File this under “Things That Sound Unbelievable but Also Make Total Sense.”
In Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich, German journalist Norman Ohler makes the case that a dark cocktail of cocaine, heroin, morphine, and, most importantly, methamphetamines powered Nazi victories at the beginning of World War II and, ultimately, led to the regime’s downfall — and Hitler’s increasingly erratic decisions.
Now available for pre-order in the U.S., the international best-seller required five years of archival research. And Ohler sourced much of the information about high Hitler directly from the notebooks of the Führer’s personal physician, Dr. Theodor Morell. According to Ohler, Hitler was taking up to seventy-four different drugs by the end of the war; his veins were collapsing due to the many injections he was receiving each day.
Perhaps more interesting than Hitler’s addictions, however, is that the whole of Nazi Germany — from housewives to factory workers — was powered by methamphetamines, Ohler writes. In the 1930s Germany was a pharmaceutical powerhouse and a leading exporter of opioids. Combine that availability with the regime’s demented quest for human perfection, and you’ve got a culture ripe for drug abuse.
The most popular narcotic was Pervitin, crystal meth tablets sold as an alertness aid. Regular Germans, Ohler explained during a recent History Hit podcast with historian Dan Snow, would often take two pills in the morning and another later in the day. And the German army made use of the drug too; a fact that is confirmed by letters written by nobel laureate Heinrich Böll during the war.
While Pervitin initially propelled the Nazis to victories in 1939 and 1940 — turning regular soldiers into doped-up supermen who could work energetically for forty-eight hours at a time — it came at a terrible cost. Side effects included dizziness, depression, and sweating. Older soldiers often had heart attacks after taking the drug while others harmed themselves during hallucinations. And as supplies ran out, Germany was left with thousands of uniformed men who couldn’t get their fix.
But what makes Ohler’s research so interesting — and important — is that it’s venturing into uncharted territory. Hundreds of researchers and historians have attempted to explain the rise of Hitler and the brutality of the German war machine. But it appears they missed an obvious and very human culprit: rampant drug abuse.