Gleichschaltung (German pronunciation: [ˈɡlaɪçʃaltʊŋ]), meaning "coordination", "making the same", "bringing into line"), is a Nazi term for the process by which the Nazi regime successively established a system of totalitarian control and coordination over all aspects of society. The historian Richard J. Evans translated the term as "forcible-coordination" in his most recent work on Nazi Germany. Author Claudia Koontz uses the term to explain the transformation of ordinary Germans, who had not, before 1933, been more prejudiced than their counterparts elsewhere, into indifferent bystanders to and collaborators with persecution.
Among the goals of this policy were to bring about adherence to a specific doctrine and way of thinking and to control as many aspects of life as possible.
The period from 1933 to 1937 was characterized by the systematic elimination of non-Nazi organizations that could potentially influence people, such as trade unions and political parties. Those critical of Hitler's agenda were suppressed, intimidated or murdered. The regime also assailed the influence of the churches, for example by instituting the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs under Hanns Kerrl. Organizations that the administration could not eliminate, such as the education system, came under its direct control.
The Gleichschaltung also included the formation of various organisations with compulsory membership for segments of the population, in particular the youth. Boys first served as apprentices in the Pimpfen ("cubs"), beginning at the age of 6, and at age 10, entered the Deutsches Jungvolk ("Young German Boys") and served there until entering the Hitler Youth proper at age 14. Boys remained there until age 18, at which time they entered into the Arbeitsdienst ("Labor Service") and the armed forces. Girls became part of the Jungmädel ("Young Maidens") at age 10, and at age 14 were enrolled in the Bund Deutscher Mädel ("League of German Maidens"). At 18 BDM members went generally to the eastern territory for their Pflichtdienst, or Landjahr – a year of labor on a farm. In 1936 membership of the Hitler Youth numbered just under 6 million.
For workers an all-embracing recreational organization called Kraft durch Freude ("Strength through Joy") was set up. In Nazi Germany, even hobbies were regimented; all private clubs (whether they be for chess, football, or woodworking) were brought under the control of KdF and, in turn, the Nazi Party. The Kraft durch Freude organization provided vacation trips (skiing, swimming, concerts, ocean cruises, and so forth). With some 25 million members, KdF was the largest of the many organizations established by the Nazis. Workers were also brought in line with the party through activities such as the Reichsberufswettkampf, a national vocational competition.
Koontz writes of how this intense racism came about despite relatively little attention given to popularizing racial hate. Newsreels, propaganda, films, and Hitler'spolitical campaign itself all devoted very little attention to popularizing the racial hate at the heart of the regime's program. To be credible, racial reeducation had to emanate from apparently objective sources. Not propoganda but knowledge had the power to change attitudes.
Comparing subtle persecution to a gas, Goebbels wrote:
"The best propaganda is that which, as it were, works invisibly, penetrates the whole of life without the public having any knowledge of the propogandistic initiative."
In a more specific sense, Gleichschaltung refers to the legal measures taken by the government during the 20 months following 30 January 1933, when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. It was in this sense that the term was used by the Nazis themselves.
In this atmosphere the Reichstaggeneral election of 5 March 1933 took place. The Nazis had hoped to win an outright majority and push aside their coalition partners, the German National People's Party. However, the Nazis only won 43 percent of the vote, well short of a majority. The Nazi-DNVP coalition did enjoy a slim majority, just enough to conduct the ordinary business of government.
When the newly elected Reichstag first convened on 23 March 1933—not including the Communist delegates because their party had already been banned by that time—it passed the Enabling Act (Ermächtigungsgesetz). This law gave the government—in practice, Hitler—the right to make laws without the involvement of the Reichstag. For all intents and purposes, the entire Weimar constitution was rendered void. Soon afterwards the government banned the Social Democratic Party, which had voted against the Act. By midsummer, the other parties had been intimidated into dissolving themselves rather than face arrests and concentration camp imprisonment.
The "First Gleichschaltung Law" (Erstes Gleichschaltungsgesetz, 31 March 1933), the first passed using the Enabling Act, dissolved the diets of all Länder except Prussia and ordered them reconstituted on the basis of the votes in the last Reichstag election (with the exception of Communist seats). It also gave the state governments the same powers the Reich government possessed under the Enabling Act.
