Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich

by Norman Ohler

Other authorsShaun Whiteside (Translator.)
Hardcover, 2017


Checked out
Due Apr 11, 2018


Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.


The Nazi regime preached an ideology of physical, mental, and moral purity. But as Norman Ohler reveals in this history, the Third Reich was saturated with drugs. On the eve of World War II, Germany was a pharmaceutical powerhouse, and companies such as Merck and Bayer cooked up cocaine, opiates, and, most of all, methamphetamines, to be consumed by everyone from factory workers to housewives to millions of German soldiers. In fact, troops regularly took rations of a form of crystal meth -- the elevated energy and feelings of invincibility associated with the high even help to explain certain German military victories. Drugs seeped all the way up to the Nazi high command and, especially, to Hitler himself. Over the course of the war, Hitler became increasingly dependent on injections of a cocktail of drugs -- including a form of heroin -- administered by his personal doctor. While drugs alone cannot explain the Nazis' toxic racial theories or the events of World War II, Ohler's investigation makes the case that, if drugs are not taken into account, our understanding of the Third Reich is fundamentally incomplete.… (more)

Media reviews

Ohler’s skill as a novelist makes his book far more readable than these scholarly investigations, but it’s at the expense of truth and accuracy, and that’s too high a price to pay in such a historically sensitive area.

User reviews

LibraryThing member JeffV
We all know about how revolutionary and effective the blitzkrieg was early in WWII. What I didn't realize was the widespread drugs that made the blitz possible. For the most part, German soldiers and tank crews were tweaked on crystal meth; allowing them to operate for days at a time without sleep. It is almost funny than when Hitler ordered a halt to the advance in France because it was going too quickly, the orders failed to reach general Heinz Guderian because he had already moved on and secured the next objective.

This book chronicles the millions of doses of crystal meth and other narcotics doles out by Reich physicians, but also the Fuhrer's descent in to addiction at the hands of his person physician, Dr. Morrell. As Hitler became more and more dependent, the more erratic he became, and the gradual fall ensued. It's really surprising how much success and failure can be tied to systematic drug abuse, more so because ideologically the party was very much against such thing. Hitler was a self-styled teetotaler and felt strongly that a street sweeper who enjoys his drink needs to look no further to the reason why he is but a street sweeper.

With drug addiction comes reality distortion, and as Hitler succumbed, the rest of the enterprise went down the toilet as well. Ridiculous orders had to be carried out under the threat of execution, and many of those who knew the collective Stuka was auguring into the ground were powerless to help. As troops developed a tolerance to the drugs they were given, their performance started to suffer and they fell victim to their increasingly experienced, sober counterparts.

There are many reasons the Third Reich did not succeed, but this book makes a compelling case that being stoned out of their gourd was probably a leading cause.
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LibraryThing member Shrike58
I will cheerfully admit that I approached this book in something of a salacious mood, as how could one do otherwise with the subject matter? Consisting of about 10% coverage of German narcotic culture, 30% coverage of the use of narcotics as a force multiplier by the German military, and 60% detailed examination of the destructive relationship between Hitler and Theodor Morrell (a society "feel-good" physician), where Ohler provides one with blow-by-blow coverage of the toll Morrell's drugs and quack remedies took of Hitler's health. The ultimate impact one is left with is not that of decadent amusement but a reinforcement of the horror of the experience of the Third Reich; I certainly did not find the accusation that Ohler is simply providing another alibi for the crimes of the Nazi regime to be justified. Ohler is quick to point out that the angle he is covering is only part of the story, but it's a part that has been downplayed in political and military history.

Here's the thing, as an American there is a certain shock of recognition here with the current American scene with its fun-house mirror coverage of political events, the denial of scientific analysis as a tool to explain reality, of its galloping epidemic of drug abuse, and the withdrawal of many people into various sorts of digital virtual worlds. Heaven help your society if a negative feed-back cycle of addictive behavior takes hold.
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LibraryThing member EmreSevinc
What a surprising, fascinating, and pharmacological look at one of the darkest periods in our modern history! Before this book, I didn't know anything about the drug use in Nazi Germany, and didn't have any idea about the role played by various powerful stimulants and painkillers both at various level of the army, and in the last few years of Hitler.

I'm neither a historian with expertise on II. World War Germany, neither the history of pharmacology, therefore, I can't be certain to a great extent whether the author's interpretation of a part of the archives are impeccable. Nevertheless, I applaud the effort taken because of the fresh perspective it provides. Even though the book's focus seems more tilted towards Hitler's addiction to and abuse of drugs, his relationship with his personal physician that gave all these drugs, and how this extraordinary situation made his already delusional state even worse, resulting in the suffering of millions of innocent people, I still wish the book gave more information about the usage of drugs in the army. There are of course striking example, for example the desperate final attempts of German navy, to use such powerful drugs so carelessly and unscientifically, leading to some soldiers not being able to sleep for four days! But I think there are other parts of the archive to be covered from this perspective in order to enhance our understanding.

