Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany (A Book Review)

Niall McLaren
10
2427

In early 1959, my possibly ill-advised parents allowed me to see the British film, Dunkirk, which portrayed the desperate evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force after the German invasion of France in 1940. I remember that I could hardly sleep for days after that, unable to reconcile the horror it portrayed so tersely with the Approved Version of warfare that we heard every day on Anzac Day (the local equivalent of Remembrance Day or Memorial Day).

In August that year, I first heard the name Auschwitz. My father wouldn’t tell me what it meant so I found out myself. Before I had finished high school, I had read a great deal on the Second World War, including Bullock’s biography of Hitler, Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, the dictator’s political Testament, and accounts of the unspeakable horror of the death camps. My intake was balanced, if that is the word, by Australian books on the Pacific War and by Soviet history, leaving me convinced that war had no future, a theme that has never left me.

But one question was not answered by any of the many, many books I read: how did the Wehrmacht manage to smash its way across Europe so successfully? In 1940, the French Army was the best equipped and most powerful in the world; in just nine days, they were pulverised. The enormous Red Army greatly outnumbered the invading Axis forces; yet in the first five months of Operation Barbarossa in 1941, well over three million Soviet troops were taken prisoner. By early 1942, 97 percent of them were dead, the greatest single slaughter of humans in our ghastly history. Granted, the Soviet soldiers were often barely literate peasant boys with very little training, pitched against a mechanised army with close air support, but that didn’t explain it. In 1941, Nazi transport was largely horse-drawn and bogged down in the first of the autumn rains.

Only now has some entirely original research on the vast archives of Nazi material held in Germany, the US and other centres been mined to give a credible answer to this question. In his first non-fiction work, German author Norman Ohler has presented an entirely credible account of how the great bulk of the German armed forces spent the war years high on methamphetamine.

In a work of quite remarkable scholarship, Ohler has traced two themes: how an enterprising drug manufacturer realised the potential of methamphetamine and managed to sell it to the High Command as a very valuable but entirely harmless drug that would allow soldiers to do without sleep for days. Just before the invasion of the Low Countries and France, his factory was turning out 850,000 tablets of methamphetamine a day, practically all of it destined for the troops – from the most senior generals to the lowliest private. For the Ardennes offensive, the Wehrmacht had stockpiled a staggering 35 million tablets, all of which were consumed in that mad, headlong and breathtaking rush to the Channel. Popping Pervitin tablets, Gen. Heinz Guderian, who is credited with the concept of armoured Blitzkrieg, stayed awake for nearly three days, during which time his forces ranged behind the French defensive forces on the Maginot Line, sowing chaos and fear everywhere they went.

This was true of practically all of the famous commanders and, if the generals didn’t sleep, what soldier could resist tablets that allowed him to stay awake and join the ecstatic victory? Ohler shows that Operation Barbarossa was probably the world’s largest coordinated group high; without the drugs, the Nazi forces quickly sank into a torpor from which they never recovered.

At the same time, back in Berlin, Hitler’s personal physician, Theodore Morell, was hard at work, appealing to his famous patient’s deep-seated suspicion of conventional doctors, injecting him daily with his own concoctions and, eventually, leading him to a terminal addiction to oxycodone, methamphetamine and cocaine. Morell himself was a neurotic but venal and utterly unscrupulous charlatan; the bond he shared with Hitler was probably the closest in either of their distorted lives. After the July 20th plot, Hitler was physically and mentally disabled. Morell was able to keep him going only through ever-increasing doses of the narcotics and stimulants, although Hitler probably believed he was still getting Morell’s patented hormone and herbal mixes that he so valued.

Bizarrely, none of the major references on Hitler’s life refers to Morell in more than fleeting terms, yet it would now appear he actively influenced the course of the war – for the worse. Ohler managed to track practically all of Morell’s meticulously detailed files on Hitler and decipher his atrocious and heavily disguised writing. The evidence he presents seems overwhelming: the younger Hitler was a most severely disturbed and neurotic personality. By the late 1930s, he was probably slipping into periods of paranoid psychosis but he appeared to be able to induce these more or less at will. Throughout the war years, his mental balance was seriously affected by Morell’s drugs until, after the Stauffenberg assassination attempt in July 1944, he was a hopeless addict, deluded and unable to recognise or respond to what was happening around him.   

The book is well-written by an experienced writer, although in the latter pages, it becomes a bit florid. As investigative history, it provides a wealth of confirmatory detail on an era that will never leave us. It also raises the question of whether amphetamines and other stimulants can ever be safe. This book is highly recommended to anybody with an interest in the darker side of human nature, which should include every psychiatrist.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Niall McLaren,
    My two cents: regarding why Nazi troops were so effective… well…
    Nazi trops were very effective agoints SOME European countries… like France.

    I read (long ago), that the strategy of the French was dumb. Hitler and their general were smarter.
    I also remember… (from a book that i have), that the French soldiers defending the “Maginot Line” or similar crucial points), were allowed to have a HUGE amount of red wine daily.

    You migth think… “were the Frech so dumb?”. They were.
    France resisted how long? Four WHOLE days?

    Compare that with the time some European gettos of Jews resisted the Nazis. Teh jews… surrounded by all sides, with no food/water… and very few weapons/munitions? WEEKS (AT TIMES), until starving and the last man, woman and kid.

