Methamphetamine in Nazi Germany: Ideological Intoxicated Hope and Hitler’s Addiction

Guest post

Norman Ohler has produced a book (Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany, Penguin 2017 ) that takes an avenue that previous historians have largely but not altogether ignored.  Why they did so is possibly the result of the blindness of  the interpretation- the focus being  on diplomacy and military history or ideology- they were pursuing or a bias of ordinary common sense that this could not be so.  But it is so and revealingly projects onto the screen of historical inquiry the fragility of leadership.

Wiemer Germany- “the Chemical Twenties”-  is disclosed by Ohler to have been  a ‘modernist’ drug sodden danse macabre.   Morphine, cocaine and heroin were readily available The German pharmaceutical industries had earlier invented morphine, and in the first few decades of the 20thC  the production of alkaloid opiates.    While Weimar republic  pain  and futile  ennui sought relief in drugs, and drugs were available over the counter in pharmacies another chemical inquiry was under way.  Post First World War  military research in Berlin turned to the  question of fatigue in war-time.

Once it came to power, the Nazi party abhorring the decadence  and cultural failure in morale  declared   a war on drugs .   They hated drugs as they “wanted to be the drug itself.”   As  Ohler says, rather than a  coke or heroin  high the Nazi party strove for an  ideological high- to an ideological salvation.  Nazi’s used psychological techniques of intoxication to derive a “transcendent state of being, ” a state of collective ecstasy.”  Nazism was to be the “drug it self.”  Politics was to be replaced with a state of intoxication.    In this it has much in common with the  fusion of Romanticism and Futurism by Marinetti and was integral ingredient of  Italian fascism- “the caffeine of Europe”.   Its motifs inter alia were  those of hope,  positive feelings, energy, exuberance,  and new beginnings and renewal and rediscovery to be unfolded in the Thousand  Year Reich.  

Ideals of purity, insistence on health,  and physical well-being and fitness were prominent.   The language of  poison and  toxicity deployed Hitler was obsessed with cleanliness (bathing and showering several times a day) and germs.  Dr Jordan Peterson’s You Tube video of his lecture on this psychological aspect of Hitler is most  instructive.  His attack on vermin and the development of Zyclone B was to exterminate rats before being deployed to exterminate  Jews.  In Mary Douglas’s famous book Purity in Danger she argues “dirt is disorder”; it is chaos; the State under national socialism provides order.

Thus it is therefore curious that in this context the up lifting of methamphetamine by the Nazi military medics should  occur.  It is one of conjocture in that the pharmaceutical company Temmlar should perfect “meth”  which was marketed and sold over the counter in pharmacies  as Pervitin.  It had wider spread public  use for may ailments and was  even sold in chocolates: “Hildebrand chocolates always a delight.”

The military medical research medics tested it on fatigue of student to assess its value for military purposes, which mixed cognitive results but people did stay awake for considerable periods.  Military medical students  started self using it and the genie was out of the tube of pills and away.  Dr Ranke advocated for its use and met with some higher up resistance but prevailed,.  As Ohler says Perivtan was a perfect match for the spirit of the  age.  Ultimately millions and millions  of tablets were supplied to the armed forces.

The attack on France through the Ardennes was fuelled by Perivtan as the tank drivers needed to stay away for up to 3 days or more, ground soldier were able to perform feats of physical endurance with drugged  highs of confidence,  morale and focus.   The Blitzkreig on the  ground required tank divers officer and solder being Blitzed on meth.  Lufwaffee pilots were also on highs.   Its leader was a  regular user of morphine, and while in that state of opiate euphoria counselled Hitler to not allow the two panzer divisions to pincer the French and British armies and thereby facilitated  the evacuation from Dunkirk.   The teenagers who towards late 1944 an 1945 piloted, and tragically so,  the minsubs where give a cocktail of meth, cocaine and other substances.  The Navy through with the SS had tested these on concentration camp inmates in endurance walks on tracks devised by shoe and boot manufacturers.

