The Nazi term Gleichschaltung (German pronunciation: [ˈɡlaɪçʃaltʊŋ] (listen)) or "coordination" was 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 and societies occupied by Nazi Germany "from the economy and trade associations to the media, culture and education".[1] Although the Weimar Constitution remained nominally in effect until Germany's surrender following World War II, near total Nazification had been secured by the 1935 resolutions approved during the Nuremberg Rally, when the symbols of the Nazi Party and the State were fused (see Flag of Nazi Germany) and German Jews were deprived of their citizenship (see Nuremberg Laws).


Gleichschaltung is a compound word that comes from the German words gleich (same) and schaltung (circuit) and was derived from an electrical engineering term meaning that all switches are put on the same circuit so that all can be activated by throwing a single master switch.[2] Its first use is credited to Reich Justice Minister Franz Gürtner.[3] It has been variously translated as "coordination",[4][5][6] "Nazification of state and society",[7] "synchronization",[3] and "bringing into line".[7] English texts often use the untranslated German word to convey its unique historical meaning. In their seminal work on National Socialist vernacular, Nazi-Deutsch/Nazi-German: An English Lexicon of the Language of the Third Reich, historians Robert Michael and Karin Doerr define Gleichschaltung as: "Consolidation. All of the German Volk's social, political, and cultural organizations to be controlled and run according to Nazi ideology and policy. All opposition to be eliminated."[8] This accords the general description provided by historian Jane Caplan, who characterized the term as "the coordination of German institutions into a cohesive, Nazified whole."[9][a]

Legal basis

The Nazis were able to put Gleichschaltung into effect due to multiple legal measures enacted by the Reich government during the 20 months following 30 January 1933, when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.[10]

During the debate on the Enabling Act, Social Democrat chairman Otto Wels spoke the last free words in the Reichstag: "Freedom and life can be taken from us, but not our honor." The subsequent passage of the Act did away with parliamentary democracy.

Coordination of the German Länder

While the German states were not formally abolished (excluding Mecklenburg-Strelitz in 1934 and Lübeck in 1937), their constitutional rights and sovereignty were eroded and ultimately ended. Prussia was already under federal administration when Hitler came to power, providing a model for the process.
The Nazi Party Gaue effectively replaced the federal government structure.

When Hitler was appointed Reich Chancellor on 30 January 1933, the Nazi Party had control of only five of the seventeen German Länder (states).[31] However, the Nazis acted swiftly to eliminate any potential centers of opposition arising in the remaining states. Immediately following the Reichstag election of 5 March 1933, the central government began in earnest its campaign to take over the state governments that it did not yet control, and within a very short period they achieved dominance over the administration in every state.

The pattern was in each case similar: pressure on the non-Nazi state governments to place a National Socialist in charge of the police; threatening demonstrations from SA and SS troops in the big cities; the symbolic raising of the swastika banner on town halls; the capitulation with hardly any resistance of the elected governments; the imposition of a Reich Commissar under the pretext of restoring order … Despite the semblance of legality, the usurpation of the powers of the Länder by the Reich was a plain breach of the Constitution. Force and pressure by the Nazi organizations themselves – political blackmail – had been solely responsible for creating the 'unrest' that had prompted the alleged restorations of 'order'. The terms of the emergency decree of 28 February provided no justification since there was plainly no need for defence from any 'communist acts of violence endangering the state'. The only such acts were those of the Nazis themselves.[32]

The following table presents an overview of the process of Gleichschaltung as it was applied to the Nazification of the German Länder governments. While, strictly speaking, the Gleichschaltung process did not start until after the Nazi seizure of power at the Reich level at the end of January 1933, the table also presents earlier Nazi Party successes in infiltrating and taking charge of several German state administrations during 1930–1932. In most of these instances, they took the portfolio of the state interior ministries from which they controlled the police, installing Nazi adherents and purging opponents.

Most coalition cabinets that the Nazis formed were with the participation of their conservative nationalist ally, the German National People's Party (DNVP). The "Law Against the Founding of New Parties" (14 July 1933) banned all parties except the Nazi Party. The DNVP members of the remaining coalition cabinets eventually either joined the Party or were replaced by Nazis, resulting in one-party government in all the Länder.[33]

