Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich

Image of Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich
Release Date: 
April 3, 2017
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Reviewed by: 

One facet of Nazi Germany about which many people do not know or of which they are unaware is the extent of chemical dependency in its society and regime. Germany was home to much of the world’s early pharmaceutical industry (Bayer, Merck, I.G. Farben, etc.).

These companies and even independent chemists ultimately synthesized opiate pain killers like morphine and heroin which, along with cocaine, put Germany in the pharmaceutical driver’s seat as the leading exporter of these drugs in the world wide economy.

Given the initial lack of knowledge surrounding side effects, dependency, and regulation, it is no wonder that these drugs were soon to be known as “mother’s little helper” and became the substances of choice for hedonists, partiers, and those who wished to forget and escape the hyperinflationary times of the Weimar Republic of the 1920s.

With the advent of the Nazi regime, however, drug use became anathema, eventually outlawed and linked to the “disease of Jewish degeneracy.” Additionally, the emphasis on physical health and blood and racial purity was part and parcel of the Nazis’ ideology which itself was intended to be a drug for the masses.

One substance which did escape legal scrutiny was methamphetamine, synthesized from ephedrine, perfected by a German pharmacist and given the trademark of Pervitin. With its presumed performance enhancing capability, it became the next wonder drug: Factory workers and others would be able to increase their output and soldiers could perform superhuman feats during the course of fighting once the war broke out in 1939.

Indeed, over the course of the German war effort, Pervitin use was strongly encouraged, particularly in the military. It was virtually handed out like candy although it did eventually become regulated to the extent that a prescription was necessary once the side effects of regular and prolonged use were determined.

In spite of legal proscriptions, there certainly was nothing to stop the leadership from indulging, ostensibly in terms of increased performance and work output. Adolf Hitler essentially ran himself ragged trying to keep up with the diplomatic, political, and military demands made on him as head of state and the armed forces, especially as the war went against Germany.

It is well known that Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering was addicted to opiates as a result of wounds suffered in the unsuccessful 1923 Beer Hall Putsch engineered by the nascent Nazi Party. Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS and the various security services, also sought relief from the stresses he endured through the good offices of the one man who was the common denominator in this Nazi drug binge.

Doctor Theodor Morell not only became Hitler’s personal physician but also, as a result of his proximity to the seat of power, his own force in the pharmaceutical industry, including vitamin supplements and other “medicines” which mostly had no real therapeutic value. 

Although the physical decline of Adolf Hitler over the course of World War II is documented, not much has been publicized about the specific substances to which he was subjecting himself. The author has gleaned a lot of eye-opening information on this from archives and personal papers to the extent that it is not surprising that Hitler was an addict, Nazi law and ideology notwithstanding.

He suffered from a considerable number of physical ailments brought on by the drugs he was using, mostly injection of Eukodal, another opiate derivative. As with any addict, he always felt better and on top of the world once he’d had an injection yet never seemed to consider the possibility of personal addiction. Morell was as much his “dealer” as his savior.

For all concerned, as the war wound down, Allied bombing took its toll and the source dried up, at least for society and the rank and file of the military. The leadership almost invariably had access, not that that did much good by the end.

The author has included many illustrations of pertinent documents, such as Morell’s prescriptions, files, and records, relative to his treatment of Hitler as well as those of many German pharmaceutical facilities.

The book having been translated from German, many of the sources employed are from published and unpublished documents, archives, and repositories found in Germany, making it difficult for one to check up on these without a basis in that language.

However, this bestseller has promulgated a perspective on Nazi Germany that has not really been widely explored previously and goes a long way toward explaining much on the topic, which we may heretofore have failed to realize.