Gleichschaltung (ˈɡlaɪçʃaltʊŋ), meaning "coordination", "making the same", "bringing into line", is a Nazi term for the process by which the Nazi regime
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 successively established a system of totalitarian control and tight coordination over all aspects of society. The historian Richard J. Evans
Richard J. Evans
Richard John Evans is a British academic and historian, prominently known for his history of Germany.-Life:Evans was born in London, of Welsh parentage, and is now Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge and President of Wolfson College...

 translated the term as "forcible-coordination" in his most recent work on Nazi Germany.

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 around 1937 was characterized by the systematic elimination of non-Nazi organizations that could potentially influence people, such as trade union
Trade union
A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...

s and political parties
Political party
A political party is a political organization that typically seeks to influence government policy, usually by nominating their own candidates and trying to seat them in political office. Parties participate in electoral campaigns, educational outreach or protest actions...

. Those critical of Hitler's agenda, especially his close ties with industry, were suppressed, intimidated or murdered. The regime also assailed the influence of the churches
Church Body
A local church is a Christian religious organization that meets in a particular location. Many are formally organized, with constitutions and by-laws, maintain offices, are served by pastors or lay leaders, and, in nations where this is permissible, often seek seek non-profit corporate status...

, for example by instituting the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs under Hanns Kerrl
Hanns Kerrl
Hanns Kerrl was a German Nazi politician. His most prominent position, from July 1935, was that of Reichsminister of Church Affairs...

. 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 served as apprentices in the Pimpfen
Pimpf is a colloquial name for a boy before the voice change.In the German National Socialism The Pimpfe were the youngest subsection of the Hitler Youth, prevalent in Nazi Germany from 1933–1945, when the Allied Victory in the Second World War brought down the Nazi regime...

("cubs") beginning at the age of six, and at age 10, entered the Deutsches Jungvolk
Deutsches Jungvolk
thumb|250px|DJ TroopThe Deutsches Jungvolk was the subdivision of the Hitler Youth for boys aged 10 to 14. It reinforced the National Socialist view of Aryan ideals and transmitted the Nazi idea of the Volksgemeinschaft...

("Young German Boys") and served there until entering the Hitler Youth
Hitler Youth
The Hitler Youth was a paramilitary organization of the Nazi Party. It existed from 1922 to 1945. The HJ was the second oldest paramilitary Nazi group, founded one year after its adult counterpart, the Sturmabteilung...

 proper at age 14. Boys remained there until age 18, at which time they entered into the Arbeitsdienst ("Labor Service") and the armed forces (Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

). 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
Kraft durch Freude
Kraft durch Freude was a large state-controlled leisure organization in Nazi Germany. It was a part of the German Labour Front , the national German labour organization at that time...

("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
The Reichsberufswettkampf was an annual vocational competition held in Nazi Germany as part of the Gleichschaltung of German society.The competition was organised by the German Labour Front with the aid of the Hitler Youth and the National Socialist German Students' League...

, a national vocational competition.

Specific measures

In a more specific sense, Gleichschaltung refers to the legal measures taken by the government during the first months following January 30, 1933, when Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 became Chancellor of Germany. It was in this sense that the term was used by the Nazis themselves.
  1. One day after the Reichstag fire
    Reichstag fire
    The Reichstag fire was an arson attack on the Reichstag building in Berlin on 27 February 1933. The event is seen as pivotal in the establishment of Nazi Germany....

     on February 27, 1933, President of Germany
    The Reichspräsident was the German head of state under the Weimar constitution, which was officially in force from 1919 to 1945. In English he was usually simply referred to as the President of Germany...

     Paul von Hindenburg
    Paul von Hindenburg
    Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg , known universally as Paul von Hindenburg was a Prussian-German field marshal, statesman, and politician, and served as the second President of Germany from 1925 to 1934....

    , acting at Hitler's request and on the basis of the emergency powers in article 48
    Article 48 (Weimar Constitution)
    Article 48 of the constitution of the Weimar Republic of Germany allowed the President, under certain circumstances, to take emergency measures without the prior consent of the Reichstag...

     of the Weimar Constitution
    Weimar constitution
    The Constitution of the German Reich , usually known as the Weimar Constitution was the constitution that governed Germany during the Weimar Republic...

    , issued the Reichstag Fire Decree
    Reichstag Fire Decree
    The Reichstag Fire Decree is the common name of the Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State issued by German President Paul von Hindenburg in direct response to the Reichstag fire of 27 February 1933. The decree nullified many of the key civil liberties of German...

    . This decree suspended most human rights
    Human rights
    Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being." Human rights are thus conceived as universal and egalitarian . These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national...

     provided for by the constitution and thus allowed for the arrest of political adversaries, mostly Communists, and for general terrorizing by the SA
    The Sturmabteilung functioned as a paramilitary organization of the National Socialist German Workers' Party . It played a key role in Adolf Hitler's rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s...