Key: Entered into a coalition government led by a non-Nazi Formed a coalition government led by a Nazi Formed an all-Nazi government
Nazi Seizure of Power in the Länder[34]
Date Länder Event
Thuringia 23 January 1930 First Nazi enters a coalition cabinet with Wilhelm Frick appointed Minister of the Interior and Public Education
26 August 1932 Nazi-led coalition cabinet formed under Minister-President Fritz Sauckel
Brunswick 1 October 1930 Nazis enter coalition cabinet with Anton Franzen appointed Minister of the Interior and Public Education
9 May 1933 All Nazi cabinet formed under Minister-President Dietrich Klagges
Mecklenburg-Strelitz 8 April 1932 Nazis enter coalition cabinet with Fritz Stichtenoth appointed Staatsrat (State Councillor)
29 May 1933 All Nazi cabinet formed under Minister of State Fritz Stichtenoth
Anhalt 21 May 1932 First Nazi-led coalition cabinet formed under Minister-President Alfred Freyberg.
Oldenburg 16 June 1932 First all Nazi cabinet formed under Minister-President Carl Röver
Mecklenburg-Schwerin 13 July 1932 All Nazi cabinet formed under Minister-President Walter Granzow
Prussia 30 January 1933 Nazis enter coalition cabinet formed under Reichskommissar Franz von Papen; Hermann Göring becomes Minister of the Interior
11 April 1933 Nazi-led coalition cabinet formed under Minister-President Hermann Göring
Lippe 7 February 1933 Nazi-led coalition cabinet formed under Chairman of the Landespräsidien (State Presidency) Ernst Krappe
Hamburg 8 March 1933 Nazi-led coalition cabinet formed under Senate President and Bürgermeister Carl Vincent Krogmann
Schaumburg-Lippe 8 March 1933 Appointment of Reichskommissar Kurt Matthaei; on 1 April, an all Nazi cabinet formed under State Councillor Hans-Joachim Riecke
Bavaria 10 March 1933 All Nazi cabinet formed under Reichskommissar Franz Ritter von Epp
Saxony 10 March 1933 Nazi-led coalition cabinet formed under Reichskommissar Manfred Freiherr von Killinger
Baden 10 March 1933 All Nazi cabinet formed under Reichskommissar Robert Heinrich Wagner
Lübeck 12 March 1933 Appointment of Reichskommissar Friedrich Völtzer; on 8 June, Otto-Heinrich Drechsler named Senate President and Bürgermeister
Hesse 13 March 1933 All Nazi cabinet formed under Staatspräsident Ferdinand Werner
Württemberg 15 March 1933 Nazi-led coalition cabinet formed under Minister-President Wilhelm Murr
Bremen 18 March 1933 Nazi-led coalition cabinet formed under Senate President and acting Bürgermeister Richard Markert

Propaganda and societal integration

Joseph Goebbels in 1942

One of the most critical steps towards Gleichschaltung of German society was the introduction of the "Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda" under Joseph Goebbels in March 1933 and the subsequent steps taken by the Propaganda Ministry to assume complete control of the press and all means of social communication. This included oversight of newspapers, magazines, films, books, public meetings and ceremonies, foreign press relations, theater, art and music, radio, and television.[35] To this end, 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.[36]

This was also the purpose of "co-ordination": to ensure that every aspect of the lives of German citizens was permeated with the ideas and prejudices of the Nazis. From March to July 1933 and continuing afterward, the Nazi Party systematically eliminated or co-opted non-Nazi organizations that could potentially influence people. Those critical of Hitler and the Nazis were suppressed, intimidated, or murdered.[10]

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.[37]

For example, in 1934, the government founded the Deutscher Reichsbund für Leibesübungen, later the Nationalsozialistischer Reichsbund für Leibesübungen, as the official sports governing body. All other German sport associations gradually lost their freedom and were coopted into it.[38] Besides sports, another more 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 were not 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 they would lose their jobs if they did not. 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.[39]

The Gleichschaltung also included the formation of various organizations with compulsory membership for segments of the population, particularly 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 joining 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.[40] 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 generally went to the eastern territory for their Pflichtdienst, or Landjahr, a year of labor on a farm. By 1940, membership in the Hitler Youth numbered some eight million.[41]

Strength Through Joy

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 nullifying the labor movement.[42] 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. Some 43 million Germans enjoyed trips via the Strength Through Joy initiative. This effort inspired the idea of Germans acquiring automobiles and the construction of the Autobahn. It was the largest of the many organizations established by the Nazis and a propaganda success.[43] Workers were also brought in line with the party through activities such as the Reichsberufswettkampf, a national vocational competition.[44] Many unemployed people were also drafted into the German Labour Front where they were given uniforms and tools and put to work; the disappearance of unemployed people from the streets contributed to the perception that the Nazis were improving the economic conditions of Germany.[45]


Historian Claudia Koonz explains that the word Gleichschaltung stems from the arena of electricity, where it refers to converting power from alternating current to direct current, which is called "rectification" in English; the word Gleichschaltung translates literally as "phasing". Used in its socio-political sense, Gleichschaltung has no equivalent in any other language. The Nazis also used other similar terms, such as Ausschaltung, which constituted the removal or "switching off" of anyone who stained or soiled the German nation.[46] This seemingly clinical terminology captured both the mechanical and biological meaning for members of German society; as one German citizen visiting London explained, "It means the same stream will flow through the ethnic body politic [Volkskörper]."[47]

