German writer, Norman Ohler, speaks about his discovery of the role of drugs in Nazi Germany.
Ohler is the author of Blitzed, a worldwide best-seller that explores the largely unknown but widespread drug use in the Third Reich.
Ohler grew up in Berlin in the 90s, the only answer he gave to the question ‘Have you yourself taken drugs?”.
“It was a big relief to realise my previous drug taking had all been research for the book. I haven’t taken all the drugs Hitler has taken. I wouldn’t be standing here if I did.”
“I worked in Germany with Hans Momsmen, a leading historian in National Socialism, an old gentleman. He said “We historians know nothing about drugs, and that’s why we overlooked it”. I’m not one of those historians.”
Ohler’s interest in drug use in Nazi Germany was sparked by his friend Alex, a DJ, history buff and drug expert. He decided to investigate, initially planning to write a novel on the subject.
After a year of research, visiting archive after archive and speaking with medical historians, he uncovered the massive use of drugs by an army and its leader who were fighting for a system completely against them.
Ohler said he could not write a novel about this, the true story needed no fictionalisation.
Where future generations used drugs as a way to be anti-establishment and to express individualism, the Nazis saw drugs as a way to encourage conformity and an allegiance to their state.
In Germany in 1938, a pill called Pervitin whose only ingredient was methamphetamine was the drug of the season.
It was produced in mass by the Berlin pharmaceutical company, Temmler. Completely lacking the reputation meth does today, it wasn’t seen as harmful or even a drug. People thought of it as medicine.
Chocolates were even being sold containing meth with the slogan “Always a delight”. One piece would contain 13mg, and would pacify bored housewives who had been told by the Nazi regime they did not belong in the workforce.
A professor in Berlin, Otto Friedrich Ranke, who had been hired by the German army carried out research on Pervitin and made a recommendation to the highest military commander to ship it to the troops. He was amazed by the way it decreased fear, decreased the need to sleep and increased brain activity.
The reports from commanders described the experiences as very favourable. The soldiers’ depression and their inhibition to fight completely vanish.
“A soldier is not supposed to be brilliant. He’s supposed to shut down, have no self-reflection but to just keep going.”
It quickly became a drug habit amongst the troops which Ohler described as “decisive for the war”.
In 1940, Nazi troops were preparing to invade France by moving through the impenetrable Ardennes mountains, something the French and English had thought impossible.
But the German’s tanks were driven by troops who could go three days and three nights without needing to sleep.
The Pervitin created a momentum that took the Allies completely by surprise. They were unstoppable. The Germans behaved completely differently to how a soldier would normally behave. The Nazi line was that this was because they were of the Arian superhuman, superior race.
Pervitin never left the German troops after it became popular there. They were hooked on it and used it all the way to the end. The Temmler factory was still producing it in April 1945 when most other production in Berlin had been destroyed.
This substance abuse wasn’t confined to the army.
Adolf Hitler spent the final years of his life under the care of a doctor that had him hooked on opioids and cocaine, often using both on the same day, the classic speedball.
“Hitler was the Fuhrer when it came to taking drugs too it seems.” (Ohler had said earlier this was a topic too serious not to approach with humour).
Theodor Morell was a celebrity doctor in Berlin before he met Hitler, an “Avant-garde” physician referred to as Doctor Feelgood.
One of his patients was Hitler’s photographer, Heinrich Hoffman who told him how he must meet this man. In 1936, Hoffman invited them over for dinner, cooked spaghetti and introduced them. Morell gave Hitler an injection for his stomach cramps and immediately became his personal physician.
From that point on until Hitler’s death, him and Morell spent every day together.
Hitler’s day would start around 11. He would call Morell first thing who would roll up the sleeve of his pyjamas and give him the first injection. The first military briefing would be at 12:30.
The substance being administrated was Eukodal, a potent opiate. Combined with the cocaine he was being given to reduce nasal swelling, Hitler would’ve felt “safe like a baby in the womb but also with a manic energy”.
Hitler used this cocktail especially for meetings with generals where he was being told the war was going to be lost, that Nazi troops must retreat. Hitler would disregard this, would tell them the they would win, that they did not know what he knew.
“He radiated a form of charisma, where before he could have convinced people the shit that he was speaking, but later on when he was totally unsuccessful, he was using more and more of the very powerful opium to keep his manic energy level.”
The propaganda always showed Hitler as a radiating, shining example of health. It was a very important part of the cult that was around him, to portray him as a clean-cut, abstinent, saint-like figure.
“My grandfather would still tell me in 80s: Hitler didn’t drink, didn’t drink coffee, he was a vegetarian.
“These conversations made me very angry. I became a journalist and a writer because of my grandfather. I thought “I have to expose this, I have to reveal the truth”.”