Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Blitzed

This cover is hard to look at
Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich, by Norman Ohler

I don't know who purchased this book at my work, but it was immediately snatched up by staff and passed around, so I had to wait my turn.  It's not all that long for a history book, and it's packed with eye-opening information.  Ohler has two main threads: drugs in the German social landscape, especially in the military, and then Hitler's personal drug use.

Recreational drugs like cocaine and heroin were popular in Weimar Germany, and the Nazis put a lot of effort into stamping out drug use -- at least at first.  German drug manufacturers then came up with a very pure form of methamphetamine, and this, marketed under the name Pervitin, seemed like the perfect pick-me-up for the new Germany.  It was modern, and scientific, and supported the fast-paced new lifestyle!  It became immensely popular (you could even get meth-laced chocolates for your lady friend!).  The military, in particular, was looking for ways to make German soldiers capable of grand new things, and, well, the Blitzkrieg was pretty much entirely fueled by meth.  By the end of the war, military leaders were dosing soldiers with whatever they could get in hopes of victory; Nazis were  the most drugged soldiers in history.

Ohler then investigates the relationship between Hitler and his personal doctor, Morell.  Hitler was vocal about his abstemious and vegetarian diet, but he was looking for ways to support his strength, and Morell was into the new science of vitamins.  He would give high-dose vitamins in shots, which sounded like great stuff.  As Hitler demanded more daily, Morell varied the shots with all sorts of interesting things: hormones, glucose, and drugs.  Before long, the Fuhrer was dependent on Morell for daily shots, and the shots had to get more and more potent.  It's amazing to read about, because by 1941, he was getting pretty strong stuff and it only got worse.  In 1943 he started taking regular doses of Eukodal: oxycodone.  The reason he seemed so brave and unbothered by the assassination attempt with a bomb was because he was stoned at the time, but his injuries also precipitated more addictions, to cocaine and then the stuff to distract from the cocaine.

If Ohler is correct, Hitler spent most of the war as high as a kite.  By the end, he was a wreck -- he was slowly dying -- and then as the supply dried up, he went into withdrawal.  Ohler uses Morell's own notes as his source, and they are chaotic and difficult to decipher; Morell was secretive about what went into the shots he made up, and he didn't really want others to know what he was giving Hitler.  But he did keep records of what he did, and it seems clear enough.

Two things struck me about this story: first, how very dangerous a personal physician can be to a powerful person.  The story sounds very much like Michael Jackson's.  Secondly, I've never believed the silly tabloid theories about Hitler's escape to Argentina, but this really makes clear how completely far-fetched such theories are.  The Fuhrer was dying anyway.

And lastly, Nazis gave us crystal meth.  Thanks a lot, Nazis.

A fascinating book that sheds some new light on what was going on in the Third Reich. 

2 comments:

Hanna Whitehead said...

I bought this as the third book in a 3 for 2 deal in Waterstones, but I'm getting more and more excited by it. I don't know anything about this topic at all, so it looks really interesting.

I might bump it up my TBR now I know you liked it! :)

Jean said...

Oh, yes! I want to know what you think!