Inside the Drug Use That Fueled Nazi Germany

Inside the Drug Use That Fueled Nazi Germany



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In his bestselling book, “Der Totale Rausch” (The Total Rush)—recently published in English as “Blitzed”—Ohler found that many in the Nazi regime used drugs regularly, from the soldiers of the Wehrmacht (German armed forces) all the way up to Hitler himself. The use of methamphetamine, better known as crystal meth, was particularly prevalent: A pill form of the drug, Pervitin, was distributed by the millions to Wehrmacht troops before the successful invasion of France in 1940.

Developed by the Temmler pharmaceutical company, based in Berlin, Pervitin was introduced in 1938 and marketed as a magic pill for alertness and an anti-depressive, among other uses. It was briefly even available over the counter. A military doctor, Otto Ranke, experimented with Pervitin on 90 college students and decided, based on his results, that the drug would help Germany win the war. Using Pervitin, the soldiers of the Wehrmacht could stay awake for days at a time and march many more miles without resting.

A so-called “stimulant decree” issued in April 1940 sent more than 35 million tablets of Pervitin and Isophan (a slightly modified version produced by the Knoll pharmaceutical company) of the pills to the front lines, where they fueled the Nazis’ “Blitzkrieg” invasion of France through the Ardennes mountains. It should be noted that Germans were not alone in their use of performance-enhancing drugs during World War II. Allied soldiers were known to use amphetamines (speed) in the form of Benzedrine in order to battle combat fatigue.

When it came to Nazi leaders, Ohler’s research suggested, they all favored their own particular drugs of choice. In an interview with VICE when his book was first published in Germany, Ohler clarified: “Not all of them took every drug. Some more, some less. Some of them were on methamphetamine—for example, Ernst Udet, the Chief of Aircraft Procurement and Supply. Others were on strong anesthetics, like Göring, whose nickname was actually ‘Möring,’ from morphine.”

Ohler, an award-winning novelist and screenwriter, had initially planned to write a novel about the Nazis’ long-rumored drug use. But his plans changed when he found the detailed records left by Dr. Theodor Morell, Hitler’s personal physician. He ended up spending years studying Morell’s records in the Federal Archive in Koblenz, the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich and the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and deciding to focus on fact instead of fiction.

Morell, a shady minor figure in previous biographies and histories of Hitler’s regime, reportedly met the Führer after treating Heinrich Hoffmann, the official Reich photographer. After Morell prescribed a bacteria-based medication that helped Hitler’s intestinal troubles, they began a devoted, mutually dependent relationship that would last for more than nine years. During this time, Morell’s notes show, the doctor injected Hitler almost daily with various drugs, including amphetamines, barbiturates and opiates.

Thanks to his association with Hitler, Morell was able to amass a roster of high-status clients in Nazi Germany; his letterhead proclaimed him as the “Führer’s Personal Physician.” He even acquired a large Czech company (previously Jewish-owned) in order to mass-produce vitamin and hormone remedies using various unsavory animal parts, including bulls’ testicles.

Though Hitler may not have used Pervitin, it would have been one of very few substances he didn’t try. According to Ohler, Morell’s personal notes suggest he gave Hitler some 800 injections over the years, notably including frequent doses of Eukodal, the German brand name for the synthetic opiate oxycodone. Later in the war, when things started to go badly for the Axis, Morell reportedly gave Hitler his first dose of Eukodal before an important meeting with the Italian leader Benito Mussolini, among others, in July 1943. By the spring of 1945, shortly before Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker along with his new wife, Eva Braun (also a patient of Morell’s), Ohler concluded the Führer was likely suffering from withdrawal due to Morell’s inability to find drugs in the devastated city.

Ohler has stressed that his book doesn’t seek to blame the Nazis’ war crimes on their use of drugs. Though his research suggests some of Hitler’s during the war could have related to the drugs he was taking, he points out that the foundations for the horrific Final Solution, for example, were laid out in Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” and the implementation of related policies began in the 1930s, before the heavy drug use began.

Watch a preview of Nazis on Drugs: Hitler and the Blitzkrieg. Premieres Sunday, July 21 at 9/8c.


Before the First World War, the collaborative research efforts of the German university system and German corporations enabled the German corporate sector as a whole to obtain a virtual worldwide monopoly on drugs whose production required chemical expertise and industrial capacity. This research was fueled by revenues from the sale of morphine, an alkaloid found in opium, first identified by a German chemist in the early 19th century and patented by Merck soon afterward. German pharmaceutical companies' work with morphine and its derivatives found particular success in using them as pain relievers and cough suppressants, with Bayer eventually recognizing the potency of heroin, which was legal in Germany at the time (and until the 1950s, before which it was banned only in Asia and the United States). [1] During the era of the German Empire, consolidated in the late 1860s and early 1870s, the German government's militaristic inclinations prompted it to add financial support to research in sectors including pharmaceuticals and optimization of industrial processes. [1]

The unprecedented casualties of World War I brought the need for treatment of acute and chronic pain, the means of treating that pain, and the side effects of that treatment, including opioid dependence, to the forefront of public consciousness. [ citation needed ]

The German populace's experience during and after the First World War inspired the Weimar and Nazi governments to adopt an attitude of tolerance toward the use of drugs to relieve pain, increase performance, and avoid withdrawal. Most drugs were permitted either universally or for individuals with a medical prescription. Many of the drug addicts in 1920s and 1930s Germany were First World War veterans who required addictive drugs for pain relief and/or medical personnel who had access to such drugs. During the Weimar era, addiction was seen as a curable disease. Following the advent of Nazism, addiction continued to be viewed as curable for all. [ clarification needed ] Among members of such groups, symptoms of drug addiction were often attributed to other conditions, which themselves were often pseudoscientifically diagnosed even when addiction was recognized as such, Nazi physicians often viewed it as incurable in light of what they believed to be an inherent predisposition or weakness [1]

Drug use in the German military during World War II was actively encouraged and widespread, especially during the war's later stages as the Wehrmacht became depleted and increasingly dependent on youth as opposed to experience. [2]

Stimulants Edit

In an effort to make its front-line soldiers and fighter pilots fight longer, harder, and with less concern for individual safety, the German army ordered them to take military-issue pills made from methamphetamine and a primarily cocaine-based stimulant. After Pervitin, a methamphetamine drug newly developed by the Berlin-based Temmler pharmaceutical company, first entered the civilian market in 1938, it quickly became a top seller among the German population. The drug was brought to the attention of Otto Friedrich Ranke, a military doctor and director of the Institute for General and Defense Physiology at Berlin's Academy of Military Medicine. [3] The effects of amphetamines are similar to those of the adrenaline produced by the body, triggering a heightened state of alertness. In most people, the substance increases self-confidence, concentration, and willingness to take risks while at the same time reducing sensitivity to pain, hunger, and the need for sleep. In September 1939, Ranke tested the drug on 90 university students and concluded that Pervitin could help the Wehrmacht win the war. Cocaine, whose effects substantially overlap with those of amphetamine but feature greater euphoria, was later added to the formulation to increase its potency through the multiplicative effects of drug interaction and to reinforce its use by individuals.

