Blitzed; Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler & Shaum Whiteside, trans. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.
The National Socialists preached an ideology of physical, mental, and moral purity. The Party was intent upon separating itself from the excesses of the preceding Weimar decade. But there was an extensive use of drugs in the Third Reich and Norman Ohler has documented this in his study of drug use in Germany during the war years. Various addictive drugs were consumed by the German public: cocaine, opiates, and most commonly methamphetamines – “uppers.” They were supplied by a growing German pharmaceutical industry. Two companies are familiar to us – Merck and Bayer. There were others as well.
A distinction was made between drug addictions and, on the other hand, prescription drugs that helped maintain one’s stamina and focus – socially useful objectives – even though they often involved the same generic drug. Drug addicts were considered criminals and sent to prison.
The Nazi regime required detailed record keeping of both populations. Hence Norman Ohler had access to the drug regime of “Patient A” – Adolf Hitler – as prescribed by his personal physician, Dr. Theodor Morell.
Those Germans who used these addictive drugs regularly did so because it improved their energy level and made them more confident of themselves. The author speculates on how drugs might have affected Adolf Hitler’s decision-making. What persuaded Hitler that he was a better commander of the German Wehrmacht than its generals? Was it an overly-stimulated self-confidence that convinced Hitler to order a halt in the German offensive in France in May 1940, allowing 338,000 British soldiers to escape at Dunkirk? Confused, Hitler had decided that he was losing control of the German military command, that his generals were overshadowing him. Might it have been a variance in how the drug cocktails that he was taking and the confidence they generated? Perhaps a bad drug day?
Norman Ohler believes that some of the stamina that the German troops showed in their drive through the Low Countries and northern France was because they had been issued drugs to prevent battle fatigue and even hunger. Those motorcyclists and tank crews that you see racing across France and Belgium had been issued a drug, Pervitin, which was the trade name for methamphetamine.
Army doctors, however, were already beginning to see some adverse side effects of drug use by German soldiers; particularly speeding up the heartbeat. Pervitin was made subject to the Reich opium regulations in June 1942. Under pressure the administrative ruling was reversed; the drug was declared ‘crucial to the war effort.’
Hitler was given the full pill regime regularly. Morell prescribed as many as 28 pills a day, plus several prophylactic injections. Ohler counted 90 different pills over the months when Hitler spent most of his time in a bunker in eastern Poland from whence he oversaw the invasion of Russia and then the retreat after Stalingrad. His drugs were telling him one thing; the Russian armies another. Would the war on the Eastern Front have been conducted differently had Hitler been in his ‘right mind?’ Would Hitler have declared war on the US in December 1941, following Pearl Harbor?
Hitler decided that he could not face the reality of meeting with Benito Mussolini in Salzburg in 1943 without swallowing Eukodal pills, an opiate (Oxycodone). The result was that Mussolini had to listen to a three-hour long speech by the “peppered up” Führer. Though likely Hitler, without narcotics, was more difficult to deal with than his fueled and often unrealistic optimism.
On 20 July 1944, a group of German army officers attempted to assassinate Hitler. Patient A’s file card indicated that he was ‘full of beans’ that day from an injection. Hitler survived, but his hearing was damaged by the bomb blast. A specialist called in to examine his ears was appalled to learn that Hitler was being maintained by his personal physician on drugs and injections. Thus began what the author calls the Doctors’ War.
Was Hitler’s growing megalomania and physical decline due to his drug-taking? Once revealed by the Doctors’ War, his Nazi colleagues became concerned about the hold which Dr. Morell’s pills had on Hitler. The drowsiness. The shuffle. The trembling. What was Morell doing to their Hitler?
Morell could stage-manage Hitler for shorter and shorter periods of time. Moreover, the supply line for these pills had been cut. Morell was running out of pills, and Hitler was showing symptoms of withdrawal.
Some authors have suggested that these were symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Norman Ohler thinks it far more likely that those symptoms were the result of the cocktail of drugs that he was taking. Doctor’s orders!