Former University of Dresden professor of romance languages, Viktor Klemperer—dismissed from his post for being Jewish in 1935 and who only survived his time in Germany due to being married to a prominent German woman—collected a list of terms employed in everyday speech by the Nazis, which he discussed in his book, LTI – Lingua Tertii Imperii, published in English as The Language of the Third Reich. In this work, Klemperer contends that the Nazis made the German language itself a servant to their ideology through its repetitive use, eventually permeating the very "flesh and blood" of its people.[48] For instance, if it was sunny and pleasant, it was described as "Hitler weather", or if you failed to comply with Nazi ideals of racial and social conformity, you were "switched off."[49]

When the blatant emphasis on racial hatred of others seemed to reach an impasse in the school system, through radio broadcasts, or on film reels, the overseers of Nazi Gleichschaltung propaganda switched to strategies that focused more on togetherness and the "we-consciousness" of the collective Volk, but the mandates of Nazi "coordination" remained: pay homage to the Führer, expel all foreigners, sacrifice for the German people, and welcome future challenges.[50] While greater German social and economic unity was produced through the Gleichschaltung initiatives of the regime, it was at the expense of individuality and to the social detriment of any nonconformist;[51] and worse—it contributed to and reinforced the social and racial exclusion of anyone deemed an enemy by National Socialist doctrine.[52] The Nazi Gleichschaltung or "synchronization" of German society—along with a series of Nazi legislation[53]—was part and parcel to Jewish economic disenfranchisement, the violence against political opposition, the creation of concentration camps, the Nuremberg Laws, the establishment of a racial Volksgemeinschaft, the seeking of Lebensraum, and the violent mass destruction of human life deemed somehow less valuable by the National Socialist government of Germany.[54][55]

See also



  1. ^ Caplan remains critical of the term Gleichschaltung as an equalizing ideological structure within Nazi Germany; she claims the notion represents a "fraudulent edifice", since the extant social power structures and economic stratification more or less remained intact, despite Nazi propaganda suggesting otherwise.[9]


  1. ^ Strupp 2013.
  2. ^ Childers 2017, p. 248.
  3. ^ a b Zentner & Bedürftig 1997, p. 940.
  4. ^ Evans 2003, p. 381.
  5. ^ Kershaw 1999, p. 479.
  6. ^ Burleigh 2000, p. 272.
  7. ^ a b Hirschfeld 2014, pp. 101, 164.
  8. ^ Michael & Doerr 2002, p. 192.
  9. ^ a b Caplan 2019, p. 60.
  10. ^ a b Evans 2003, pp. 381–390.
  11. ^ Evans 2003, pp. 332–333.
  12. ^ Evans 2003, pp. 339–340.
  13. ^ Evans 2003, p. 340.
  14. ^ Evans 2003, pp. 351–354.
  15. ^ Shirer 1990, pp. 199–200.
  16. ^ Benz 2007, pp. 28–30.
  17. ^ Benz 2007, p. 30.
  18. ^ Broszat 1981, pp. 106–107.
  19. ^ Evans 2003, pp. 382, 437.
  20. ^ Evans 2003, p. 336.
  21. ^ Evans 2003, pp. 355–359.
  22. ^ Childers 2017, pp. 261–265.
  23. ^ Shirer 1990, p. 201.
  24. ^ Benz 2007, p. 34.
  25. ^ GHDI, Law to Safeguard the Unity of Party.
  26. ^ McKale 1974, pp. 118–119.
  27. ^ Deutscher Bundestag 2023.
  28. ^ Shirer 1990, pp. 200–201.
  29. ^ Hildebrand 1984, p. 7.
  30. ^ Childers 2017, p. 289.
  31. ^ Orlow 1969, p. 277.
  32. ^ Kershaw 2008, pp. 278–279.
  33. ^ Evans 2003, pp. 372–373.
  34. ^ Broszat 1981, pp. 96–104.
  35. ^ Bytwerk 2004, pp. 58–66.
  36. ^ Evans 2005, p. 127.
  37. ^ Evans 2005, p. 14.
  38. ^ Wedemeyer-Kolwe 2004, pp. 389–390.
  39. ^ Evans 2003, pp. 381–383.
  40. ^ Benz 2007, pp. 73–77.
  41. ^ Stachura 1998, p. 479.
  42. ^ Childers 2017, p. 310.
  43. ^ Childers 2017, pp. 310–311.
  44. ^ Schoenbaum 1997, p. 95.
  45. ^ Childers 2001.
  46. ^ Koonz 2003, p. 72.
  47. ^ Koonz 2003, pp. 72–73.
  48. ^ Klemperer 2000, p. 14.
  49. ^ Koonz 2003, p. 73.
  50. ^ Koonz 2003, pp. 161–162.
  51. ^ Taylor & Shaw 1997, p. 109.
  52. ^ Laqueur & Baumel 2001, p. 241.
  53. ^ Taylor & Shaw 1997, p. 110.
  54. ^ Wildt 2012, pp. 9, 109, 125–128.
  55. ^ Laqueur & Baumel 2001, pp. 241–251.


Further reading