Alcohol Edit

At the start of World War II, alcohol consumption was widespread among members of the Wehrmacht. At first, high-ranking officials encouraged its use as a means of relaxation and a crude method of mitigating the psychological effects of combat, in the latter case through what later scientific developments would describe as blocking the consolidation of traumatic memories. After the Fall of France, however, Wehrmacht commanders observed that their soldiers' behavior was deteriorating, with "fights, accidents, mistreatment of subordinates, violence against superior officers and 'crimes involving unnatural sexual acts'" becoming more frequent. [3] The Commander-in-Chief of the German military, General Walther von Brauchitsch, concluded that his troops were committing "most serious infractions" of morality and discipline, and that the culprit was alcohol abuse. In response, Hitler attempted to curb the reckless use of alcohol in the military, promising severe punishment for soldiers who exhibited public drunkenness or otherwise "allow[ed] themselves to be tempted to engage in criminal acts as a result of alcohol abuse." Serious offenders could expect "a humiliating death." [3] This revised policy accompanied an increase in Nazi Party disapproval of alcohol use in the civilian sector, reflecting an extension to alcohol of the longstanding Nazi condemnation of tobacco consumption as diminishing the strength and purity of the "Aryan race." [1] [3] [4] [5]

Adolf Hitler, the Third Reich's head of state and government until his suicide shortly before the war's end, is believed [ citation needed ] to have been addicted to drugs that were initially prescribed to treat his chronic medical conditions. After Doctor Theodor Morell prescribed cultures of live bacteria, Hitler's digestive ailments eased, and Hitler made him his primary physician. Dr Morell's popularity [ clarification needed ] skyrocketed, and he was sarcastically dubbed by Göring "The Reichsmaster of the Injections." Dr. Morell went on to prescribe powder cocaine to soothe Hitler's throat and clear his sinuses. [6] [7]

According to Norman Ohler in his 2016 book Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany, when Hitler's drug supplies ran out by the end of the war, he suffered severe withdrawal from serotonin and dopamine, paranoia, psychosis, rotting teeth, extreme shaking, kidney failure and delusion. [8]

Hermann Göring, Hitler's closest aide, had served in the Luftstreitkräfte during World War I and suffered a severe hip injury during combat. He became seriously addicted to the morphine that was prescribed to him in order to relieve the pain which resulted from this injury and the gunshot wound, variously described as a thigh or groin injury, that he sustained while taking part in the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. In 1925, after consulting his wife, he entered a Swedish mental hospital for detoxification and treatment. [4] [9] When Göring was captured near the end of the war, he was found to be addicted to dihydrocodeine and was subsequently weaned off it.

After the war, Pervitin remained easily accessible, both on the black market and as a prescription drug. Doctors prescribed it to patients as an appetite suppressant or they prescribed it in order to improve the moods of patients who were struggling with depression. Students, especially medical students, turned to the stimulant because it enabled them to review more information through the night and finish their studies faster. [10] The drug was removed from the medical supplies of East and West Germany in the 1970s and 1980s respectively, and following German reunification it was deemed illegal in the entire country. Today, a different form of the drug, crystal methamphetamine, has become popular throughout Europe and the United States despite governmental prohibition and eradication efforts.


"Drugged, fearless and berserk"

The German methamphetamine Pervitin was initially marketed in the 1930s as a recreational pick-me-up, and scientists were experimenting with Pervitin before the war to see how long student users could stay awake and still perform well on exams, said World War II historian and documentary consultant James Holland.

By 1940, Pervitin was widely distributed among pilots in the Luftwaffe (the Nazi air force) to prime them for the rigors of long missions, or to ward off sleeplessness and hunger if their planes were shot down, Holland told Live Science

That was the year of the Blitz — the Nazis' relentless and devastating bombing attack against Britain — an initiative fueled by massive quantities of speed, Holland said.

Records from the British War Office estimated that over the three months of the Blitz — from April to June 1940 — about 35 million Pervitin tablets were sent to 3 million German soldiers, seamen and pilots, Nicolas Rasmussen, a professor in the School of Humanities and Languages at the University of New South Wales in Australia, reported in 2011 in The Journal of Interdisciplinary History.

Following this infusion of drugs, Wehrmacht soldiers (as the troops in Nazi Germany were called) marched and fought for 10 consecutive days, trapping and defeating the British army at Dunkirk in a decisive military victory, PBS representatives said in the statement.

In Britain, rumors swirled about dive-bombing Nazi pilots with a superhuman resistance to g-forces through drugs, and newspapers described sightings of German paratroopers who were "heavily drugged, fearless and berserk," according to Rasmussen. ['Breaking Bad': 6 Strange Meth Facts]


Nazi Drugs: The Poison In Germany’s Veins

Georg Pahl/German Federal Archives Drug users purchase cocaine on the streets of Berlin, 1924.

Although he would later usher the Third Reich into a period of heavy drug usage, Adolf Hitler first used a radical anti-drug platform to seize control of the state.

This platform was part and parcel of a broader campaign built upon anti-establishment rhetoric. At that time, the establishment was the Weimar Republic, the unofficial name that Hitler had coined for the German regime that ruled between 1919 and 1933 and that had grown economically dependent on pharmaceuticals — specifically cocaine and heroin.

To give you an idea of this dependency’s scale, the year before the victors of World War I compelled the republic to sign the treaty of the International Opium Convention in 1929, Berlin alone produced 200 tons of opiates.

In fact, Germany was responsible for 40 percent of global morphine production between 1925 and 1930 (cocaine was a similar story), according to Ohler. All in all, with their economy largely wrecked by World War I, the Weimar Republic had become the world’s drug dealer.

Pinterest A 1927 German film poster warns of the dangers of cocaine, opium, and morphine.

Hitler wasn’t a fan of it. A teetotaler who wouldn’t even drink coffee because of the caffeine, Hitler avoided all drugs. Famously, he reportedly never smoked again after throwing a pack of cigarettes into a river at the end of World War I.

When Hitler and the Nazis took control of Germany in 1933, they began extending Hitler’s no-poison-philosophy to the country as a whole. The Nazis had their work cut out for them, however. Describing the state of the country at the time of Hitler’s rise, German author Klaus Mann wrote:

“Berlin night life, oh boy, oh boy, the world has never seen the like! We used to have a great army, now we’ve got great perversities!”

So the Nazis did what they did best, and combined their anti-drug efforts with their signature practice of accusing those they didn’t like — particularly those of Jewish descent — of being the ones stabbing Germany in the back.

Nazis thus used propaganda to associate addicts with these subjugated groups, coupled with harsh laws — one of the first laws the Reichstag passed in 1933 allowed the imprisonment of addicts for up to two years, extendable indefinitely — and new secret police divisions to bolster their anti-drug efforts.

Ernst Hiemer/Norman Ohler. An illustration from The Poisonous Mushroom as presented in Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany.

The Nazis also threw medical confidentiality out the window and required doctors to refer any person with a narcotics prescription lasting longer than two weeks to the state. The Nazis then cut off those who passed the ethnicity test cold turkey and imprisoned those who did not, sending them to concentration camps. Repeat offenders suffered the same fate.

On the surface, this large-scale shift away from rampant drug dependency looked like a Nazi-induced miracle. Of course, it only lasted until Hitler had his first taste of Pervitin.


How Methamphetamine Became a Key Part of Nazi Military Strategy

I n The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote that speed is &ldquothe essence of war.&rdquo While he of course did not have amphetamines in mind, he would no doubt have been impressed by their powerful war-facilitating psychoactive effects. Amphetamines&mdashoften called &ldquopep pills,&rdquo &ldquogo pills,&rdquo &ldquouppers&rdquo or &ldquospeed&rdquo&mdashare a group of synthetic drugs that stimulate the central nervous system, reducing fatigue and appetite and increasing wakefulness and a sense of well-being. The quintessential drug of the modern industrial age, amphetamines arrived relatively late in the history of mind-altering substances&mdashcommercialized just in time for mass consumption during World War II by the leading industrial powers. That war was not only the most destructive war in human history but also the most pharmacologically enhanced. It was literally sped up by speed.

Few drugs have received a bigger stimulus from war. As Lester Grinspoon and Peter Hedblom wrote in their classic 1975 study The Speed Culture, &ldquoWorld War II probably gave the greatest impetus to date to legal medically authorized as well as illicit black market abuse of these pills on a worldwide scale.&rdquo

Japanese, American and British forces consumed large amounts of amphetamines, but the Germans were the most enthusiastic early adopters, pioneering pill-popping on the battlefield during the initial phases of the war.

