High in Hitler’s Ger­many — un­til the drugs ran out

The Washington Post Sunday - - BOOK WORLD - Ti­mothy R. Smth is on the staff of Book World.

In the 1930s, a smit­ten Ger­man could buy his fraulein boxed choco­lates spiked with metham­phetamine. When Ger­many in­vaded France in 1940, its sol­diers marched on Pervitin, an early form of crys­tal meth, which kept them perked for the light­ning speed of Bl­itzkrieg war­fare.

On the verge of de­stroy­ing the Bri­tish forces at Dunkirk, Her­mann Göring, the head of the air force, was zonked on mor­phine when he had a eureka mo­ment. “The world lay at his feet, and in his bliss­fully opium-soaked brain he de­cided that the glo­ri­ous vic­tory over the Al­lies should un­der no cir­cum­stances be left to the ar­ro­gant lead­ers of the army,” writes Nor­man Oh­ler in “Blitzed,” his fas­ci­nat­ing, en­gross­ing, of­ten dark his­tory of drug use in the Third Re­ich.

Weather in­ter­fered, the planes stayed put, and the army watched as the Bri­tish slipped away.

Read­ing “Blitzed,” one gets the im­pres­sion that the Ger­mans were con­sum­ing Pervitin like Gold­fish crack­ers or Skit­tles, “to help with child­birth, to fight sea­sick­ness, ver­tigo, hay fever, schizophre­nia, anx­i­ety neu­roses, de­pres­sions, low drive, dis­tur­bances of the brain — wher­ever the Ger­man hurt, the blue, white, and red tube was at the ready.”

Dur­ing the wan­ing days of the war, the Nazis de­vel­oped co­caine chew­ing gum for young sailors to use while pi­lot­ing sin­gle-man sub­marines on sui­cide mis­sions.

“Trust the Ger­mans to con­coct some truly aw­ful sh--,” the writer Wil­liam Burroughs com­mented.

Ad­dic­tion went to the top. Adolf Hitler be­gan tak­ing glu­cose in­jec­tions in the 1930s so he could hold his arm in the Nazi salute for im­pos­si­bly long times, ever the Uber­men­sch. But as the war ad­vanced, he be­came de­pen­dent on harder stuff. Hitler’s doc­tor gave the Führer daily in­jec­tions of oxy­codone, hor­mone prepa­ra­tions, a col­lec­tion of pills and serums, and quack reme­dies made from pigs’ liver.

“In fact it was the im­me­di­ate high of the in­jec­tions that al­lowed Hitler to feel like a world ruler and gave him a sense of strength and un­shak­able con­fi­dence that he needed to make ev­ery­one else keep the faith in spite of all the des­per­ate re­ports com­ing from ev­ery front,” Oh­ler writes.

Hours after a near-fa­tal bomb­ing in his bunker, Hitler took an in­jec­tion of oxy­codone to meet with Ben­ito Mus­solini, Italy’s strong­man. His ap­pear­ance at the train de­pot seemed mirac­u­lous. But Hitler’s in­juries, in­clud­ing two burst eardrums, were worse than ex­pected. The only lo­cal anes­thetic avail­able was co­caine, and it started a new ad­dic­tion.

By the end of the war, Hitler had the tell-tale signs of an ad­dict: Track marks mot­tled his fore­arms, his hands trem­bled. He stooped. He drooled. His blood was the con­sis­tency of straw­berry jelly. By the win­ter of 1945, with Soviet forces clos­ing on Ber­lin, Hitler ran out of drugs.

“Now the Fuhrer had ir­re­vo­ca­bly en­tered the re­al­ity of his lost war,” Oh­ler writes. “Every­thing weighed on him all of a sud­den, and as an in­fin­itely heav­ier bur­den than be­fore — naked as he was with­out the hor­mones of hap­pi­ness.”

He shot him­self on April 30. Out of drugs, he knew full well the re­al­ity of his demise. As for his mis­tress, Eva Braun, his fi­nal gift to her wasn’t a box of choco­lates but a cyanide pill.


Adolf Hitler re­ceived glu­cose in­jec­tions in the 1930s so he could hold his arm in the Nazi salute for long pe­ri­ods. He later be­came ad­dicted to co­caine and other drugs.

BLITZED Drugs in the Third Re­ich By Nor­man Oh­ler Houghton Mif­flin Har­court. 292 pp. $28

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