Norman Ohler reveals how the leaders of Nazi Germany were powered by cocaine, heroin, morphine and methamphetamines

Second Home
Oct 18, 2016 · 18 min read
High Hitler

Norman Ohler’s Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany is the first book to present compelling evidence that the entire Nazi regime was a performance society permeated with drugs — cocaine, heroin, morphine and methamphetamines – the last of these being crucial to troops’ resilience and partly explaining German victory in 1940.

In a talk he gave at Second Home, Ohler explained how their promiscuous use impaired and confused decision-making, with drastic effects on Hitler and his entourage, who, as the war turned against Germany, took refuge in ever more poorly understood cocktails of stimulants. This chemical euphoria changes how we should think about the Nazi high command and its ability to understand the situation it found itself in by 1944–5.

“All the people who have given talks at Second Home have talked about all these beautiful subjects like renewable energy. I have a little bit of a darker topic because I’ll be talking about Nazi’s abusing drugs in order to enhance their evil scheme.

We all know the Weimar era — we call it the Golden Twenties– in my book I call it the Chemical Twenties and I want to read a little something from the Chemical Twenties chapter. This is the Temmler factory, who became the producer of methamphetamine.

The Temmler meth factory

Let me just read you that little thing about the Chemical Twenties so you get an idea of the mood in Berlin at the time. I’m going to read a song that was a popular song in the ’20s in Berlin. It goes like this:

“Once, not so very long ago sweet alcohol, that beast
Brought warmth and sweetness to our lives
But then the price increased
And so cocaine and morphine Berliners now select
Let lightning flashes rage outside, we snort and we inject
At dinner in the restaurant the waiter brings the tin of coke for us to feast upon
Forget whiskey and gin
Let drowsy morphine takes its subcutaneous effect upon our nervous system
We snort and we inject
These medications aren’t allowed
Of course, they’re quite forbidden
But even such illicit treats are very seldom hidden
Euphoria awaits us and though as we suspect
Our foes can’t wait to shoot us down
We snort and we inject
And if we snort ourselves to death
Or into the asylum
Our days are going downhill fast
How better to beguile them?
Europe’s a mad house, anyway
No need for genuflecting
The only way to paradise is snorting and…”

The Nazis, of course, hated all of this. They called the Weimar Republic the Jewish Republic, the Degenerate Republic. They hated drugs, they hated bohemian life, they hated art, they hated basically everything except themselves. So when they became the leading force in Germany in 1933, in a way they invented what we today know as the war on drugs. They imposed very strict anti-drug laws, they threw people who took drugs into concentration camps — the first concentration camps were not what we now imagine concentration camps are, they were kind of wild, they call them wild concentration camps. They were sometimes just cellars where the SS were torturing people and killing people. Some of the first people that were prosecuted in that way were drug users — drug users were among those first victims of National Socialism.

“The Nazis imposed very strict anti-drug laws, and threw people who took drugs into concentration camps— drug users were among those first victims of National Socialism.”

The irony is, however, that one drug suddenly became very popular in Nazi Germany. After the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936, rumour went around that the Americans were — part of them were not white. But they still were better than the white superhuman Germans, which is basically impossible, so they must have taken something.

In fact, actually it might be true. I have not seen a record, and there’s people who research this but there’s many rumours that at the Olympic Games in ’36 there actually was a doping agent being used. Amphetamine, Benzedrine it was called, it was an American product, and apparently it enabled some American athletes to perform quite well.

So the owner of this company, Temmler, said, ‘We’re going to invent a better drug than amphetamine. We’re going to invent methamphetamine’, or that’s at least that’s what happened. In 1937 his chemist had developed a product which was then called Pervitin which was better than amphetamine, much stronger. It was put on the market; it was patented on October 31st 1937.

