Don’t do drugs, kids. But do give it up for whoever thought of the perfect double entendre title and cover for Norman Ohler’s Blitzed: Drug Use in the Third Reich.
This topic is definitely not something I’ve heard about in the history books, as they say, so perhaps it’s fitting that Ohler is not a historian buta novelist and journalist. His writing style is much more vivid and conjectural than what you’d expect from a typical history book, yet it’s still rooted in the historical record, which makes it all the more riveting. Who knew that the same German scientist who invented Aspirin also discovered heroin? And that the Nazis’ infamous blitzkrieg that toppled France was aided by the entire army being hopped up on meth?
Add to this the (more well-known) fact that Hitler was a morphine, cocaine, and oxycodone addict and needed several injections a day of vitamins, uppers, and animal proteins to keep going. This would explain his volatile mood swings, insatiable megalomania, and disconnection from reality toward the end. It would also explain why he was a terrible military strategist but an excellent demagogue and tyrant.
It doesn’t mean, however, as Ohler is clear to point out, that the drugs turned him into someone he wasn’t. The “pharmacological barricade” he erected around himself in his final years only ossified what was already there:
His drug use did not impinge on his freedom to make decisions. Hitler was always the master of his sense, and he knew exactly what he was doing. He acted always in an alert and cold-blooded way. Within his system, based from the beginning on intoxication and a flight from reality, he acted systematically and with terrible consistency to the end. He was anything but insane.
Highly recommended fast-paced, unorthodox history of a degenerate time and place.
Some informal book notes:
- Serturner derived morphine from thickened sap of opium poppies in 1805
- Merck began selling in 1827, and after injections invented in 1850 was used in Civil War
- Drinks containing morphine and cocaine available at drugstores
- Hoffman, chemist at Bayer Company, synthesized Aspirin from willow bark and heroin, a derivative of morphine
- With small operations and low overhead, business boomed especially in Germany, with high stock of engineers, chemists, and education system
- Germany lost colonial sources of stimulants after Versailles, so had to produce synthetic ones and soon became global leader
- The Nazis “hated drugs because they wanted to be a drug themselves”; stigmatized and severely punished drug use after 1933
- Hitler mythologized as anti-drug teetotaler without personal needs
- Strict anti-drug measures used to deepen surveillance state and prevent addicts from marrying so as not to reproduce faulty genes
- Jews depicted as pathogen or disease poisoning the Reich needing to be exterminated
- Celebrity doctor Morell pioneered use of vitamins mixed with stimulants; Hitler made him personal physician
- Inspired by US’s amphetamine Benzedrine at Berlin Olympic games, pharmacist Hauschild synthesized new methamphetamine Pervitin, like adrenalin but gentler and longer lasting
- Meth’s long lasting effects kill nerve cells, and once it runs out the hormones take weeks to resupply, leading to lack of drive and joylessness
- Pervitin became widely used, assumed safe; marketed as slimming agent because it curbed appetite (meth chocolates: “Hildebrand chocolates always delight”)
- Appeasement wouldn’t work because Hitler, a morphine addict, always needed more
- Morell revived Czech president Emil Hacha, who had a heart attack before signing papers of capitulation, so he could sign them
- According to studies Pervitin kept people from sleeping but didn’t make them cleverer, so it was considered ideal for soldiers
- Blitzkrieg in France fueled by meth, including Rommel; French and British unprepared for constant attack
- Propagated idea that Germans were superior beings reinforced by meth’s symptom of arrogance
- Hitler’s inferiority complex made him distrust success of smarter generals
- Luftwaffe’s Göring a morphine addict and felt victory shouldn’t be left to army, so convinced Hitler to halt Dunkirk advance
- “Gröfaz” German soldiers’ derogatory acronym for Nazi propaganda’s term for Hitler as “greatest commander of all time”
- Morell created new vitamin combo Vitamultin, which had unremarkable elements but was marketed solely to Hitler and generals; when Luftwaffe medical chief rejected them Morell got Goring to fire him
- Word about Pervitin spread in late 1940 and Reich health fuhrer Conti fought to have it eradicated under Reich opium law, but war needs made it essential
- Pervitin of no use on Russian front, which was attritional
- Hitler had “severed relations with geopolitical reality” by declaring war with US; out of touch in bunker
- Mid-1943 started taking Eukodal (oxycodone), twice as powerful as morphine, created euphoric state higher than heroin
- Hitler was doped up for Valkyrie explosion so didn’t have pain despite busted ear drums and splinters
- Giesing, ear nose throat specialist summoned after Valkyrie in July 1944, prescribed cocaine, which “erases self-doubt and encourages megalomania”
- Hitler consented to full-body examination to get more cocaine from reluctant Giesing
- Erected “pharmacological barricade” around himself, within “deluded totalitarian system”
- “His drug use did not impinge on his freedom to make decisions. Hitler was always the master of his sense, and he knew exactly what he was doing. He acted always in an alert and cold-blooded way. Within his system, based from the beginning on intoxication and a flight from reality, he acted systematically and with terrible consistency to the end. He was anything but insane.”
- Used death camp prisoners to test new endurance pills and cocaine-spiked gum, kept awake and marching
- Started running out of supplies and withdrawing in early 1945