Gleichschaltung , 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 over the individual, and tight coordination over all aspects of society and commerce. The historian Richard J. Evans offered the term "forcible-coordination" in his most recent work on Nazi Germany.
One goal of this policy was to eliminate individualism by forcing everybody to adhere to a specific doctrine and way of thinking and to control as many aspects of life as possible using an invasive police force.
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. Those critical of Hitler's agenda, especially his close ties with industry, were suppressed or intimidated. 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 served as apprentices in the Pimpfen ("cubs") beginning at the age of six, 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 (Wehrmacht). 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.
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. It was in this sense that the term was used by the Nazis themselves.
- One day after the Reichstag fire on February 27 1933, 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 Sturmabteilung (SA) to intimidate the voters before the upcoming election.
- In this atmosphere the Reichstag general election of March 5 1933 took place. These yielded only a slim majority for Hitler's coalition government and no majority for Hitler's own Nazi party.
- 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.
- 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.
- A "Second Gleichschaltung Law" (Zweites Gleichschaltungsgesetz) (April 7 1933) deployed one Reichsstatthalter (proconsul) in each state, apart from Prussia. These officers were supposed to act as local presidents in each state, appointing the governments. For Prussia, which constituted the vast majority of Germany anyway, Hitler reserved these rights for himself.
- 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 including trade unions were forced to merge with 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") (July 14 1933) forbade any creation of new political parties.
- 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. A law dated February 14 1934 dissolved the Reichsrat, the representation of the Länder at the federal level.
- 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 received retrospective sanction in a special one-article Law Regarding Measures of State Self-Defense (Gesetz über Maßnahmen der Staatsnotwehr) (July 3 1934).
- 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 was abolished. Following the Reichswehr 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:
- 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 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 explain the Nazi use of the word: the political party is considered the generator, and every member of 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 The Nazi Conscience. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003.
- Karl Dietrich Bracher "Stages of Totalitarian "Integration" (Gleichschaltung): The Consolidation of National Socialist Rule in 1933 and 1934" pages 109-128 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 (Dec., 1955, pp.8-11.