Nazi ideology was fundamentalist in its antidrug stance. Social use of drugs was considered both a sign of personal weakness and a symbol of the country&rsquos moral decay in the wake of a traumatic and humiliating defeat in World War I.

But as Norman Ohler shows in Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany, methamphetamine was the privileged exception. While other drugs were banned or discouraged, methamphetamine was touted as a miracle product when it appeared on the market in the late 1930s. Indeed, the little pill was the perfect Nazi drug: &ldquoGermany, awake!&rdquo the Nazis had commanded. Energizing and confidence boosting, methamphetamine played into the Third Reich&rsquos obsession with physical and mental superiority. In sharp contrast to drugs such as heroin or alcohol, methamphetamines were not about escapist pleasure. Rather, they were taken for hyper-alertness and vigilance. Aryans, who were the embodiment of human perfection in Nazi ideology, could now even aspire to be superhuman&mdashand such superhumans could be turned into supersoldiers. &ldquoWe don&rsquot need weak people,&rdquo Hitler declared, &ldquowe want only the strong!&rdquo Weak people took drugs such as opium to escape strong people took methamphetamine to feel even stronger.

The German chemist Friedrich Hauschild had been aware of the American amphetamine Benzedrine ever since the drug has been used as a doping product in the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936. The following year he managed to synthesize methamphetamine, a close cousin of amphetamine, while working for Temmler-Werke, a Berlin-based pharmaceutical company. Temmler-Werke began selling methamphetamine under the brand name Pervitin in the winter of 1937. Partly thanks to the company&rsquos aggressive advertising campaign, Pervitin became well known within a few months. The tablets were wildly popular and could be purchased without a prescription in pharmacies. One could even buy boxed chocolates spiked with methamphetamine. But the drug&rsquos most important use was yet to come.

Dr. Otto F. Ranke, director of the Research Institute of Defense Physiology, had high hopes that Pervitin would prove advantageous on the battlefield. His goal was to defeat the enemy with chemically enhanced soldiers, soldiers who could give Germany a military edge by fighting harder and longer than their opponents. After testing the drug on a group of medical officers, Ranke believed the Pervitin would be &ldquoan excellent substance for rousing a weary squad&hellipWe may grasp what far-reaching military significance it would have if we managed to remove the natural tiredness using medical methods.&rdquo

Ranke himself was a daily user, as detailed in his wartime medical diary and letters: &ldquoWith Pervitin you can go on working for 36 to 50 hours without feeling any noticeable fatigue.&rdquo This allowed Ranke to work days at a time with no sleep. And his correspondence indicated that a growing number of officers were doing the same thing&mdashpopping pills to manage the demands of their jobs.

Wehrmacht medical officers administered Pervitin to soldiers of the Third Tank Division during the occupation of Czecholslovakia in 1938. But the invasion of Poland in September 1939 served as the first real military test of the drug in the field. Germany overran its eastern neighbor by October, with 100,000 Polish soldiers killed in the attack. The invasion introduced a new form of industrialized warfare, Blitzkrieg. This &ldquolightning war&rdquo emphasized speed and surprise, catching the enemy off guard by the unprecedented quickness of the mechanized attack and advance. The weak link in the Blitzkrieg strategy was the soldiers, who were humans rather than machines and as such suffered from fatigue. They required regular rest and sleep, which, of course, slowed down the military advance. That is where Pervitin came in&mdashpart of the speed of the Blitzkrieg literally came from speed. As medical historian Peter Steinkamp puts it, &ldquoBlitzkrieg was guided by methamphetamine. If not to say that Blitzkrieg was founded on methamphetamine.&rdquo

In late 1939 and early 1940, Leo Conti, the &ldquoReich Health Führer,&rdquo and others sounded the alarm bells about the risk of Pervitin, resulting in the drug being made available by prescription only. But these warnings largely fell on deaf ears, and the new regulations were widely ignored. Use of the drug continued to grow. At the Temmler-Werke factory, production revved into overdrive, pressing as many as 833,000 tablets per day. Between April and July 1940, German servicemen received more than 35 million methamphetamine tablets. The drug was even dispensed to pilots and tank crews in the form of chocolate bars known as Fliegerschokolade (flyer&rsquos chocolate) and Panzerschokolade (tanker&rsquos chocolate).

Armies had long consumed various psychoactive substances, but this was the first large-scale use of a synthetic performance-enhancing drug. Historian Shelby Stanton comments: &ldquoThey dispensed it to the line troops. Ninety percent of their army had to march on foot, day and night. It was more important for them to keep punching during the Blitzkrieg than to get a good night&rsquos sleep. The whole damn army was hopped up. It was one of the secrets of Blitzkrieg.&rdquo

The Blitzkreig depended on speed, relentlessly pushing ahead with tank troops, day and night. In April 1940, it quickly led to the fall of Denmark and Norway. The next month, the troops moved on to Holland, Belgium, and finally France. German tanks covered 240 miles of challenging terrain, including the Ardennes Forest, in 11 days, bypassing the entrenched British and French forced who had mistakenly assumed the Ardennes was impassable. Paratroopers sometimes landed ahead of the advance, causing chaos behind enemy lines the British press described these soldiers as &ldquoheavily drugged, fearless and berserk.&rdquo

General Heinz Guderian, an expert in tank warfare and leader of the invasion, gave the order to speed ahead to the French border: &ldquoI demand that you go sleepless for at least three nights if that should be necessary.&rdquo When they crossed into France, French reinforcements had yet to arrive, and their defenses were overwhelmed by the German attack.

&ldquoI was dumbfounded,&rdquo Churchill wrote in his memoirs. &ldquoI had never expected to have to face&hellipthe overrunning of the whole communications and countryside by an irresistible incursion of armoured vehicles&hellipI admit it was one of the greatest surprises I have had in my life.&rdquo The speed of the attack was jaw-dropping. High on Pervitin, German tank and artillery drivers covered ground night and day, almost without stopping. Foreign commanders and civilians alike were caught entirely off guard.

Some users reported negative side effects of the drug. During the French invasion, these included a lieutenant colonel with the Panzer Ersatz Division I, who experienced heart pains after taking Pervitin four times daily for as many weeks the commander of the Twelfth Tank Division, who rushed to a military hospital due to the heart attacked he suffered an hour after taking one pill and several officers who suffered heart attacks while off duty after taking Pervitin.

Amid growing worries about the addictive potential and negative side effects of overusing the drug, the German military began to cut back on allocations of methamphetamines by the end of 1940. Consumption declined sharply in 1941 and 1942, when the medical establishment formally acknowledged that amphetamines were addictive.

Nevertheless, the drug continued to be dispensed on both the western and eastern fronts. Temmler-Wenke, the maker of the drug, remained as profitable as ever, despite rising awareness of the negative health effects.


High Hitler: how Nazi drug abuse steered the course of history

T he German writer Norman Ohler lives on the top floor of a 19th-century apartment building on the south bank of the river Spree in Kreuzberg, Berlin. Visiting him there is a vertiginous experience. For one thing, he works – and likes to entertain visitors – in what he calls his “writing tower”, a flimsy-seeming, glass-walled turret perched right on the very edge of the roof. (Look down, if you dare, and you will see his little boat moored far below.) For another, there is the fact that from this vantage point it is possible to discern two Berlins, one thrusting and breezy, the other spectral and grey. To our left, busy with traffic, is the Oberbaum Bridge, where there was once a cold war checkpoint, and beyond it the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall, its doleful length rudely interrupted by the block of luxury flats that went up in 2013. As for the large building immediately opposite, these days it’s the home of Universal Music. Not so very long ago, however, it was the GDR’s egg storage facility.

