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The German word Gleichschaltung is a composite noun[?]. Gleich means "equal"; Schaltung is derived from the verb schalten ("to switch"). It can be translated as "consolidation", "synchronization", "phasing", or "co-ordination".

However, the term appears most commonly in a political sense to describe the process by which the Nazi regime successively established a system of total control and co-ordination of all aspects of society. The government's desire for total control impelled it to function as the only influence on society. This required the elimination of any other form 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. Organizations that the administration could not eliminate, such as the schools, came under its direct control. The regime also assailed the influence of the churches.

See also: Totalitarianism.

In a more specific sense, Gleichschaltung refers to the legal measures taken by the government after Adolf Hitler became Reichskanzler. In this sense, the term was used by the Nazis themselves.

On January 30, 1933, Hitler was appointed Reichskanzler by Reichspräsident Paul von Hindenburg after the NSDAP had gained the largest share of the popular vote in the two Reichstag general elections of 1932. After that, the new government enacted a number of measures in quick succession (refer to the following links for greater detail):

  1. One day after the Reichstag fire on February 27, 1933, Reichspräsident Hindenburg, acting at Hitler's request, issued the Reichstag Fire Decree. This 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 terrorising by the SA to intimidate the voters before the upcoming elections.
  2. In this atmosphere of terror, the Reichstag general elections of March 3, 1933 took place. Surprisingly, these yielded only a slim majority for the Hitler government.
  3. When the newly-elected Reichstag first convened on March 23, 1933, it passed the Enabling Act (Ermächtigungsgesetz), transferring all legislative powers to the Hitler government and in effect abolishing the remainder of the Weimar constitution as a whole. Soon afterwards the government banned the Communist[?] and Socialist parties.
  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 20 July 1932. These officers were supposed to act as local presidents in each state, appointing the governments. For Prussia, which compriseded the vast majority of Germany anyway, Hitler reserved these rights for himself.
  6. The Gesetz über den Neuaufbau des Reiches ("Law concerning the reconstruction of the Reich"; January 30, 1934) abandoned this concept. 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.
  7. In the summer of 1934, the terrorist face of the regime suddenly became visible again. Hitler instructed the SS to kill Ernst Röhm, other leaders of the SA, former Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher[?] and several aides to former Chancellor Franz von Papen in the so-called Night of the Long Knives. These measures actually received retrospective sanction in a special one-article Law Regarding Measures of State Self-Defense (Gesetz über Maßnahmen der Staatsnotwehr) (3 July 1934).
  8. At nine 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 literally. Hitler henceforth demanded the use of that title.


Related articles

Sources; 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

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