    , the Nazi paramilitary force, of other voters before the upcoming election.
  2. In this atmosphere the Reichstag
    Reichstag (Weimar Republic)
    The Reichstag was the parliament of Weimar Republic .German constitution commentators consider only the Reichstag and now the Bundestag the German parliament. Another organ deals with legislation too: in 1867-1918 the Bundesrat, in 1919–1933 the Reichsrat and from 1949 on the Bundesrat...

    general election of March 5, 1933 took place. This election yielded only a slim majority for Hitler's coalition government
    Coalition government
    A coalition government is a cabinet of a parliamentary government in which several political parties cooperate. The usual reason given for this arrangement is that no party on its own can achieve a majority in the parliament...

     and no majority for Hitler's own Nazi party.
  3. When the newly elected Reichstag first convened on March 23, 1933, (not including the Communist delegates, since their party had already been banned by that time) it passed the Enabling Act (Ermächtigungsgesetz), transferring all legislative powers to the Nazi government and, in effect, abolishing the remainder of the Weimar constitution as a whole. Soon afterwards the government banned the Social Democratic
    Social Democratic Party of Germany
    The Social Democratic Party of Germany is a social-democratic political party in Germany...

     party, which had voted against the Act, while the other parties chose to dissolve themselves to avoid arrests and concentration camp
    Nazi concentration camps
    Nazi Germany maintained concentration camps throughout the territories it controlled. The first Nazi concentration camps set up in Germany were greatly expanded after the Reichstag fire of 1933, and were intended to hold political prisoners and opponents of the regime...

  4. The "First Gleichschaltung Law" (Erstes Gleichschaltungsgesetz) (March 31, 1933) gave the governments of the Länder
    States of Germany
    Germany is made up of sixteen which are partly sovereign constituent states of the Federal Republic of Germany. Land literally translates as "country", and constitutionally speaking, they are constituent countries...

    the same legislative powers that the Reich government had received through the Enabling Act.
  5. A "Second Gleichschaltung Law" (Zweites Gleichschaltungsgesetz) (April 7, 1933) deployed one Reichsstatthalter (proconsul
    A proconsul was a governor of a province in the Roman Republic appointed for one year by the senate. In modern usage, the title has been used for a person from one country ruling another country or bluntly interfering in another country's internal affairs.-Ancient Rome:In the Roman Republic, a...

    ) in each state, apart from Prussia
    Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

    . These officers were supposed to act as local president
    A president is a leader of an organization, company, trade union, university, or country.Etymologically, a president is one who presides, who sits in leadership...

    s in each state, appointing the governments. For Prussia
    Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

    , which constituted the vast majority of Germany anyway, Hitler reserved these rights for himself.
  6. The trade union association ADGB (Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund
    Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund
    The Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund was a confederation of German trade unions in Germany founded during the Weimar Republic. It was founded in 1919 and was initially powerful enough to organize a general strike in 1920 against a right-wing coup d'état. After the 1929 Wall Street crash,...

    ) was shattered on May 2, 1933 (the day after Labour Day
    International Workers' Day
    International Workers' Day is a celebration of the international labour movement and left-wing movements. It commonly sees organized street demonstrations and marches by working people and their labour unions throughout most of the world. May 1 is a national holiday in more than 80 countries...

    ), when SA and NSBO
    Nationalsozialistische Betriebszellenorganisation
    The Nationalsozialistische Betriebszellenorganisation was a workers organization in Nazi Germany....

     units occupied union facilities and ADGB leaders were imprisoned. Other important associations including trade unions were forced to merge with the German Labor Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront — DAF), to which all workers had to belong.
  7. The Gesetz gegen die Neubildung von Parteien ("Law against the establishment of political parties") (July 14, 1933) forbade any creation of new political parties.
  8. The Gesetz über den Neuaufbau des Reiches ("Law concerning the reconstruction of the Reich") (January 30, 1934) abandoned the concept of a federal republic
    Federal republic
    A federal republic is a federation of states with a republican form of government. A federation is the central government. The states in a federation also maintain the federation...

    . Instead, the political institutions of the Länder were practically abolished altogether, passing all powers to the central government. A law dated February 14, 1934 dissolved the Reichsrat
    Reichsrat (Germany)
    The Reichsrat was one of the two legislative bodies in Germany under the Weimar constitution, the other one being the Reichstag. After the end of German monarchy and the founding of the Weimar Republic in 1919, the Reichsrat replaced the Bundesrat as the representation of the various German...