Does all this press on Ohler as he sits at his desk, the light bouncing off the screen of his laptop? Is it ghostly sometimes? “Yes, it is strange,” he says, smiling at my giddiness. But then he has long believed in a certain kind of time travel. “I remember the 90s. The wall had just come down, and I was experimenting with party drugs like ecstasy and LSD. The techno scene had started up, and there were all these empty buildings in the east where the youth [from east and west] would meet for the first time. They were hardcore, some of those guys from the east – they didn’t understand foreigners at all – and the ecstasy helped them to lose some of their hatred and suspicion. Sometimes, then, you could step into a room, and you could just see the past. Of course, it’s not like that now. I don’t take drugs any more. But I can remember it, and maybe that was why I was able to write this book.”

Norman Ohler photographed in Berlin last week. Photograph: MalteJaeger/laif

The book in question is The Total Rush – or, to use its superior English title, Blitzed – which reveals the astonishing and hitherto largely untold story of the Third Reich’s relationship with drugs, including cocaine, heroin, morphine and, above all, methamphetamines (aka crystal meth), and of their effect not only on Hitler’s final days – the Führer, by Ohler’s account, was an absolute junkie with ruined veins by the time he retreated to the last of his bunkers – but on the Wehrmacht’s successful invasion of France in 1940. Published in Germany last year, where it became a bestseller, it has since been translated into 18 languages, a fact that delights Ohler, but also amazes him.

It’s not only that he is – as Der Spiegel helpfully pointed out – a non-historian (the author of three novels and the co-writer of the Wim Wenders film Palermo Shooting, this is his first work of nonfiction). It’s that there was anything new to be said at all. Arrange all the books that have been written about the Nazis end to end and they’d be longer than the Spree.

“I guess drugs weren’t a priority for the historians,” he says. “A crazy guy like me had to come along.” Still, crazy or not, he has done a remarkable job. If Blitzed is gripping, it is also convincing. Ian Kershaw, the British historian who is probably the world’s leading authority on Hitler and Nazi Germany, has described it as “a serious piece of scholarship”.

Unlikely as it sounds, it was Ohler’s friend, the Berlin DJ Alexander Kramer, who first put him on to the idea. “He’s like a medium for that time,” says Ohler. “He has this huge library, and he knows all the music from the 20s. One night he said to me: ‘Do you know the massive role drugs played in National Socialism?’ I told him that I didn’t, but that it sounded true – and I knew immediately it would be the subject of my next book.”

His plan was to write a novel, but with his first visit to the archives that changed completely. There he found the papers of Dr Theodor Morell, Hitler’s personal physician, previously only a minor character in most studies of the Führer. “I knew then that this was already better than fiction.” In the months that followed, supported by the late, great German historian of the Third Reich Hans Mommsen, Ohler travelled from archive to archive, carefully gathering his material – and how much of it there was! He didn’t use half of what he found. “Look at this,” he says, jumping up. When he returns, in his hand is a copy of a letter from Martin Bormann, Hitler’s private secretary, in which he suggests that the “medication” Morell is giving the Führer needs to be regulated for the sake of his increasingly wobbly health.

The story Ohler tells begins in the days of the Weimar Republic, when Germany’s pharmaceutical industry was thriving – the country was a leading exporter both of opiates, such as morphine, and of cocaine – and drugs were available on every street corner. It was during this period that Hitler’s inner circle established an image of him as an unassailable figure who was willing to work tirelessly on behalf of his country, and who would permit no toxins – not even coffee – to enter his body.

“He is all genius and body,” reported one of his allies in 1930. “And he mortifies that body in a way that would shock people like us! He doesn’t drink, he practically only eats vegetables, and he doesn’t touch women.” No wonder that when the Nazis seized power in 1933, “seductive poisons” were immediately outlawed. In the years that followed, drug users would be deemed “criminally insane” some would be killed by the state using a lethal injection others would be sent to concentration camps. Drug use also began to be associated with Jews. The Nazi party’s office of racial purity claimed that the Jewish character was essentially drug-dependent. Both needed to be eradicated from Germany.

Some drugs, however, had their uses, particularly in a society hell bent on keeping up with the energetic Hitler (“Germany awake!” the Nazis ordered, and the nation had no choice but to snap to attention). A substance that could “integrate shirkers, malingerers, defeatists and whiners” into the labour market might even be sanctioned. At a company called Temmler in Berlin, Dr Fritz Hauschild, its head chemist, inspired by the successful use of the American amphetamine Benzedrine at the 1936 Olympic Games, began trying to develop his own wonder drug – and a year later, he patented the first German methyl-amphetamine. Pervitin, as it was known, quickly became a sensation, used as a confidence booster and performance enhancer by everyone from secretaries to actors to train drivers (initially, it could be bought without prescription). It even made its way into confectionery. “Hildebrand chocolates are always a delight,” went the slogan. Women were recommended to eat two or three, after which they would be able to get through their housework in no time at all – with the added bonus that they would also lose weight, given the deleterious effect Pervitin had on the appetite. Ohler describes it as National Socialism in pill form.

Workers at the Temmler factory in Berlin produced 35m tablets of Pervitin for the German army and Luftwaffe in 1940. Photograph: Temmler Pharma GmbH & Co KG, Marburg

Naturally, it wasn’t long before soldiers were relying on it too. In Blitzed, Ohler reproduces a letter sent in 1939 by Heinrich Böll, the future Nobel laureate, from the frontline to his parents back at home, in which he begs them for Pervitin, the only way he knew to fight the great enemy – sleep. In Berlin, it was the job of Dr Otto Ranke, the director of the Institute for General and Defence Physiology, to protect the Wehrmacht’s “animated machines” – ie its soldiers – from wear, and after conducting some tests he concluded that Pervitin was indeed excellent medicine for exhausted soldiers. Not only did it make sleep unnecessary (Ranke, who would himself become addicted to the drug, observed that he could work for 50 hours on Pervitin without feeling fatigued), it also switched off inhibitions, making fighting easier, or at any rate less terrifying.

In 1940, as plans were made to invade France through the Ardennes mountains, a “stimulant decree” was sent out to army doctors, recommending that soldiers take one tablet per day, two at night in short sequence, and another one or two tablets after two or three hours if necessary. The Wehrmacht ordered 35m tablets for the army and Luftwaffe, and the Temmler factory increased production. The likes of Böll, it’s fair to say, wouldn’t need to ask their parents for Pervitin again.

Was Blitzkrieg, then, largely the result of the Wehrmacht’s reliance on crystal meth? How far is Ohler willing to go with this? He smiles. “Well, Mommsen always told me not to be mono-causal. But the invasion of France was made possible by the drugs. No drugs, no invasion. When Hitler heard about the plan to invade through Ardennes, he loved it [the allies were massed in northern Belgium]. But the high command said: it’s not possible, at night we have to rest, and they [the allies] will retreat and we will be stuck in the mountains. But then the stimulant decree was released, and that enabled them to stay awake for three days and three nights. Rommel [who then led one of the panzer divisions] and all those tank commanders were high – and without the tanks, they certainly wouldn’t have won.”

Pervitin: Nazi Germany’s drug of choice.

Thereafter, drugs were regarded as an effective weapon by high command, one that could be deployed against the greatest odds. In 1944-45, for instance, when it was increasingly clear that victory against the allies was all but impossible, the German navy developed a range of one-man U-boats the fantastical idea was that these pint-sized submarines would make their way up the Thames estuary. But since they could only be used if the lone marines piloting them could stay awake for days at a time, Dr Gerhard Orzechowski, the head pharmacologist of the naval supreme command on the Baltic, had no choice but to begin working on the development of a new super-medication – a cocaine chewing gum that would be the hardest drug German soldiers had ever taken. It was tested at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, on a track used to trial new shoe soles for German factories prisoners were required to walk – and walk – until they dropped.

“It was crazy, horrifying,” says Ohler, quietly. “Even Mommsen was shocked by this. He had never heard about it before.” The young marines, strapped in their metal boxes, unable to move at all and cut off from the outside world, suffered psychotic episodes as the drugs took hold, and frequently got lost, at which point the fact that they could stay awake for up to seven days became irrelevant. “It was unreal,” says Ohler. “This wasn’t reality. But if you’re fighting an enemy bigger than yourself, you have no choice. You must, somehow, exceed your own strength. That’s why terrorists use suicide bombers. It’s an unfair weapon. If you’re going to send a bomb into a crowd of civilians, of course you’re going to have a success.”

