismissed Terboven from his post as Reichskommissar on 7 May, transferring his powers to General der Gebirgstruppe Franz Böhme.[15]

With the announcement of Germany's surrender, Terboven committed suicide on 8 May 1945 by detonating 50 kg of dynamite in a bunker on the Skaugum compound.[16] He died alongside the body of Obergruppenführer Wilhelm Rediess, who had shot himself earlier. Terboven's family survived him in West Germany, and his wife Ilse died in 1972.[17]


  1. ^ Terboven in Digitales Familiennamenwörterbuch Deutschlands
  2. ^ Miller & Schulz 2021, pp. 437–438.
  3. ^ Miller & Schulz 2021, p. 438.
  4. ^ Orlow 1969, pp. 140, 206.
  5. ^ Miller & Schulz 2021, p. 439.
  6. ^ Höffkes 1986, p. 346.
  7. ^ Orlow 1973, pp. 299–300.
  8. ^ "Oslo's Old Regime Ended by Germany". New York Times. 26 September 1940. p. 4.
  9. ^ Miller & Schulz 2021, pp. 444–445.
  10. ^ a b Miller & Schulz 2021, p. 446.
  11. ^ "Da nordmenn myrdet fanger i Korgen | Tekster og slikt". 26 October 2016. Retrieved 25 September 2017. Da to fanger i Korgen drepte en tysk vokter og rømte, ga kommandant Hesse ordre om at det som hevn skulle skytes 39 fanger i Korgen og 20 i Osen. Dette var 17. juli 1942. Hesse startet myrderiene med sjøl å skyte flere fanger. De nærmeste dagene ble det på Reichskommissar Terbovens personlige ordre skutt om lag 400 krigsfanger i forskjellige leire
  12. ^ Miller & Schulz 2021, pp. 450–451.
  13. ^ Miller & Schulz 2021, pp. 451–453.
  14. ^ Miller & Schulz 2021, p. 454.
  15. ^ Miller & Schulz 2021, p. 455.
  16. ^ Goeschel, Christian (2009), Suicide in Nazi Germany, OUP Oxford, p. 152, ISBN 978-0191567568.
  17. ^ Miller & Schulz 2021, p. 456.