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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 Nazi party's desire for total control required the elimination of all other forms 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. 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"). Girls remained in the BDM until age 18 and then joined 'Glaube und Schönheit' ("Faith and Beauty"); here they remained until the age of 21, when they were sent to serve their 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.
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. In this sense, the term was used by the Nazis themselves.
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:
However, because of the Nazi associations of the term, its use for these physical meanings has largely been abandoned since the war
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