Meanwhile, in Berlin, Hitler was experiencing his own unreality, with his only ally in the world his podgy, insecure personal physician, Dr Morell. In the late 20s, Morell had grown a thriving private practice in Berlin, his reputation built on the modish vitamin injections he liked to give his patients. He met Hitler after he treated Heinrich Hoffman, the official Reich photographer, and sensing an opportunity quickly ingratiated himself with the Führer, who had long suffered from severe intestinal pains. Morell prescribed Mutaflor, a preparation based on bacteria, and when his patient’s condition – Patient A, as Hitler was thereafter known – began to improve, their codependent relationship began. Both were isolated. Hitler increasingly trusted no one but his doctor, while Morell relied solely on the Führer for his position.

When Hitler fell seriously ill in 1941, however, the vitamin injections that Morell had counted on no longer had any effect – and so he began to ramp things up. First, there were injections of animal hormones for this most notorious of vegetarians, and then a whole series of ever stronger medications until, at last, he began giving him a “wonder drug” called Eukodal, a designer opiate and close cousin of heroin whose chief characteristic was its potential to induce a euphoric state in the patient (today it is known as oxycodone). It wasn’t long before Hitler was receiving injections of Eukodal several times a day. Eventually he would combine it with twice daily doses of the high grade cocaine he had originally been prescribed for a problem with his ears, following an explosion in the Wolf’s Lair, his bunker on the eastern front.

Did Morell deliberately turn Hitler into an addict? Or was he simply powerless to resist the Führer’s addictive personality? “I don’t think it was deliberate,” says Ohler. “But Hitler trusted him. When those around him tried to remove Morell in the fall of 1944, Hitler stood up for him – though by then, he knew that if he was to go, he [Hitler] would be finished. They got along very well. Morell loved to give injections, and Hitler liked to have them. He didn’t like pills because of his weak stomach and he wanted a quick effect. He was time-pressed he thought he was going to die young.” When did Hitler realise he was an addict? “Quite late. Someone quotes him as saying to Morell: you’ve been giving me opiates all the time. But mostly, they talked about it in oblique terms. Hitler didn’t like to refer to the Eukodal. Maybe he was trying to block it off from his mind. And like any dealer, Morell was never going to say: yeah, you’re addicted, and I have something to feed that for you.” So he talked in terms of health rather than addiction? “Yes, exactly.”

The effect of the drugs could appear to onlookers to be little short of miraculous. One minute the Führer was so frail he could barely stand up. The next, he would be ranting unstoppably at Mussolini. Ah, yes: Mussolini. In Italy, Blitzed will come with an extra chapter. “I found out that Mussolini – patient D, for Il Duce – was another of Morell’s patients. After the Germans installed him as the puppet leader of the Republic of Italy in 1943, they ordered him to be put under the eyes of the doctor.” Again, Ohler springs up. Again, he returns with a document in his hand. “There’s not enough material to say he was an addict. But he was being given the same drugs as Hitler. Every week there was a doctorly report.” He runs his finger along the typewritten lines, translating for me as he goes. “He has improved, he is playing tennis again, the swelling of his liver is normal… It’s like he’s a racehorse.”

An unwell-looking Adolf Hitler in July 1944. Photograph: ullsteinbild/Getty Images

For Hitler, though, a crisis was coming. When the factories where Pervitin and Eukodal were made were bombed by the allies, supplies of his favourite drugs began to run out, and by February 1945 he was suffering withdrawal. Bowed and drooling and stabbing at his skin with a pair of golden tweezers, he cut a pitiful sight. “Everyone describes the bad health of Hitler in those final days [in the Führerbunker in Berlin],” says Ohler. “But there’s no clear explanation for it. It has been suggested that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. To me, though, it’s pretty clear that it was partly withdrawal.” He grins. “Yeah, it must have been pretty awful. He’s losing a world war, and he’s coming off drugs.”

Two months later, Hitler and his new wife, Eva Braun (like Leni Riefenstahl, another of Morell’s patients), killed themselves, as the world knows. What happened to Morell? We know he survived, but did he get away unscathed?

“I think a lot of Nazis did get away with it,” says Ohler. “But not him. He wasn’t able to shed his skin, make a new career, get rich on his memoirs – even though he could have said, truly, that he hadn’t committed any war crimes. He lost his mind. He disintegrated. He’s a tragic figure. He wasn’t evil. He was only an opportunist.”

In 1947, the Americans, having tried and failed to extract useful information from him, deposited Morell in Munich. There he was picked up by a half-Jewish Red Cross nurse who took pity on this dishevelled, shoeless figure. She delivered him to the hospital in Tegernsee, where he died a year later.

Blitzed looks set to reframe the way certain aspects of the Third Reich will be viewed in the future. But Ohler’s thesis doesn’t, of course, make National Socialism any more fathomable, and for him, perhaps, there is an element of disappointment in this, for he has been seeking to understand it ever since he was a boy (the son of a judge, he grew up close to the border with France). “It was the whole reason why I wanted to write,” he says. “I thought with writing that you could counter propaganda.”

His maternal grandfather worked as a railway engineer during the war, the head of a small station in occupied Bohemia. “One day at school we watched a film of the liberation of a concentration camp, and it was so shocking to me. That same day, I asked him about the trains going to the camps. He told me that he saw one in the winter coming from the west, and that he said to himself: these are Russian POWs. But since it came from the west, and he heard children, and it was a cattle train, he kind of realised something weird was happening.

“I wasn’t much older than 10, and I was trying to understand: what kind of person is this, my grandfather? Because he continued being a railway engineer. He didn’t join the resistance. He said the SS was guarding the train, and he was afraid, and so he just went back into his little office to continue with his drawings. He always said Hitler wasn’t so bad. In the 80s, you used to hear that a lot: that it was all exaggerated, that Hitler didn’t know about the bad things, that he created order.”

He pauses. “You think it [nazism] was orderly. But it was complete chaos. I suppose working on Blitzed has helped me understand that at least. Meth kept people in the system without their having to think about it.” His hope is that his book will be read by a younger generation of Germans who would rather look to the future than dwell on the past. Is the right rising again? Is that why he wants them to read it? “It is quite a dangerous time. I hate these attacks on foreigners, but then our governments do it, too, in Iraq and places. Our democracies haven’t done a very good job in this globalised world.” That said, he doesn’t think the new party of the right, Alternative for Germany, may be the threat it appears (in elections earlier this month, it outperformed Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats). “The right wing always had so little purchase here [after the war] because of our history,” he says. “When I was young, you would never even see a German flag. The first time I did was in 1990, when Germany won the World Cup. So perhaps this is just a correction.”

Before I head to the airport, Ohler agrees to take me to see what remains of the Temmler factory – which last time he looked still stood in Berlin-Johannisthal, a part of the city that used to be in the east – and so it is that we set off on a bright blue day (in the movies, the east seems always to be grey and cold) in search of what remains of Dr Hauschild’s white-tiled laboratory. Twenty minutes later, we pull up in a residential street, all window boxes and net curtains, as quiet as the grave. “Oh, my God,” he says, unfolding his long, thin legs from the car. “Wow. It’s completely gone.”

For a few moments, we peer wonderingly through a chain link fence at the barren expanse of dust and concrete, and the neat white and red houses beyond it. But there’s nothing to be done: try as I might, I can’t superimpose the eery monochrome photographs I’ve seen of the factory in Blitzed on to this Technicolor suburban scene. What was almost tangible to me on Ohler’s roof, only half an hour ago, now takes on the unreal quality of a dream – or, perhaps, just a very bad trip.


