Gleichschaltung (German pronunciation: [ˈɡlaɪçʃaltʊŋ]), or in English co-ordination, was in Nazi terminology the process of Nazification by which Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party successively established a system of totalitarian control and coordination over all aspects of German society, "from the economy and trade associations to the media, culture and education".[1]

The apex of the Nazification of Germany was in the resolutions approved during the Nuremberg Rally of 1935, when the symbols of the Nazi Party and the State were fused (see Flag of Germany) and German Jews were deprived of their citizenship (see Nuremberg Laws).


The Nazis used the word Gleichschaltung for the process of successively establishing a system of totalitarian control and coordination over all aspects of society. It has been variously translated as co-ordination,[2][3][4] Nazification of state and society,[5] synchronization,[6] and bringing into line,[5] but the German word is often left as a cultural term in English texts.

The Nazis were able to put Gleichschaltung into effect due to the legal measures taken by the government during the 20 months following 30 January 1933, when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.[7]

One day after the Reichstag fire on 27 February 1933, President of Germany Paul von Hindenburg, acting at Hitler's request and on the basis of the emergency powers in article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, issued the Reichstag Fire Decree. This decree suspended most citizen rights provided for by the constitution and thus allowed for the arrest of political adversaries, mostly Communists, and for terrorizing of other electors by the SA (the Nazi paramilitary force) before the upcoming election.[8]

In this atmosphere the Reichstag general 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 won only 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.[9] A state election was held in Prussia at the same time, which produced a similar result.

When the newly elected Reichstag first convened on 23 March 1933—not including the Communist delegates because their party had been banned on 6 March 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.[10] 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 and all non-Nazi ministers of the coalition government had been compelled to resign their posts.

The "First Gleichschaltung Law" (Erstes Gleichschaltungsgesetz, 31 March 1933), the first passed using the Enabling Act, dissolved the diets of all Länder except the recently-elected Prussian parliament, which the Nazis already controlled. The same law ordered the state diets reconstituted on the basis of the votes in the last Reichstag election (with the exception of Communist seats), and also gave the state governments the same powers the Reich government possessed under the Enabling Act.

"Second Gleichschaltung Law" (Zweites Gleichschaltungsgesetz, 7 April 1933) deployed one Reichsstatthalter (Reich Governor) in each state, apart from Prussia. These officers, responsible to Interior Minister Wilhelm 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 "Law for the Restoration of a Professional Civil Service", decreed on 7 April, enabled the "co-ordination" of the civil service which in Germany included not only bureaucrats, but also schoolteachers and professors, judges, prosecutors and other professionals at both the Federal and state level, and authorized the removal of Jews and Communists.[11]

The "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 Nazis called parliamentary elections for November 12, 1933. Since the Nazi Party was the sole legal party in Germany, voters were presented with a single list containing Nazis and 22 pro-Nazi "guests." Furthermore, to whip up nationalist sentiment in the run up to the vote, the Nazis intentionally timed the election to coincide with the fifteenth anniversary of the Armistice. Compelled to vote in far from secret circumstances, 92.1% the electorate voted in favour of the Nazi list, thereby formally replacing the Reichstag elected eight months earlier with a rubberstamp legislature. A referendum on German withdrawal from the League of Nations was held on the same day under the same circumstances, and passed with 95.1% support.

The "Law Concerning the Reconstruction of the Reich" (Gesetz über den Neuaufbau des Reiches) (30 January 1934) formally did away with the concept of a federal republic, converting Germany into a highly centralized state.[12] The states were reduced to mere provinces, as their institutions were practically abolished altogether. All of their powers passed to the central government. A law passed on 14 February formally abolished the Reichsrat.

The "Law Concerning the Highest State Office of the Reich"[13] (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. The changes were ratified by the electorate in a referendum held on August 19 and conducted in a similar manner to the vote of November 1933 – albeit with a slightly reduced majority (88.1% in favour). From this point onward, Hitler can be described as the dictator of Germany until his suicide in 1945.


