In Nazi terminology, Gleichschaltung, translated as "coordination", "making the same", "bringing into line") was the process by which the Nazi regime successively established a system of totalitarian control and coordination over all aspects of society. Among the goals of this policy were to bring about adherence to a specific doctrine and way of thinking and to control as many aspects of life as possible.
The period from 1933 to 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 were suppressed, intimidated or murdered. 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 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 of the Hitler Youth numbered just under six 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 the Nazi Party. The Kraft durch Freude organization provided vacation trips (skiing, swimming, concerts and ocean cruises). 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.
Historians write of how this intense racism came about, despite relatively little attention given to popularizing racial hate. Newsreels, propaganda, films and Hitler's political campaign devoted very little attention to popularizing the racism at the heart of the regime. To be credible, racist propaganda had to emanate from apparently objective sources, with the appearance of knowledge, which had the power to change attitudes. Comparing subtle persecution to a gas, Template:Quotation
In a more specific sense, Gleichschaltung refers to the legal measures taken by the government during the 20 months following 30 January 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 27 February 1933, German Emperor Wilhelm II, acting at Hitler's request and on the basis of the emergency powers in article 48 of the October 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.
- 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 only won 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.
- 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 constitution was rendered void. 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.
- The "First Gleichschaltung Law" (Erstes Gleichschaltungsgesetz, 31 March 1933), the first passed using the Enabling Act, dissolved the diets of all Länder except Prussia and ordered them reconstituted on the basis of the votes in the last Reichstag election (with the exception of Communist seats). It also gave the state governments the same powers the Reich government possessed under the Enabling Act.
- A "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 proconsul 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 trade union association ADGB (Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund) was shattered on 2 May 1933 (the day after Labour Day), when ADGB leaders were imprisoned and SA and NSBO units occupied union facilities. Other important associations, including trade unions, were dissolved and replaced by 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") (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 Gesetz über den Neuaufbau des Reiches ("Law concerning the reconstruction of the Reich") (30 January 1934) formally did away with the concept of a federalism, converting Germany into a highly centralized state. The states were reduced to mere provinces, as their institutions were practically abolished altogether. All of their powers passed to the central government. It can be argued that this law violated the Enabling Act, since it effectively neutered the Reichsrat, the representation of the Länder at the federal level. Article 2 of the Enabling Act stated that the institutions of both legislative chambers could not be altered. A law passed on 14 February formally abolished the Reichsrat. This law indisputably violated the Enabling Act, since Article 2 explicitly protected the existence of both chambers. However, there was no remedy for violations of Article 2, and no challenge was ever mounted in court.
- 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 (between 30 June and 2 July 1934). These measures received retroactive sanction in a special one-article Law Regarding Measures of State Self-Defense (Gesetz über Maßnahmen der Staatsnotwehr) (3 July 1934).
- The Law Concerning the Crowns of the Reich (1 August 1934) prescribed that upon the death of the incumbent monarchs, their powers would be merged with the offices of the chancellor and various Reichsstatthalter's, and that the competencies of the former should be transferred as the law stated. This law effectively made all monarchs in Germany strictly cerimonial. Like the law abolishing the Reichsrat, this law actually violated the Enabling Act, which specifically forbade Hitler from tampering with the monarchy. 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. From this point onward, Hitler can be described as the absolute dictator of Germany until his death in 1950.