German Author Examines Untold History Of Nazi Drug Use In ɻlitzed'

Arguably, more words have been spilled onto the page about Adolf Hitler than any person in the 20th century. Seven years ago, Berlin-based novelist Norman Ohler became convinced there was more to say.

In fact, there was a crucial element of Hitler’s sociopathic behavior historians had downplayed or missed entirely: drugs. Mind altering drugs. Not just the drugs Hitler was taking but drugs the German public began taking en masse in the 1920s, and the drugs &mdash specifically a newly invented methamphetamine called Pervitin &mdash that fueled the German army, particularly during the "blitzkrieg" surge into France and Belgium in May of 1940.

Out of Ohler’s research came "Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich," the German novelist’s first book of non-fiction. In uncovering the rampant drug use endemic to the war effort, Ohler says he found a metaphor for the Nazi era.

“I tried to examine the whole Nazi era as having the curve, in a way, of a drug experience,” the German-born Ohler says on the phone from New York. “Which was a strong high coming on in '33 to '39. Everyone is high, saying ‘Heil!’ and living in a dream world, in a ridiculous, racist bubble that then burst.

"The Nazis were trying to project themselves as a drug. They said ‘We’re not a normal political party, we’re a movement. You have to take part and jump into the water with us and we’re going to take you to amazing places.’ So, that’s why I compared the whole legacy as a drug trip. And every drug trip obviously has its comedown."

“Blitzed” was published in 2015 in Germany, where it was a best-seller. It came out last year in the U.K. and on March 7 this year in the U.S.

Author Norman Ohler. (Courtesy Joachim Gern)

Ohler, 47, had heard rumors about Hitler’s drug use for years, finding things on the internet that “were not very precise and they tended to contradict themselves. It was full of rumors about the Nazis. I didn’t take that so seriously, but it was an indicator. I really was sure of the story the first time when I was at Koblenz at the federal archives of Germany reading through the notes of Theo Morell, personal physician of Hitler.”

When Ohler was starting to test his early research, he says he got confirming support at the military archives in Breisgau, where he talked to an expert on meth abuse in the German army. “After speaking to him,” says Ohler, “and being able to check out his research, my understanding got more profound.”

What super-powered the Nazi army &mdash troops and officers alike &mdash was Pervitin, a pill invented by the Germans and churned out by the millions. “It was a key component of a fighting army and air force,” says Ohler. “It kept the aggression going and that’s something we’ve learned about in subsequent years &mdash the use of speed in the military &mdash but this was a new thing they exploited to the maximum.”

One mystery about all this: With all the information available, why had no one ever dug as deep as Ohler did?

“I spoke with Hans Mommsen, a leading German historian on National Socialism, who was helping me with the book,” Ohler says, “and he said ‘We historians have no idea about drugs.’ I guess it might be one of the reasons. I think there are several reasons: the fear of [the drug use] excusing the Nazis &mdash that would have been a reason in the '70s to not look at the topic. The early historians of National Socialism had to break ground and put the big things into perspective and probably drugs weren’t on their radar. They were just afraid to include that into their evaluation. I think many historians think it’s trivial.”

Ohler makes it clear that he’s not suggesting Nazi drug use as any sort of justification for the massive carnage they spread. “It didn’t come from the drugs,” he says. “The drugs are not a connection with the creation of the evil, the ideology, the war plans and the genocide. But the drugs are being used to accelerate, to be able to do certain things.”

In terms of research, it didn’t hurt that Ohler had some drug experience of his own, being part of the Germany’s electronic music scene of the '90s. He says he did “recreational drugs,” nothing with the destructive power of what the Nazis took. “Even if you don’t take certain drugs,” Ohler says, “you might know people who have taken, for example methamphetamines or opioids. I’ve spoken to some people that I know and asked them.”

This is the closest, Ohler says, that he got to crystal meth: “I wanted to have a package of crystal meth in my desk and I asked a dealer that I know and she said she didn’t want to have anything to do with it, but then she knew another dealer who was selling it. She brought me one gram in a bag and the dealer, without knowing me or knowing why I wanted it, brought a xeroxed copy of the [Third Reich package design] of Pervitin from 1937. It was really surprising &mdash a history conscious dealer! I do not like methamphetamine, but I liked having it close by to look at.”

“I know one guy who has come across an original Pervitin packet,” Ohler continues, “and he claims that he used them and it was still working even though it was decades old. He described the drug effect as cleaner than street meth.”

“Blitzed” did not start out as a historical work. Ohler had published three novels. His first, “The Quota Machine,” is a detective story set in early ‘90s New York City &mdash "I programmed it as a hypertext, the first hypertext novel worldwide" &mdash published in 1998. The second, “Mitte,” Ohler describes as “a ghost story about gentrification” in Berlin (2001). Two years later came “Ponte City,” which is the story of a young South African woman who moves from Soweto to Johannesburg and then gets into all kinds of trouble trying to live the free life in the new South Africa.”

When he began researching what would become “Blitzed,” Ohler was envisioning it as his fourth novel. But he found the material “too hot,” as he told Newsweek, “to water it down in a fictional work.”

Upon deciding he was writing about history, Ohler intended to start in 1933, with the Nazis rise to power, but Mommsen, urged him to go back further. “I started in 1805, briefly mentioned that a German chemist refined morphine as the active ingredient in opium,” says Ohler. “This is kind of the starting point for the chemical industry all over the world, But [it happened] first in Germany, where pharmacies turn into companies developing pharmaceuticals in the 1920s, when drugs are widely available in Germany. And then there’s a break when the Nazis take power. At first, they introduce the ‘War on Drugs’ by saying we have to stop doing drugs and then obviously, the new drug methamphetamine comes into play and contradicts the ideology.”

During the five-year research and writing process, did Ohler ever get what might be called “Hitler fatigue?”

“Well,” he says, “I got Nazi fatigue when I researched the navy’s search for a wonder drug and the tests they did in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. I thought ‘This is really dark. I want to get away from this.’ Then, I tended to apply a sort of dry humor to the book in the writing process and it seems what many readers . appreciate. It kept me on the brighter side of things also.”

The corpulent, sycophantic Morell becomes a central figure in Ohler’s story, a Dr. Feelgood who’s more than just a villainous enabler and profiteer. Going through Morell’s notes, Ohler says he found “they were very detailed and they were telling a story I had not heard before. Very fascinating, the relationship between him and Hitler and what is revealed. He was with Hitler all the time.”

Ohler posits that Hitler’s embrace of drugs, ostensibly begun to treat his severe stomach pain, contributed to his irrational decision-making in terms of strategy. And as the war became increasingly unwinnable, Ohler writes that a very ill Hitler was propped up in his bunker by a panoply of drugs supplied by Morell. Some were shots of vitamin, hormone and steroid cocktails, but others much more potent and potentially mind-scrambling. Nevertheless, Ohler writes, they allowed Hitler to present himself to his people with the illusion of strength and the falsehood that Germany was on the verge of victory.

What Hitler loved most, says Ohler, is a drug called Eukadol, an opioid known generally as oxycodone. Synthesized from raw opium, it had twice the pain relieving as morphine. Ohler writes that it achieved “a euphoric state significantly higher than that of heroin.” In addition, Morell would combine Eukadol with cocaine, creating what we now call a “speedball,” the combo that killed John Belushi.

Ohler quotes junkie/author William Burroughs in his 1959 book, “Naked Lunch”: “Eukodol [sic] is like a combination of junk and C [cocaine]. Trust the Germans to concoct some truly awful s---.”

In retrospect, of course, the hypocrisy is maddening. Hitler &mdash a non-smoking vegetarian who railed about keeping German minds pure of drug contamination &mdash was secretly pumped up to the gills, likely going back to the fall of 1941.

Ohler says Morell was an opportunist, a man who joined the Nazi party when rumors started to float around that he was Jewish. “When Hitler offered him the job,” Ohler says, “he was over the moon because he became the personal physician of the most powerful man in Europe. Hitler gave him a mansion and gave him a factory where he could produce his stuff. Hitler was revered at the time most Germans loved Hitler. And Morell he continued to profit from the system. He was not involved in war crimes or at least I couldn’t find documents. He liked Hitler, Hitler liked him, he made a lot of money. Everyone envied him.”

