Drugs in the Third Reich
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2017
New Books in German StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in MedicineNew Books in Military HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in PoliticsNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books Network March 8, 2017 James Esposito
Norman Ohler’s Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) explores the drug culture of Nazi Germany. Far from being a nation of physical and mental purity portrayed by Goebbels’s propaganda machine, Ohler shows Germany was a hub of drug production and abuse during the 1920s. Manufacturers like Merck and Bayer openly marketed their wares to the public, building the basis of so-called big pharma on intoxicants. Produced by Temmler, the Nazi elite embraced methamphetamine as a wonder drug, free of the connotations of disease and degeneracy associated with the drug culture of the Weimar years. Stimulants became a valuable tool in Germany’s wartime arsenal. The German military acknowledged the value of amphetamines and distributed Pervitin en masse. Ohler argues amphetamines powered the Wehrmacht’s armored Blitzkrieg of 1939-1941, defeating the Allies in France and elsewhere. These gains were short-lived, however. Nazi Germany’s Faustian bargain with drugs evaporated during the Battle of Stalingrad and in the distant steppes of the Soviet Union. Ever more powerful drug combinations were desperately sought by the Nazi state to save the Reich from annihilation, exposing horrors of the regime from experiments on concentration camp prisoners and drugged child soldiers.
Blitzed details how Hitler’s personal physician, Dr. Theo Morell, administered vitamin concoctions and hormone injections common to athletic doping to pump up Hitler’s ailing body during the war years. Though Hitler had promised to cleanse the nation of drug abuse, he himself became utterly dependent on drugs to survive. Military defeat and destruction took their toll on Nazism embodied, Morell increasingly looked towards methamphetamine and oxycodone (Eukodal) to keep Hitler wake and alert during the last apocalyptic years of the Reich. In so doing, Morell himself built an impressive medical empire based on quack medicines and bought political access. Ohler shows how in the final months of the conflict, Morell’s supplies of drugs ran out, exposing Hitler’s frail body to his inner circle with health crises, symptoms of chemical withdraw, and fits of madness.
James Esposito is a historian and researcher interested in digital history, empire, and the history of technology. James can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @james_esposito_