    Other European countries fougth Hitler harder.
    Anyway… is known French have a unique way of “resisting”… they bend 🙂
    ……………

    Anyway, there is been said that the SS (elite nazi troops), used steroids (and more), during missions so they can be more agressive, and have less fear, or maore energy.

    At more recent times… it was on the news that ISIS terrorists used a mix of cheap drugs… that allowed better focus, less fear, and less sense of pain.

    Herbs, potions and mixes to acheieve that have thousands of years of use, likely, (between soldiers).
    ……………
    Even recently i read a doctor said: Ritalin only had advantages. No risks proven.
    A doctor! He is documented. I dont think so…
    ……………

    Now… at the USA, the army uses what for their jet figthers? Anfetamines?
    Anfetamines were used before at the USA air force. And with advantange. I do not know the name of the pills they use at 2017….i not water + lemon (or carrots to see at nigth), for shure.

    A number of nazis scientists/ nazi operationals were recruited by the USA (after the WW2). For the airoplane industry/ space industry. And for the CIA… planning/ surveilance/ interrogation/ torture stuff.

    And DDT (Trump) thinks a “litle torture” is no problem.
    And a few USA citizens complain. Other say: if for the common good.

    (AntiP… from the 1% that had SZ… and the got away of psychiatrists… so far)

    • The French did themselves in. The first of their three inept commanders made his headquarters in a remote chateau without a phone or radio (maybe he saw himself as a military artist who needed to secrete himself to enhance his martial creativity) who had to communicate with his army via a motorcycle dispatch rider. The second one had to take himself on a military grand tour to inspect his decaying front before he took action. The situation was beyond hope by the time the third one was installed.

  2. Stalin tried as hard as he could to be as inept as the French. Certain that the Germans wouldn’t attack him immediately, despite their moving most of their army to his borders, he squirreled away the multitude of reports from his many spies, certain the reports were part of a German disinformation scheme to extract concessions on the prices of the materials he was sending them. Then he forced the units on the border to display that they were totally unready to fight (probably as a cover for his intended betrayal of the Germans at a later time- the units were amassing artillery ammunition), letting the Germans fly photoreconnaissance missions over his territory.

  3. I’ve also wondered why the speed connection is almost never mentioned in stories of Hitler’s rise and fall. Speed makes many people incredibly and brilliantly productive and efficient at whatever they do, until there are no more inner resources to call forth, at which point the person “crashes” and the effect becomes the complete opposite. That has always explained to me how Hitler could go from military genius to total defeat in such a short time. I didn’t know about the other drugs he was using, or that the troops were also hopped up on amphetamines.

    Maybe an article like this could be included with the instructional literature people get — or should get — when being prescribed Adderall and Ritalin.

  4. Very worthwhile article Dr Niall,

    I think its well known that the Nazis used “designer drugs”. Someone told me before that the Nazi s developed methadone.

    (Even the Gestapo used to get blind drunk before they “interrogated” prisoners).

  5. Interesting blog worthy of more in depth investigation.

    The author, Niall McLaren’s descriptive identification at the end of the blog states the following:

    ” Jock McLaren is an Australian psychiatrist who worked 25yrs in the remote north of the country. He occupies himself delving into the philosophical basis of psychiatry, only to find there isn’t one. This has not helped his popularity with his colleagues, now well into negative territory.”

    I disagree with this description. There is a philosophical basis for all theories and practices in the real world. In this case modern Psychiatry has a philosophical basis rooted in “Idealism” and “Mechanical (as opposed to ‘Dialectical”) Materialism and Reductionism.”

    And for those not familiar with philosophical terminology, these are philosophical theories and approaches that are not provable in the material world and totally abstracted from a true scientific methodology.

    This is not meant to be a criticism of Niall McLaren, but only a philosophical critique of the description written on this website.

    Richard

    • He may be being slightly facetious here, as in there’s no valid or consistent philosophical basis.

      At any rate, your own description of psychiatry’s philosophical grounding is interesting — wonder how Frances & other psychiatric “intellectuals” would respond.

      And could you describe or define mechanical materialism?

  6. Well of course drugs give you an advantage in the short run, Dexedrine the air force go pills, I took that for my so called ADD, it makes you better at things like driving down the road you see everything cars behind and in front that speed trap… Your on point for sure. Totally 110%+

    I never did meth, from what I am told its the same thing as ADHD drugs just lasts longer more intense.

    Wile speed may allow you to beat fatigue It seems to me if the war mongers wanted to create a truly evil and get the war job done drug they would need to create a real make you a psycho ‘I don’t give a shit’ pill so the troops would not need to hate the opposing force to get or be evil.

    I feel bad when I am fishing and a fish that’s not good for eating swallows the hook real deep, high on speed or not it feels bad when that happens, I hurt that creature for nothing that sucks, how the hell would I aim a weapon at an opposing force effectively if I did not hate them with good reason if I was just sent to fight by some political figure for a cause I don’t care about. Of course kill or be killed is one hell of a motivator but still that the killing is wrong thing would get in the way, collateral damage will that military thing I helped launch lands on kids for example.

    I am sure the war mongers have worked on an I don’t care make you a psycho pill but as badly as drugs and alcohol can cause or allow you to do things you regret I don’t think a make U a psycho pill is possible, we have souls and a drug can’t truly override the right vs wrong instinct.