From Academic Kids

The German word Gleichschaltung (literally "synchronising", synchronization) is used in a political sense to describe the process by which the Nazi regime successively established a system of totalitarian control over the individual, and tight coordination over all aspects of society and commerce. The term itself is a typical Nazi euphemism.

The Nazi party's desire for total control required the elimination of all other forms of influence. 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 unions and political parties. 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 schools, came under its direct control.

The Gleichschaltung comprised also the formation of various organisations, for example the Hitlerjugend for boys aged 10 to 18, the Bund Deutscher Mädel for girls, Kraft durch Freude for workers and some others. So it was ensured that every citizen of Germany was member of a Nazi-controlled organisation, maximizing the outreach for party indoctrination.


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 became Chancellor of Germany. In this sense, the term was used by the Nazis themselves.

  1. One day after the Reichstag fire on February 27, 1933, the increasingly senile President of Germany Paul von Hindenburg, acting at Hitler's request, issued the Reichstag Fire Decree. This decree suspended most human rights provided for by the 1919 constitution of the Weimar Republic and thus allowed for the arrest of political adversaries, mostly Communists, and for general terrorizing by the SA to intimidate the voters before the upcoming elections.
  2. In this atmosphere the Reichstag general elections of March 3, 1933 took place. These yielded only a slim majority for Hitler's coalition government 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 party which had voted against the Act, while the other parties chose to dissolve themselves to avoid arrests and concentration camp imprisonment.
  4. The "First Gleichschaltung Law" (Erstes Gleichschaltungsgesetz) (March 31, 1933) gave the governments of the Länder 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) in each state apart from Prussia, which had already been under Nazi control since the Preußenschlag of July 20, 1932. These officers were supposed to act as local presidents in each state, appointing the governments. For Prussia, which comprised the vast majority of Germany anyway, Hitler reserved these rights for himself.
  6. The trade Union association ADGB (Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund) was shattered on May 2, 1933 (the day after Labor Day), when SA and NSBO (Nationalsozialistische Betriebszellenorganisation) units occupied union facilities and ADGB leaders were imprisoned. Other important associations were forced to merge with the German Labor Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront (DAF)) in the following months.
  7. The Gesetz gegen die Neubildung von Parteien ("Law against the establishment of political parties") (July 14, 1933) forbid 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. Instead, the political institutions of the Länder were practically abolished altogether, passing all powers to the central government. Consequentially, another law dating February 14, 1934 dissolved the Reichsrat, the representation of the Länder at the federal level.
  9. 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 (June 30, 1934/July 1, 1934). These measures actually 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 Paul von Hindenburg 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 united with that of the Reichskanzler and that the competencies of the former should be transferred to the "Führer und Reichskanzler Adolf Hitler", as the law stated. Hitler henceforth demanded the use of that title. Thus the last separation of powers were abolished.


Related articles


This 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; manual clutches on cars usually do not press the plates one against each other, so they lose about three percent of power; some race cars use locking clutches in which the driven plate travels at the same speed as that connected to the engine; hence it wears out faster.
  2. A certain means of wiring an alternating current electrical generator, 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 to explain this word: the political party is considered the generator, and every member of a professional group or society is considered a motor wired to it.

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

Sources; further reading

el:Gleichschaltung he:גלייכשאלטונג fr:Gleichschaltung


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