High Hitler! How drugs fuelled the Third Reich
‘Blitzed: drugs in Nazi Germany’ by Norman Ohler is an amazing book which rather defies description…principally, it’s a meticulously researched look at its subject, drugs in Nazi Germany. But it’s so much more, metaphorically. For me, it neatly encapsulated all the degeneracy and evil of that terrible twelve years of human history.
Initially, Blitzed describes the process of the drugging of practically the entire population of Germany. The Germans were at first willingly and later forcibly manipulated into a situation of unspeakable horror, all the while bombed out of their brains, (as well as their homes). Cynically, the fledgling Nazi regime launched a War On Drugs, (sound familiar?) but this was mere window-dressing.
Norman Ohler documents the process of this national doping, principally with an amphetamine drug marketed as Pervitin. This substance was manufactured in industrial quantities, and was freely available throughout much of the late 1930s. If the government says it’s OK, then it’s OK! Pervitin became vitally necessary during the war years, particularly for Hitler’s armed forces in the Third Reich.
On the home front, housewives gobbling amphetamine-laced chocolates fairly breezed through their domestic chores. Workers, faced with ever-increasing demands for the war effort, could never have coped without their little white pills. And of course the dictator’s soldiers and airmen would never have performed as astonishingly well as they did – at first – without Pervitin and a number of other uppers.
Ohler basically re-writes the story of the Nazi blitzkrieg, which the world witnessed with horror when France fell after only 11 days fighting. According to our author, who presents comprehensive evidence, this infamous military campaign consisted of the German land forces, right up to senior commanders, running amok in an amphetamine-crazed, almost random and ad-hoc assault on France.
Sure, the invasion plans were followed, but these plans were so quickly outstripped by unstoppable speed-soaked soldiery as to become practically redundant. Little wonder the hide-bound French commanders and politicians had absolutely no answer to it. They were never in the game, even though the Wehrmacht was in many departments poorly-equipped and inferior, compared to the mighty armies of France. And this was only the beginning.
The author offers an extraordinary look at the utter foulness of the Nazi leadership. Ohler’s Nero-esque portrait of the degenerate Hermann Göring is unforgettable. We meet Hitler’s personal quack Dr Theo Morell, who within a few years turned his Führer from a charismatic, teetotal vegetarian into a shambling, raving, drooling junkie.
Morell also administered his snake-oil substances to most of the sycophantic Nazi hierarchy, who were keen to be as zonked as their beloved Führer. High Hitler! Herr Doktor Morell pumped an astonishing amount of drugs and bizarre substances into the veins of his Patient A, many of them of his own invention. An example: Morell once treated Hitler for dysentery with “…the steroid glyconorm, a hormone preparation that he had manufactured himself, which consisted of extract of cardiac muscle, adrenal cortex and the liver and pancreas of pigs and other farm animals.” When this didn’t quite do the trick; (“Fuhrer very irritable,” Morell reported that evening), Morell administered another of his own concoctions, the recipe of which is quite revolting.
Ohler provides a partial list of the goodies that Morell injected into his Führer over just a few years. The list runs to ninety-one different substances, many of them very potent psycho-active, consciousness-changing drugs. Ohler’s contention is that Hitler’s narcosis was directly responsible for his insane decisions as supreme commander, decisions which led directly to disasters such as Stalingrad, the second Ardennes offensive, and at the end, the infamous and malevolent Nero Decree.
This extraordinary book reads almost like a horror/fantasy novel. I had to keep reminding myself that this is not fiction. Blitzed was a best-seller in the author’s native Germany, and is surely required reading for anyone interested in recent history.
I’ll leave you with Ohler’s vivid and macabre description of Hitler’s final act; his marriage to Eva Braun, followed by their suicides. “After the ghostly wedding ceremony spaghetti was served, with tomato sauce on the side, hydrogen cyanide for dessert and a bullet in the brain from a 6.35mm Walther.” Blitzed is an absolutely mind-boggling piece of work, highly recommended.
reviewed by Keith Smith