    , the representation of the Länder at the federal level.
  9. In the summer of 1934 Hitler instructed the SS
    The Schutzstaffel |Sig runes]]) was a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Built upon the Nazi ideology, the SS under Heinrich Himmler's command was responsible for many of the crimes against humanity during World War II...

     to kill Ernst Röhm
    Ernst Röhm
    Ernst Julius Röhm, was a German officer in the Bavarian Army and later an early Nazi leader. He was a co-founder of the Sturmabteilung , the Nazi Party militia, and later was its commander...

     and other leaders of the Nazi party's SA, former Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher
    Kurt von Schleicher
    Kurt von Schleicher was a German general and the last Chancellor of Germany during the era of the Weimar Republic. Seventeen months after his resignation, he was assassinated by order of his successor, Adolf Hitler, in the Night of the Long Knives....

     and several aides to former Chancellor Franz von Papen
    Franz von Papen
    Lieutenant-Colonel Franz Joseph Hermann Michael Maria von Papen zu Köningen was a German nobleman, Roman Catholic monarchist politician, General Staff officer, and diplomat, who served as Chancellor of Germany in 1932 and as Vice-Chancellor under Adolf Hitler in 1933–1934...

     in the so-called Night of the Long Knives
    Night of the Long Knives
    The Night of the Long Knives , sometimes called "Operation Hummingbird " or in Germany the "Röhm-Putsch," was a purge that took place in Nazi Germany between June 30 and July 2, 1934, when the Nazi regime carried out a series of political murders...

     (June 30, 1934/July 1, 1934). These measures received retrospective sanction in a special one-article Law Regarding Measures of State Self-Defense (Gesetz über Maßnahmen der Staatsnotwehr) (July 3, 1934).
  10. At nine o'clock in the morning of August 2, 1934, Reichspräsident
    The Reichspräsident was the German head of state under the Weimar constitution, which was officially in force from 1919 to 1945. In English he was usually simply referred to as the President of Germany...

    Paul von Hindenburg
    Paul von Hindenburg
    Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg , known universally as Paul von Hindenburg was a Prussian-German field marshal, statesman, and politician, and served as the second President of Germany from 1925 to 1934....

     died at the age of 86. Three hours before, the government had issued a law to take effect the day of his death; this prescribed that the office of the Reichspräsident should be merged with that of the Reichskanzler and that the competencies of the former should be transferred to the "Führer
    Führer , alternatively spelled Fuehrer in both English and German when the umlaut is not available, is a German title meaning leader or guide now most associated with Adolf Hitler, who modelled it on Benito Mussolini's title il Duce, as well as with Georg von Schönerer, whose followers also...

     und Reichskanzler Adolf Hitler"
    , as the law stated. Hitler henceforth demanded the use of that title. Thus the last separation of powers
    Separation of powers
    The separation of powers, often imprecisely used interchangeably with the trias politica principle, is a model for the governance of a state. The model was first developed in ancient Greece and came into widespread use by the Roman Republic as part of the unmodified Constitution of the Roman Republic...

     was abolished. Following the Reichswehr
    The Reichswehr formed the military organisation of Germany from 1919 until 1935, when it was renamed the Wehrmacht ....

     purge of 1938, Hitler could 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:
  1. A locking clutch
    A clutch is a mechanical device which provides for the transmission of power from one component to another...

    , 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.
  2. A certain means of wiring an alternating current
    Alternating current
    In alternating current the movement of electric charge periodically reverses direction. In direct current , the flow of electric charge is only in one direction....

     electrical generator
    Electrical generator
    In electricity generation, an electric generator is a device that converts mechanical energy to electrical energy. A generator forces electric charge to flow through an external electrical circuit. It is analogous to a water pump, which causes water to flow...

    , and AC electric motors, so that when the generator is made to turn at a given speed, or even turned a certain angle, each motor connected to it will also turn at that speed, or to the same angle. This is the meaning which is most commonly referred to explain the Nazi use of the word: the political party is considered the generator, and every member of a political body, a professional group or society is considered a motor wired to it. See selsyn.

However, because of the Nazi associations of the term, its use for these physical meanings has largely been abandoned since the war.

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
  • Lebendiges virtuelles Museum Online: Die Errichtung des Einparteienstaats 1933
  • Claudia Koonz
    Claudia Koonz
    Claudia Ann Koonz is an American feminist historian of Nazi Germany. Her principal area of interest is the experience of women during the Nazi era.-Career overview:...

     The Nazi Conscience. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003.
  • Karl Dietrich Bracher
    Karl Dietrich Bracher
    Karl Dietrich Bracher is a German political scientist and historian of the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany. Born in Stuttgart, Bracher was awarded a Ph.D. in the Classics by the University of Tübingen in 1948 and subsequently studied at Harvard University from 1949 to 1950...

     "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
    Hajo Holborn
    Hajo Holborn was a German-American historian and specialist in modern German history.- Life :...

    , New York: Pantheon Books, 1972.
  • Everett Hughes
    Everett Hughes
    Everett Cherrington Hughes was an American sociologist best known for his work on ethnic relations, work and occupations and the methodology of fieldwork. His take on sociology was, however, very broad...

    The "Gleichschaltung" of the German Statistical Yearbook: A Case in Professional Political Neutrality. The American Statistician Vol. IX (December, 1955, pp. 8–11.
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