Ohler’s story in his book also tracks the frail health of Hitler himself  who was beset with digestive  problems and pain.  This is the  second historical conjocture, that of the quack medicine of Dr Morrell and the Fuehrer.   It is a story of a morbid an addictive heedless and  runaway  degeneration of a man to a wreck, who was in control of the armed forces and head of state in the midst of a war.

The Dr ran clinic in up market Berlin for the wealthy and was free with the hypodermic needle for all sort of vitamin,  homone and of reduced animal organs such as the liver.  All  without reference to side effects or long terms effects on the  immune system.    The Dr, although despised by the military Dr’s, whom Hitler would not have bar of as he did not trust the military,   was able initially to remedy Hitler’s digestive issues by regular injections from 1937-7 on to May 1945.  It is the story of the gross abuse of a patient.  The Dr also profited by setting up his own pharmaceutical labs to extract by products from gland and other animal organs and pig’s blood.   His nutra health bars, Vitamultin, laced with Perivtan,  were big sellers with the upper echelons of the Nazi part and Hitler himself ate several at meals.    In the knowledge that Hitler was a vegetarian and opposed to drugs.

Through the  course of the war Hitler’s addiction grew and grew, his health and mental processes declined.  Every meeting was a preceded by a shot to the h arm, whereupon Hitler would become animated and talkative.    At a meeting with Mussolini he spoke for three hours without interruption and il Duce, who wanted to say  “game’s up”,  could not get a word in.    Hitler’s arms ended up with tracks and by the early part  of 1945  there were few places to put a needle in. and as it did he was isolated mentally and physically in various  bunkers.

After the assassination attempt a military ear specialist intervened and  was giving Hitler cocaine for the pain to his ears from burst ear drums.  He was concerned with the medicines being injected by Dr Morrell and communicated  up the  line.  Martin Borman, Hitler’s Private Secretary,  tried to have Dr Morrell dismissed but failed.  That failure left Hitler to the fate (and of many others involved in the war, such as those   who died in the  bombing of  Dresden and in the concentration camps)   of degradation, shakes, physical decline, a shuffling walk, involuntary motion of his arms and drooling.  When the drugs ran out as the Russians approached Berlin Hitler was injected with  anything to hand and then he had to go cold turkey.  He was noted to be stabbing at his arms to get the germs he though was in his body which is a hall-mark of meth addiction.  One of his last gestures was to fire Dr Morrell.  The Dr disappeared to Bavaria and was later found by the Americans  to be deranged and of no use for intelligence purposes,  and after a  two year prison sentence  later died in care.

This book is worth reading and holds one’s interest beginning to end   What transpires  is the fact of  how the Nazi regime got as far as it did given  Goring’s and Udet’s mismanagement  of the  Luftwaffe; bureaucratic shambles, operation Barbarossa, and drug addiction of the head of state who was propaganda wise set up as and exemplar exemplorum.   The author has traversed the early German pharmaceutical industry,  Dr Morrell’s records for patient A (Hitler) and looked at various archive sources in Germany and the USA .  He has looked at the personal records of  a soldier begging his parents to send Perivtan and from a man’s experience of taking meth  in escaping from the Russian front back to Germany after the capitulation.  It is also a story of medical empire building or egos; the non listening to facts where feelings and ideology supplanted these; jealousy by not leaving tasks to the judgment of expert military leaders,  and the capture of a man’s well being and health by  a quack, the latter capturing the tiger by the tail was equally captured.

Hitler,  who was even without opiate and meth  in a  quasi-religious mystical  realm of ideological  being and thought.  Thus  the  exuberant intoxicating high of political  ideology of this sort could only end in  discourse violation when confronted with reality.     The regime  preyed for its power on the hope of the German people post war world one but delivered disintegration, carnage and waste of life.  Undiluted,  un- mediated, single threaded hope of this kind was no better than the drug shattered leader.  The tartufe of ideological political leadership is thrown wide open.

 

– GRH

 


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