In a speech in March 1933, chief Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels said:

[T]he secret of propaganda [is to] permeate the person it aims to grasp. without his even noticing that he is being permeated. Of course propaganda has a purpose, but the purpose must be concealed with such cleverness and virtuosity that the person on whom this purpose is to be carried out doesn't notice it at all.[14]

This was also the purpose of "co-ordination": to insure that every aspect of the lives of German citizens was permeated with the ideas and prejudices of the Nazis. To this end, the period primarily from March to July 1933, and continuing afterwards, was characterized by the systematic elimination of non-Nazi organizations that could potentially influence people. Those critical of Hitler and the Nazis were suppressed, intimidated or murdered.[7]

Every national voluntary association, and every local club, was brought under Nazi control, from industrial and agricultural pressure groups to sports associations, football clubs, male voice choirs, women's organizations in short, the whole fabric of associational life was Nazified. Rival, politically oriented clubs or societies were merged into a single Nazi body. Existing leaders of voluntary associations were either unceremoniously ousted, or knuckled under of their own accord. Many organizations expelled leftish or liberal members and declared their allegiance to the new state and its institutions. The whole process ... went on all over Germany. ... By the end, virtually the only non-Nazi associations left were the army and the Churches with their lay organizations.[15]

An important part of the "co-ordination" effort was the purging of the civil service, both at the Federal and state level. Top Federal civil servants - the State Secretaries - were largely replaced if they weren't sympathetic to the Nazi program, as were the equivalent bureaucrats in the states, but Nazification took place at every level. Civil servants rushed to join the Nazi Party, fearing that if they did not they would lose their jobs. At the local level, mayors and councils were terrorized by Nazi stormtroopers of the SA and SS into resigning or following orders to replace officials and workers at local public institutions who were Jewish or belonged to other political parties.[16]

The Gleichschaltung also included the formation of various organisations with compulsory membership for segments of the population, in particular the youth of Germany. Boys first served as apprentices in the Pimpfen (cubs), beginning at the age of six, and at age ten, entered the Deutsches Jungvolk (Young German Boys) and served there until entering the Hitler Youth proper at age fourteen. Boys remained there until age eighteen, at which time they entered into the Arbeitsdienst (Labor Service) and the armed forces. Girls became part of the Jungmädel (Young Maidens) at age ten and at age fourteen were enrolled in the Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of German Maidens). At eighteen, BDM members went generally to the eastern territory for their Pflichtdienst, or Landjahr, a year of labor on a farm. In 1936 membership in the Hitler Youth numbered just under six million.

An all-embracing recreational organization for workers, called Kraft durch Freude ("Strength Through Joy") was set up under the auspices of the German Labor Front (German: Deutsche Arbeitsfront or DAF), which had been created when the Nazis forcibly dissolved the trade unions on 2 May 1933, thus eviscerating the labor movement. Hobbies were regimented, and all private clubs, whether they be for chess, football, or woodworking, were brought under the control of Strength Through Joy, which also provided vacation trips skiing, swimming, concerts and ocean cruises. With some 25 million members, Strength Through Joy 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.

See also



  1. Strupp, Christoph (30 January 2013). "'Only a Phase': How Diplomats Misjudged Hitler's Rise". Der Spiegel, SPIEGEL ONLINE. Retrieved 2 May 2016.
  2. Evans 2003, p. 381.
  3. Kershaw 1999, p. 479.
  4. Burleigh 2000, p. 272.
  5. 1 2 Hirschfeld 2014, pp. 101, 164.
  6. Tyson 2010.
  7. 1 2 Evans 2003, pp. 381-90.
  8. Evans 2003, pp. 332-33.
  9. Evans 2003, pp. 289-301.
  10. Evans 2003, pp. 351–55.
  11. Evans 2003, pp. 382,437.
  12. Death of the States, TIME Magazine, February 12, 1934
  13. Overy 2004.
  14. Evans 2005, p. 127.
  15. Evans 2005, p. 14.
  16. Evans 2003, pp. 381-83.


Further reading

  • Bracher, Karl Dietrich (1972) "Stages of Totalitarian 'Integration' (Gleichschaltung): The Consolidation of National Socialist Rule in 1933 and 1934" in Republic To Reich The Making of the Nazi Revolution Ten Essays edited by Hajo Holborn, New York: Pantheon Books. pp.109-28
  • Gisevius, Hans Bernd (1947) To The Bitter End: An Insider's Account of the Plot to Kill Hitler, 1933–1944. New York: Da Capo Press.
  • Hughes, Everett (December 1955) "The Gleichschaltung of the German Statistical Yearbook: A Case in Professional Political Neutrality. The American Statistician Vol. IX. pp. 8–11.
  • Koonz, Claudia (2003) The Nazi Conscience. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press.
  • Kroeschell, Karl (1989) Deutsche Rechtsgeschichte 3 (seit 1650), 2nd ed., ISBN 3-531-22139-6
  • Kroeschell, Karl (1992) Rechtsgeschichte Deutschlands im 20. Jahrhundert, ISBN 3-8252-1681-0
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