A "Second Gleichschaltung Law" (Zweites Gleichschaltungsgesetz, 7 April 1933) deployed one Reichsstatthalter (Reich Governor) in each state, apart from Prussia. These officers, responsible to Interior MinisterWilhelm Frick, were supposed to act as local proconsuls in each state, with near-complete control over the state governments. For Prussia, which in any event constituted the bulk of Germany, Hitler reserved these rights for himself and delegated them to Prussian minister-president Hermann Göring. This law effectively defederalized the Reich for the first time ever.
The trade union association ADGB (Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund) was shattered on 2 May 1933 (the day after Labour Day), when ADGB leaders were imprisoned and SA and NSBO units occupied union facilities. Other important associations, including trade unions, were dissolved and replaced by the German Labor Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront—DAF), to which all workers had to belong.
The Gesetz gegen die Neubildung von Parteien ("Law against the establishment of political parties") (14 July 1933) declared the Nazi Party to be the country's only legal party. However, for all practical purposes Germany had been a one-party state since the passage of the Enabling Act.
The Gesetz über den Neuaufbau des Reiches ("Law concerning the reconstruction of the Reich") (30 January 1934) formally did away with the concept of a federal republic, converting Germany into a highly centralized state. The states were reduced to mere provinces, as their institutions were practically abolished altogether. All of their powers passed to the central government. It can be argued that this law violated the Enabling Act, since it effectively neutered the Reichsrat, the representation of the Länder at the federal level. Article 2 of the Enabling Act stated that the institutions of both legislative chambers could not be altered. A law passed on 14 February formally abolished the Reichsrat. This law indisputably violated the Enabling Act, since Article 2 explicitly protected the existence of both chambers. However, there was no remedy for violations of Article 2, and no challenge was ever mounted in court.
In the summer of 1934 Hitler instructed the SS to kill Ernst Röhm and other leaders of the Nazi party's SA, former Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher and several aides to former Chancellor Franz von Papen in the so-called Night of the Long Knives (between 30 June and 2 July 1934). These measures received retroactive sanction in a special one-article Law Regarding Measures of State Self-Defense (Gesetz über Maßnahmen der Staatsnotwehr) (3 July 1934).
The Law Concerning the Highest State Office of the Reich (1 August 1934) prescribed that upon the death of the incumbent president, that office would be merged with the office of the chancellor, and that the competencies of the former should be transferred to the "Führer und Reichskanzler Adolf Hitler", as the law stated. Hindenburg died at nine o'clock the next morning, making Hitler head of state as well as head of government. Like the law abolishing the Reichsrat, this law actually violated the Enabling Act, which specifically forbade Hitler from tampering with the presidency. Additionally, in 1932 the constitution had been amended to make the president of the High Court of Justice, not the chancellor, acting president pending new elections. However, no one raised any objections. This law abolished the last remedy by which Hitler could be legally dismissed—and with it the last check on his power. From this point onward, Hitler can be described as the absolute dictator of Germany until his suicide in 1945.
Gleichschaltung, as a compound word, is better comprehended by those who speak other languages by listing its predecessory uses in German. The word gleich in German means alike, equal, or the same; schaltung means something like switching. The word Gleichschaltung had two uses in German for physical, rather than political, meanings:
A locking clutch, as used in some machines for connecting two shafts that would otherwise rotate freely such that they rotate at the same speed when in the locked condition.
A certain means of wiring an alternating currentelectrical generator, and AC electric motors, so that when the generator is made to turn at a given speed, or even turned to a certain angle, each motor connected to it will also turn at that speed, or at the same angle.
However, the use of the term for these physical meanings has largely been abandoned since the war, because of its Nazi associations.
Sources and further reading
Karl Kroeschell, Deutsche Rechtsgeschichte 3 (seit 1650), 2nd ed. 1989, ISBN 3-531-22139-6
Karl Kroeschell, Rechtsgeschichte Deutschlands im 20. Jahrhundert, 1992, ISBN 3-8252-1681-0
Claudia KoonzThe Nazi Conscience. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003.
Hans Bernd Gisevius "To The Bitter End: An Insider's Account of the Plot to Kill Hitler, 1933-1944". New York: Da Capo Press, 1947.
Karl Dietrich Bracher "Stages of Totalitarian "Integration" (Gleichschaltung): The Consolidation of National Socialist Rule in 1933 and 1934" pages 109–28 from Republic To Reich The Making of the Nazi Revolution Ten Essays edited by Hajo Holborn, New York: Pantheon Books, 1972.
Everett HughesThe "Gleichschaltung" of the German Statistical Yearbook: A Case in Professional Political Neutrality. The American Statistician Vol. IX, December, 1955, pp. 8–11.