Hitler committed suicide in his bunker as the end of the war neared. Morell survived, then was captured by the Americans and imprisoned for two years. They decided they wouldn’t try him at Nuremberg because “they apparently couldn’t connect him to war crimes.”

He may also have been insane, although Ohler says, "whether he was insane or whether he played it well, we can’t say. He was very much focused on his patient and once his patient wasn’t there anymore he lost his life.”

After he was released from prison, Ohler says, “He never tried to start a new career. He could have gone back to Berlin and become a doctor, but his health was really bad. It’s a bit of mystery what happened those two years the Americans had him but he certainly didn’t start a new life. He got out and only lived for a few months.”

“Blitzed” closes with Morell dropped outside the train station in Munich. Ohler writes: “Morell cowered there, the most powerful man with the gold rods of Asclepius on his collar, now in a worn-out coat, shoeless on the bare cobbles, until a half-Jewish Red Cross nurse took pity on him and put him in a hospital in Tegernsee, where he died on May 26, 1948.”

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Jim Sullivan writes about rock 'n' roll and other music for The ARTery.


Hitler and His Drugs: Inside the Nazis’ Secret Speed Craze

Norman Ohler's 'Blitzed' looks at all the drugs Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich used during the Second World War.

The citizens of the Third Reich were taking speed on a national scale the German Army’s Blitzkreig attack through France was only made possible through the widespread use of Methamphetamine by Wehrmacht soldiers the Marshal of the Luftwaffe air force, Herman Goring, was a morphine addict and Adolf Hitler, famous teetotaler and vegetarian, was in truth a hopeless junkie, his final days spent in trembling and sweating withdrawal, his arms covered in track marks, begging for another injection of the haphazard melange of vitamins, hormones, methamphetamine, oxycodone and sometimes morphine which had kept him functioning throughout the war.

It sounds like fantasy, a surreal alternate history from a novel. But this is a true, untold story, uncovered through five years of research by Norman Ohler and published in his book Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich this month. Blitzed is the first work of nonfiction for Ohler, a German fiction writer who originally started researching the project with a historical novel in mind. As archival research turned up more and more explosive revelations about the filthy hidden habit of Nazis, Ohler decided the full history &ndash so long ignored or avoided by mainstream historians &ndash needed to be told.

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“Historians are too square,” says Ohler. “Historians don’t know what drugs are. In the Seventies and Eighties, when some of the groundbreaking historical work was being conducted, it might have been politically incorrect to use such a pop cultural angle to explain something so severe. No one dared to rewrite history in such a crazy manner, I suppose.”

The substance at the center of Blitzed is Pervitin, a brand-name methamphetamine produced in staggering quantities by the German pharmaceutical industry, then the most advanced in the world. Unlike cocaine, marijuana and morphine, which were seen by the Nazis as decadent foreign bodies polluting the Aryan immune system &ndash just as they saw the Jews polluting the Aryan nation &ndash Pervitin was promoted as the people’s drug, a wonder chemical available as a pill, injectable solution, chewing gum or even in chocolates for the fatigued housewife. High on speed, the members of the master race worked, produced and sang the glories of the Fuhrer as never before.

The military application was obvious, and Ohler describes the chemical ignition of the first assault on the Western front with a novelist’s flair:

Thousands of soldiers took the substance out of their field caps or were given it by their medical officers. It was laid on their tongues and gulped down with a swig of water. Twenty minutes later the nerve cells in their brains started releasing the neurotransmitters. All of a sudden dopamine and noradrenaline intensified perception and put the soldiers in a state of absolute alertness. The night brightened: no one would sleep, lights were turned on, and the “Lindworm” of the Wehrmacht started eating its way tirelessly toward Belgium&hellip There were no more breaks &ndash an uninterrupted chemical bombardment had broken out in the cerebrum.

Back in the occupied territories, Nazi doctors performed characteristically cruel scientific experiments on Jewish inmates at Dachau and Auschwitz, forcing groups to march in circles without sleep for days to determine whether cocaine or meth was a better stimulant for soldiers, or dosing unwitting prisoners with the psychedelic mescaline to see if it would enhance interrogations &ndash a program later adapted by the United States using LSD.

The widespread use of drugs to get an edge by the numerically-outmatched Nazi army set a precedent that continues to this day. In 2014, the outnumbered and outgunned forces of the Islamic State staged their own blitzkrieg attack across Syria and Iraq, professional armies melting away before them in retreat. It was later discovered that many fighters had been taking a methamphetamine called Captagon. “It’s a good drug for a fighter,” says Ohler. “It reduces your fear level. Also for suicide missions, which are crazy to carry out because you must be so afraid. The ideology can be strong &ndash but I think an amphetamine would help.”

Ohler’s most stunning revelations, perhaps, are those about the Fuhrer himself. Hitler was the symbolic apotheosis of the Nazi obsession with health, says Ohler: “I think you can see the Hitler body representing the people’s body, the Volkskorper. The Nazi’s ideology is all about purity of the blood. This was the strength of the whole movement, this purity of the blood. Blitzed looks into the bloodstream and sees something completely different, that’s the big joke of the book.”

Ohler enters this bloodstream through the needle of Hitler’s personal physician Theodor Morell, the corpulent, sycophantic, rather pathetic quack who was loathed by almost everyone but Hitler himself. Ohler portrays Morell as Hitler’s pusher, consistently upping the doses, building up a dependency to ever-stronger drugs &ndash from mere vitamins up to Eukodal, the oxycodone-based “wonder drug” that once earned the highest praise of junk aficionado William Burroughs.

Oiler was surprised during his research to learn of the current oxycodone epidemic in America. “In Germany it’s not such a big deal,” he says. “I had just learned that Hitler used it so much and then I looked it up and it said something like ‘seventh most popular medicine in the United States.’ I was quite surprised by that. But then in America you don’t mainline it, you swallow it, which is very different. I tried one oxycodone pill from an American friend, and I hardly felt anything. It was I think five milligrams. Hitler had 20 milligrams injected into his bloodstream intravenously.”

Asked about a certain current head-of-state whose drug of choice is said to be Diet Coke and whose personal doctor recently admitted to regularly administering hair-loss prevention drugs, Ohler says, “Everyone’s drawing these comparisons between Hitler and Donald Trump.” But he compares the new American leader to Hiter’s drug of choice, instead. “These former industrial zones in the so-called Meth Belt are now broken-down areas where underprivileged white people live, who support Trump and who take a lot of meth and depend on that anticipation that meth creates. You take meth, you think something’s gonna happen, something exciting. That’s the kind of energy that Trump creates. People get excited and I think that cheap excitement, that fake hope that meth creates is also something that Trump creates. I think Trump is a kind of a personified meth.”

Similarly, in Blitzed, Ohler makes it clear that, for most Germans, Nazism itself was the most potent and addictive drug. “The Nazi movement was this intoxicating rebel movement that changed the rules and said: ‘We couldn’t give a fuck about democracy. We just do it differently,'” he writes. “They didn’t convince people with rational arguments, they convinced people with irrational behavior. They had this drug-quality, and they were very effective with dealing with the media. Maybe the Nazis were like the Eukodal of movements.”


Tweaking Soliders: the Nazis and Methamphetamine

As leader of the Third Reich, it is commonly known Adolf Hilter advocated for Lebensreform (life reform). Chief among this belief was that members of the Aryan Race should abstain from drug and alcohol use in order to create a pure and strong race. However, at the same time Lebensreform was being advocated by Hilter and party officials like Heinrich Himmler, Nazi military men were nonetheless being fed the methamphetamine Pervitin in massive quantities during World War II.