German Pervitin was much stronger than amphetamines

Pervitin came on the market early 1938 and quickly became the drug of choice, you could say, of Nazi Germany. Methamphetamine, Pervitin, really was in vogue. It was also picked up by universities. Professors made tests with their patients with Pervitin, and everyone was raving about the drug. Also, professors would write that it was good to also test it on yourself. So they would take it themselves, and they would write that it has really great effect, and they could work for 56 hours without stopping. It was quite amazing.

“German professors would take Pervitin themselves, and they would write about its great effects, that they could work for 56 hours without stopping.”

If you look at what all the universities wrote about Pervitin, you would think it was the solution to all of our problems — just take Pervitin and perform. Housewives used it. Pervitin became a symptom of the developing performance society, boxed chocolates spiked with methamphetamine were even put on the market. A good 14 milligrams of methamphetamine were included in each individual portion, almost five times the amount in a Pervitin pill. ‘Hildebrand chocolates are always a delight’ was the slogan of this potent confectionery.

‘Making housework more fun — methamphetamine chocolates’.

The recommendation was to eat between three and nine of these, with the indication that they were, unlike caffeine, perfectly safe. The housework would be done in a trice and this unusual titbit would even melt the pounds away since Pervitin, a slimming agent, also curbed the appetite. Penguin wrote, we all wrote, ‘Making housework more fun — methamphetamine chocolates’.

So we can kind of get an idea that this was not considered a dangerous drug, but it was just considered — actually at the time, the thing to take at the moment, because the mood in Germany — within large parts of the society, obviously not within parts of the society that were oppressed and even killed or put into camps at the time, but for the most part of the society people were kind of content with what was going on. Everyone was having to work, and so it was a modern performance society.

“We all take performance-enhancing drugs, whether it be in green tea or alcohol or whatever. In Germany it was methamphetamine. It didn’t take long until the German army realised that this Pervitin might be something interesting to look at.”

People were using Pervitin to be part of it and not be tired, and if you went into a business meeting you took your Pervitin with your coffee and you would just be on top of your game. We all take performance-enhancing drugs, whether it be in green tea or alcohol or whatever. In Germany it was methamphetamine. It sounds crazy, but this is what the research showed. Then of course, Germany being a dictatorship with a very clear idea where this is going to head, namely towards war and expansion of the territory, it’s no surprise that it didn’t take long until the German army realised that this Pervitin might be something interesting to look at.

Otto Ranke

Now comes someone onto the stage with the name of Otto Ranke, I think he was a professor, the head of the Physiological Institute within the army. In his war dairy he writes about how he becomes addicted to Pervitin without realising it. “I could work for four days and four nights without stopping. This is amazing”, he wrote. And then more and more he’s like, “I’m getting really tense, but then I took a Pervitin and it was all good again”. He saw that Pervitin was everywhere, and he made experiments on young medical officers. The experiment started at eight in the evening and went on until 4:00pm the next day. They had to solve mathematical questions, and they had to repeat orders by heart, so they had all these kinds of things, and they had to draw images. You can find all of these things — it’s very well preserved in the military archive in Freiberg, everything is there.

The curious thing that he found is that without a doubt he concluded that people [that] people using Pervitin can stay awake much, much better than the people without Pervitin. So without Pervitin, no fatigue, three people, with two times six milligrams, 26 people had no fatigue. So that’s pretty obvious that Pervitin is good against fatigue.

“Pervitin is perfect for soldiers, because it makes you a little bit duller, but you can do what you’re doing much longer’. This was very valuable for the military.”

But then he also saw that the people using Pervitin actually didn’t become smarter — they were making mistakes — they could do simple tasks better and longer, but the more complex tasks they actually were not as good as the others who hadn’t taken it. He was kind of trying to evaluate that and he said, ‘This is perfect for soldiers, because it makes you a little bit duller, but you can do what you’re doing much longer’. So his conclusion was very valuable for the military. This is the last experiment he did was in the summer of 1939, he immediately contacted his superiors and said, ‘We should use this’, because it was clear that the attack on Poland was going to happen. He knew, he was in a position to know that. So he was trying to get Pervitin to be distributed officially to the troops, but his superiors didn’t really believe it, or they just didn’t get it and there wasn’t time to do it. So the attack on Poland happened without — which started World War II, obviously, because Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3rd of September.

