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Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany

The rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany has been analysed, documented and researched for almost a century now, and until recently one assumed there was little if any new evidence to be uncovered.

27 Jun 2017

Book Review
Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany

Reviewed by Simon Tatz

The rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany has been analysed, documented and researched for almost a century now, and until recently one assumed there was little if any new evidence to be uncovered.

Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany, by Norman Ohler, became an international sensation when it was published last year. Ohler’s ground-breaking and cleverly written research centres on two aspects of the Third Reich: the use of methamphetamine by the German military, and the role of Adolf Hitler’s personal physician, Dr Theodor Morell.

German pharmaceutical companies such as Merck, IG Farben and Bayer were world leaders prior to WWII, and Germans were huge consumers of what are now illicit drugs, including cocaine and heroin. Three German pharma companies (Merck, Boehringer and Knoll) controlled 80 per cent of the world cocaine market in the 1920. But it was the Temmler factory that Blitzed focus on. Tremmler began producing Pervitin, a methamphetamine pill, in 1937. It soon became a staple of German civilians, then the military. They even manufactured a ‘meth’ brand of chocolates to make ‘housework more fun.’ Each chocolate was equivalent to a modern day ‘hit’ of crystal meth.

Dr Otto Ranke, who became a meth addict himself, oversaw the widespread supply of Pervitin to the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe. According to Ohler, it was the use of methamphetamine that allowed German tanks to sweep through France as troops stayed awake for two to three days and required little, if any food. The Blitzkrieg was supported by the enormous consumption of these Pervitin meth pills. In the Battle of Britain, Germany’s airpower inferiority was countered by providing their pilots with tablets that kept them awake for days on end. German pilots flew endless mission until they ‘burnt out’ and suffered the effects well known about excessive methamphetamine use.

Pervitin doses to the military ran to over one million per month in 1941, with civilian use put at 1.5 million units per year. Dr Ranke, Director of the Research Institute of Defence Physiology, ordered 35 million Pervitin tablets for the Western Front campaign, while the German Labour Front placed orders for 260 million, then 390 million, Pervitin tablets.

Nazi doctors knew the dangers of meth use and addiction, however they ignored the warnings because it enabled the Nazi war machine, at least initially, to sweep through Europe.

The more fascinating part of Blitzed is the role of Hitler’s personal physician, the mysterious Dr Morell. Despite being interrogated by the Americans after the war, his scrawled personal notes on Hitler haven’t been fully examined. Morell concocted a substance called ‘Vitamulin’, which was derived from rosehip powder, dried lemon, yeast extract, refined sugar and skimmed milk. He marketed this to Hitler and the SS. Hitler, a vegetarian whose diet was mainly salads and vegetables, apparently gained little benefit from the vitamin tablets (and later intravenous injections) but he certainly relied on the Eukodal (Oxycodon) as well as methamphetamine and cocaine his physician prescribed. Hitler was obsessed with his own health and ensuring he had the stamina to lead the war, and Blitzed describes the descent into increasing drug addiction.

In August 1941 Hitler first became seriously ill, and Dr Morell’s vitamin concoctions failed to improve his health. Here is the point where steroids are first used, followed by dolantin, an opioid similar to morphine. Dr Morrell is described as a proponent of polypragmasia - the use of multiple therapeutic modalities to manage a single condition.

Blitzed provides a wealth of fascinating medical research material, much of which lay hidden in archives and not assessed until recently, on the way hard drugs affected decision making by Hitler and the SS. One example is Dunkirk, where Goring’s morphine addiction is attributed to his delay in pursuing the British, thus allowing the famous Dunkirk evacuation.

The evils of Nazi Doctors have been well documented before, however this research has been on their victims and the inhumane experiments carried out in concentration camps and elsewhere. Blitzed – which reads more like a thriller - reveals the role of the personal physician and military doctors in disseminating methamphetamine, steroids, cocaine and morphine to both the architects of the Final Solution and the Third Reich, and the troops who carried out their orders.

 


Published: 27 Jun 2017