Referred to as “pilot’s salt” or “tank chocolate” by members of the Wehrmacht (German armed forces), Pervitin was seen as a wonder drug by officials who freely distributed it to military men.[1] The drug increased German soldiers’ alertness and endurance, and gave them confidence and euphoric feelings No member of the Wehrmacht was immune from the drugs effects: pilots, infantrymen, and civil defense soldiers, were consuming large quantities of methamphetamine by order of the Nazi high command.

The use of amphetamine was not uncommon throughout industrialized countries during the 1930s and 40s. Indeed, Dexedrine and other amphetamines would be given to allied pilots during the War to maintain alertness. However, in the 1938, German paramedical company Temmler Werke began working on Pervitin, a new drug that was structurally different then previous “pep” pills on the market. The Academy of Military Medicine in Berlin, decided to study methamphetamine to determine if it could be beneficial in combat situations. In tests, the academy noticed that subjects dosed with Pervitin were able to perform better in mathematical and memory tests in a controlled environment. As a result, 3 mg tablets of Pervitin were included in medical supplies for German military units during the invasion of Poland in 1939.[2]

The success of the Polish invasion furthered Pervitin’s reputation as a military performance enhancer and consumption of the drug skyrocketed. As Nicholas Rasmussen notes, “In the Blitzkreig’s opening months… the German military consumed 35 million methamphetamine tablets” between April-June 1940.[3] The use of Pervitin was not only restricted to enlisted men. Hilter, who suffered from numerous health symptoms, used cocaine and methamphetamine under a doctor’s watchful eye.[4] On the homefront, non-military personal began taking the drug as part of the civilian effort. News of the new German wonder drug caused both wonder and concern among the Allies.

While Pervitin did produce positive effects, there was considerable concern about its effectiveness. Allied nations testing Pervitin on their own pilots, noticed that it caused agitation, restless, and impaired judgment.[5] A widely circulated rumor told of an entire Germany infantry company surrendering to Russian forces in Leningrad after it wasted all its bullets during a methamphetamine-induced psychosis. In addition, Luftwaffe soldiers were also deemed as less effective and distracted by senior officials after methamphetamine-fueled missions garnered mixed results.[6] It was widely documented that Pervitin produced restlessness, delusions, and insomnia for the soldiers. Withdrawal, unavoidable due to the heavy demand for Pervitin, was also painful for soldiers and may have been linked to poor military decision making and suicides by SS soldiers.

Regardless of their side effects, the demand for the drug remained high throughout the war. Soldiers (including future Pulitzer Prize winner Heinrich Boll)[7] wrote letters home asking their parents to send them the methamphetamine.[8] Despite attempts to control usage of the drug, it is estimated that 200 million Pervitin pills were given to Wehrmacht soldiers between 1939 and 1945.[9] Quite literally, Pervitin fueled Nazi Germany’s military exploits.

Shortly before the war ended, Nazi doctors began working on an improvement to the Pervitin pill (code name D-IX) that allegedly contained methamphetamine, cocaine, and a powerful painkiller (which was initially tested in concentration camps).[10] However, the invasion of Normandy by the Allies prevented the further use and study of this pill. Amazingly, Pervitin was part of the medical supplies for both the West and Eastern Germany armies until 1988.

[1] Megan Garber, “Pilot’s Salt: The Third Reich Kept Its Soliders Alert With Meth” Atlantic Monthly May 31, 2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/05/pilots-salt-the-third-reich-kept-its-soldiers-alert-with-meth/276429/ (accessed June 10, 2013).

[2] Elaine A. Moore, The Amphetamine Debate: The Use of Adderall, Ritalin, and Related Drugs for Behavior Modification, Neuroenhancement and Anti-Aging Purposes (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company Inc, 2011.), 139.

[3] Nicholas Rasmussen, On Speed: The Many Lives of Amphetamine (New York: New YorkUniversity Press, 2008), 54.


Nazis Weren't the Only Ones Using Meth During World War II

Adolf Hitler’s use of methamphetamine, otherwise known as crystal meth, has been well documented during recent years in books like Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler. But did you know that Nazi soldiers, British troops, and even American military personnel used speed as well during World War II? That secret history is airing tonight on the PBS show Secrets of the Dead with an episode titled “ World War Speed .”

The episode is hosted by British historian James Holland and gives viewers a fascinating look at the use of uppers by both the Allies and the Axis powers in the 1940s. The drugs helped soldiers stay awake for long periods of time and it also made them more aggressive in combat scenarios. The downside? Some soldiers took so much speed they worried that they’d never be able to sleep again.

The Nazi version of speed was called Pervitin and was available over the counter in Germany during the late 1930s before it was given to soldiers. Likewise, America’s version, known as Benzedrine, could be found in U.S. pharmacies before the country entered World War II. But the soldiers on both sides weren’t going rogue and taking drugs for the fun of it. The speed was issued to them by their own governments, sometimes in staggering quantities.

Germany used the drug to invade Poland in 1939 and shipped an estimated 35 million tablets of Pervitin to its soldiers fighting to invade France in 1940. And with only about 3 million German troops in that region, that means there were plenty of uppers to go around.

Winston Churchill developed an interest in speed when he learned that the Germans were using it and British troops were supplied with hundreds of thousands of pills as well. And U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower, who would later become president, ordered at least half a million tablets for Americans fighting in North Africa.

Arguably, one of the most important takeaways from the episode isn’t just that troops were given speed to keep them awake, as we might assume. Researchers of the time discovered that it helped make their troops more confident and even more aggressive. That’s obviously useful in war, but it also has its downsides. As the episode explains, one useful thing about fear is that it keeps you from putting your body in harm’s way. Fear is a natural self-defense mechanism and people who are overly confident might achieve great things, but they also run the risk of making really dumb mistakes.

The episode also gets into the dosages that troops were using, which could run as high as 100 milligrams on some occasions. And that was before the invention of “extended release” technology that we have today that slowly introduces a drug into your bloodstream. When you took a pill in the 1940s, you were getting a swift kick of the entire dose at once.

In one of the most chilling sequences from the show, Holland travels to the site of a concentration camp and learns about the different trials that were done on Jewish prisoners. The Nazis tested cocaine and speed in different forms and made their prisoners carry sacks filled with rocks around a track to see how long humans could operate while on the drugs. It’s a depressing reminder that the Nazis would regularly conduct medical experiments on human beings, including on children, in trials that can only be described as torture.

There’s a bit of a lull around a third of the way through the episode when the TV presenters dress like British soldiers and go on a long hike to “prove” that you don’t need drugs to walk the distances that German soldiers were achieving. But go ahead and power through that boring bit because the rest of the episode is definitely worth your time.

The episode airs tonight, June 25, on PBS at 8 pm ET. Check your local listings.


Is QAnon built upon the same conspiracy theory that fueled genocidal Nazism in Germany? Genocide scholar Gregory Stanton thinks so.

Stanton wrote in an article for Genocide Watch, a non-profit educational organization of which he is the founding president, that many concepts used by QAnon are identical to ones published in 1903 in the fraudulent, anti-Semitic propaganda text The Protocols of Zion.

&ldquoI&rsquove seen this one before,&rdquo Stanton told CNN. &ldquoWhen I saw this, I said, &lsquoThis is Nazism.&rsquo&rdquo

He explained that the text, first published in Russia, falsely claims that an elite society that controls high government positions also encourages pedophilia, and the kidnapping and cannibalism of children. It was later incorporated into Adolf Hitler&rsquos &ldquoMein Kampf,&rdquo before being republished as a children&rsquos book, and reprinted in Nazi newspapers.

He goes on to explain that certain conditions made Europe ripe for Nazism, including mass unemployment, mistrust in the government and social discontent, and those same &ldquodifficult times&rdquo could be said now about the United States.

&ldquoIt&rsquos very hard to believe that an ordinary person could fall for this,&rdquo Stanton said. &ldquoBut in groups, people aren&rsquot always rational.&rdquo