During the attack on Poland, Pervitin was not distributed officially, but Ranke knew that many people already taking it because it was such a popular product, and he had every medical officer write back to him from the front — he did a survey. A tank division that was reporting back about Pervitin, said it worked very well against depression as well, and Pervitin was given to everyone. The experiences were very favourable — no one was tired, everyone felt fresh, and basically the work could be done in a very efficient way. There are dozens and dozens of these reports that you can also go to Freiberg and read all the originals.

“The blitzkrieg in Poland worked very well by getting Nazi soldiers blitzed”

For Ranke, of course, it was a big success. He was now going to his superiors, saying, ‘You see? This works. The blitzkrieg in Poland worked very well by getting our soldiers blitzed’. Before the attack on France and the whole West actually, which happened in May 1940 as you all know, May 10th 1940 the attack came — Ranke was working very hard to make Pervitin an official drug. He was successful in April 17th of 1940.

There was a guy who said no, his name was Leonardo Conti, he was the Minister of Health, and he was a Pervitin opponent. He tried to stop Pervitin and he basically lost influence in this struggle because he couldn’t win this this battle. He also addressed the German army. He was quite outspoken about it, and he said, ‘Whole troops are becoming incapable of fighting and whole segments of the German population are becoming addicted to this drug’.

He put the drug under the Opium Law in ’41. So what he achieved was to make methamphetamine illegal in 1941, a few weeks before the attack on the Soviet Union, and the German Wehrmacht didn’t care at all about the Opium Law. They said, ‘This is for the civilian society, it doesn’t affect us at all’. But there was kind of a war on drugs within the war on drugs in the system.

Walther von Brauchitsch

A stimulant decree was then signed by the highest army command, Walther von Brauchitsch, chief of the general staff. He signed it, and it says exactly how much methamphetamine every soldier should take and what interval, what other side effects — side effects they concluded are aggressive behaviour, which I suppose was a side effect that was kind of wished for.

So Ranke had his success. Now, the drug was officially introduced into the Wehrmacht, and the Wehrmacht was the first army in the world to use, in an organised manner, a pharmaceutical product, a very potent drug — the drug which we today know as crystal meth. So between April 17th and May 10th, the day of a big attack, 35 million tablets of Pervitin were being shipped from the Temmler factory to the troops that were getting ready for the assault.

“Between April 17th and May 10th, the day of a big attack, 35 million tablets of Pervitin were being shipped from the Temmler factory to the troops that were getting ready for the assault.”

[Heinz] Gutherian, a very important tank commander, asked his men to stay awake for three days and three nights. After this campaign, he congratulated them for staying awake for 17 days, which sounds impossible — it’s probably exaggerated a bit because I don’t think anyone can actually do that — but it shows that really they did not sleep.

The British and the French troops were completely surprised by this unstoppable movement of the Wehrmacht. Suddenly some people said they are unbeatable. They really were the über-human soldiers, ‘What are they doing?’. They didn’t just didn’t understand what was going on.

The movements were quite erratic. In military books is say that when advancing you stop, secure your flanks and let the infantry come, and then advance further. Rommel took the position that he wouldn’t stop and just kept on going. He reached the channel within a couple of days when the French thought this would take months. This completely surprised the allies. Obviously in Germany we know a lot about World War II, but I had never known this. I find it quite interesting how this campaign mechanically worked, how the drugs, the weapons, the strategy, how it all kind of worked together as this very successful machine for that campaign.

Ernst Udet was one of the highest people in Göring’s Ministry of Aviation. Hermann Göring was the head of the German Luftwaffe. The German pilots obviously also took methamphetamine because they had less pilots than the British, and also the planes weren’t as good. So they had to have some kind of edge, so they flew more missions. They were just hopped up and so they could kind of work against the imbalance that was existing. Obviously it didn’t work because after flying for three days you have to rest for four days. There was one pilot who took more and more of it because he doesn’t really understand how much to take and he hadquite a psychedelic experience and was hardly able to land again. He walked across the airfield totally out of his mind.

Ernst Udet

As hopped up as the Germans might have been, this couldn’t give them the advantage over the Royal Air Force, which was plainly better run. The Battle of Britain was lost by the Reich — Germany’s first defeat in this war. Hitler had to call off Operation Sea Lion and thus an invasion of Britain, and looked for a new theatre for his war, which obviously became Russia later on. Consequences weren’t drawn from this new failure on Göring’s part. He still held court in the huge building of the Reich aviation ministry, built of pale stone blocks on Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin. Red Reich war flags emblazoned with a swastika fluttered confidently above as if to point out unequivocally that even the winds were subject to the power of this government and particularly to that of the Reichsmarschall.

But anyone who passed through the big cast-iron gate and across the broad forecourt stepped into a realm of chaos, of unbridled alcohol and drug abuse, of intrigues, and of general mismanagement. The conditions in Göring’s 3,000-roomed fortress — which today houses the Federal Ministry of Finance of Germany, funnily enough — was symptomatic of the regime’s loss of political reality and the wrong track that Germany had set off on.

Gurning Hermann Göring

An officer described the Reischsmarschall’s appearance: ‘We struggled to keep a straight face. He dons a white silk blouse-like shirt with flowing sleeves, and over it a yellow sleeveless, fur-lined suede jacket. With this he sports long, medieval-looking bloomers, and around his waist a broad, gold-studded leather belt with a short Celtic sword jangling from it, long, silk stockings and golden yellow leather sandals complete the picture’.

The face of the powerful minister was covered in makeup and his fingernails were painted red. Often during discussions, Göring, once the opium content of his blood had dropped, felt so deranged that he would leave the room abruptly without a word of explanation and not come back until a few minutes later, plainly much refreshed.

“Göring had the air of being newborn, he looked magnificent and fixed his sparkling blue eyes on us. The difference in his appearance between the first and second parts of our conference was notable. For me it was clear that he had been taking some form of stimulant’.”

A general describes one such surprising transformation: ‘Göring had the air of being newborn, he looked magnificent and fixed his sparkling blue eyes on us. The difference in his appearance between the first and second parts of our conference was notable. For me it was clear that he had been taking some form of stimulant’.” This stimulant, as it said, was morphine. Göring was a morphinist — he had been injured in the so-called Hitlerputsch in 1923, he had received a wound in his stomach and since then he had been taking quite a bit of morphine.

[Udet] did everything wrong that you could do wrong in a ministry — he would take seven Pervitins for breakfast just to cope with the stress. In the fall of 1941 he shot himself in the head. I think in the book it says that only the bullet was stronger than the pillow or something. He just couldn’t deal with it anymore and there was a state funeral for him, ‘One of the big heroes of National Socialism has died’. I mean, he was a complete drug addict.

Towards the end of the war, the German Marine had mini submarines because all the big submarines had been torpedoed by the British and the Americans, so they built new mini submarines, and the idea was that they would go up the River Thames and torpedo the British ships and the American ships.

A captured Nazi mini submarine

But the thing was, these pilots, these 18/19-year-olds, had to be in these mini submarines for five days and five nights alone without sleeping. So the only solution here was — here it says, ‘Use of these mini submarines not possible without very strong medication’. So they were testing with a combination of caffeine, Pervitin and cocaine might work, and they developed 10 different kind of drug combinations — D1 to D10 — and D9 they thought was the strongest one. It was a combination of Hitler’s favorited drug, a very strong opiate, pharmacological cousin to heroin, with an effect to make you euphoric — plus Pervitin and cocaine.

So imagine these three drugs, put together into one pill, given to 18-year-olds, putting them into mini submarines and telling them, ‘Now go up to the Thames and torpedo the British ships’. It didn’t work out. They tried to hide it in their writing because they just called cocaine, ‘C’, Pervitin they just called ‘P’… They weren’t very open about it, but it’s all there and you can all you can research it.

Martin Bormann

Everyone was afraid of Martin Bormann. He was the secretary of the Führer and tried to stop Theodor Morell, the personal physician of Hitler, from organising the medication of the Führer. Bormann wanted Morell to write down his prescriptions so everyone else could read what Hitler was getting. But Morell and Hitler had a deal that no one would know what Hitler was getting. So this was an attempt by Bormann to make it transparent what Hitler was actually receiving from Morell, and Morell just ignored it because he knew that Hitler would not let him go, because who would let the perfect dealer go who you could call at night and request the strongest drugs available and within 20 minutes he’s there and gives them to you for free? Bormann just let it pass, which he never did — if Bormann wanted something he usually got it, but Morell seemed to have been stronger than him, even.

It was a very important part of Nazi ideology and the so-called Führer cult to portray Hitler as a ‘tee-totaller’. He was the cleanest person on the planet — no alcohol, obviously vegetarian, no private life, no poisons would enter the body of the Führer, not even coffee. If you look at pictures of Hitler you never see him fucked up.

“It was a very important part of Nazi ideology and the so-called Führer cult to portray Hitler as a ‘tee-totaller’. He was the cleanest person on the planet — no alcohol, obviously vegetarian, no private life, no poisons would enter the body of the Führer, not even coffee.”

While the Red Army was taking more and more towns in East Prussia in November 1944, Hitler’s veins were so wrecked that even the expert shot-giver Morell could hardly penetrate them. The skin of the veins, perforated too many times, was inflamed, scarred, and in a peculiar shade of brown. Morell had to take a break: ‘I cancelled injections today to give the previous puncture holes a chance to heal. Left inside elbow good, right still has red dots, but not pustules, where the injections were given. Führer says this wasn’t the case before’.

It actually made a crunching noise every time Morell gave them a shot. Each jab created a new wound that joined the previous one, and it produced an elongated growing crust — what junkies call track marks, when one jab is followed by the next to form an unlovely line. Even Hitler was gradually becoming nervous and worrying about what the huge number of injections was doing to him: ‘When I gave him the intravenous injection, the Führer thought I wasn’t rubbing the area long enough with alcohol so that he often developed small red pustules at the needle holes’.

But Morell had another explanation for the condition: ‘Blood low in oxygen for months sitting in the bunker with no daylight or fresh air, as becomes apparent when applying a tourniquet and consequently not sufficiently coagulable, and the needle hole staying red’. Hitler remained suspicious. ‘Führer still attributes this to bacteria and thinks bacteria might be entering his body with the injections’.

Out of necessity, Morell wanted to stop the orgy of shots for a while, but in the end, Hitler swept all qualms aside and his other aggressive qualities came to the fore. In spite of the unpleasantness that the countless injections cost him, he didn’t stop demanding them, and when receiving his doctor, the first thing he said was that he didn’t need treatment but that he did need an injection.

‘Six o’clock in the morning I am to go to the patient immediately, there in 20 minutes, Führer had worked through the night and had a very momentous decision to make, which had left him deeply irritable. The anxiety had become increasingly powerful, until at last, quite suddenly, as always when he became very agitated, a convulsion had set in. He didn’t want an examination as that only intensified the pain. I quickly prepared a combined injection and administered it intravenously, which was very difficult given the many recent inoculations. But in the process I observed that we must spare the veins for a while as I had to pause before giving him the injection. Relaxation took place during the injection and the pain was gone. The Führer was very happy about it and gratefully shook my hand’.”

Buy Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany by Norman Ohler here

This talk took place st Second Home, a creative workspace and cultural venue, bringing together diverse industries, disciplines and social businesses. Click here to find out who’s speaking next.

Work + Life

Inside the minds and creative spaces of global innovators

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Work + Life

Inside the minds and creative spaces of global innovators

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