If you're interested how human mind is affected by drugs that modify the biological mechanisms taking place in the brain, how mind state altering chemicals can be put to weird and evil uses, what crazy side effects can occur, and how blind political and delusional ambition can take knowledge and use it in an ignorant way to cause a lot of suffering, you'll find many of your questions answered in this book. And even though it's a non-fiction, it'll feel more like a page-turner thriller; another achievement by the author.
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LibraryThing member terran
This is a fascinating, well-researched account of drug use by Germans, including Hitler, during WWII. In spite of portraying himself as a clean-living healthy specimen of the master race, Hitler was , in reality, dying of his drug addiction by the end of the war. It doesn't excuse the horrendous actions he ordered done in any way, nor does the author excuse Hitler from any blame. The author's findings do offer a different picture of the conduct of the war and go a long way to explain some of the inexplicable decisions Hitler made.… (more)
LibraryThing member rivkat
Sensationally written, but then again the topic is pretty sensational. Ohler argues that a drug-taking culture, heroin and cocaine specifically, was a big part of Weimar life—Germany was the biggest producer of medical-grade heroin and cocaine by far, and popular culture often referred to taking those drugs (“Europe’s a madhouse anyway/No need for genuflecting/The only way to Paradise/is snorting and injecting!”). “Heroin is a fine business,” the directors of Bayer said, while Merck, Boehringer and Kroll controlled 80% of the global cocaine market. The Nazis purported to crack down (they wanted their ideology to be the key drug, Ohler says), putting drug users in concentration camps and associating Jews with toxins and narcotics. But the Nazis also heavily used—and mandated the use by troops of—meth, under the name Pervitin, which Ohler argues was key to the Blitz, allowing troops to fight or drive for hours and to overwhelm French and other opponents who thought them inhumanly uninhibited. Their judgment was impaired and they became addicted, but what mattered that to Hitler, who became as arrogant as if he were likewise high? (Heinrich Böll wrote from the front: “Music is sometimes really a great consolation to me (not forgetting Pervitin, which provides a wonderful service—particularly during air raids at night.) Pervitin wasn’t the only source—back at home, there were even meth-spiked chocolates, with five times the dose of a Pervitin pill. But it didn’t work so well in the war of attrition on the Russian front, where going sleepless for hours no longer brought tactical advantages. Hitler’s personal supplier diverted resources from supplying the troops to keep himself in the animal parts he used to make his nostrums. Elsewhere, the Wehrmacht experimented on concentration camp prisoners to find the right combination of Eukodal, cocaine, Pervitin, and morphine derivatives to make soldiers fight on past all sense and physical resources—“the strongest known substances in the world, thrown together at random” out of laxity and desperation. Victims in the camps knew they had to keep marching or die, and the naval staff doctor reported success: “On this medication, state of mind and will are largely eliminated.” The navy gave the resulting gum to young, barely trained sailors who mostly just died. At Auschwitz, the tests focused on brainwashing and consciousness control, experiments that were later continued in the US.

The last chunk of the book is taken up with Hitler’s own growing drug addiction, which apparently included a lot of cocaine and oxycodone (under the name Eukodal), together comprising the classic speedball, mixing sedation and stimulation. (From William Burroughs: “[Eukodal] is like a combination of junk and [cocaine]. Trust the Germans to concoct some truly awful shit.”) Near the end, his doctor wanted to try bloodletting, but “because of the fatty, hormone-saturated pig’s liver injections his blood had become as thick as jelly and clotted immediately, so the measure failed.”
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LibraryThing member 2wonderY
Ohler makes a new argument that the Nazi war was fueled by cocaine and crystal meth; at headquarters and at the front. He compares party rhetoric promoting clean living with the widespread use of Pervitin, which was considered a caffeine substitute in its early marketing. Soldiers asked family to send supplies of it until the high command realized it would maximize personnel during huge military pushes, with the side benefit of reducing inhibitions (read conscience.)
The other chemical dealt with in detail is Eukodal, or oxycodone. A large section is devoted to Hitler's drug treatments administered by Dr. Modell.
Altogether a nasty piece of history, somewhat enlightening. Too bad there is no other confirmation of the story as yet. If true, there should be other evidence of a generation of addicts.
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LibraryThing member Sandydog1
Well researched, but it left many questions unanswered. Emphasis was on Hitler's addictions based on review of notes. It got boring after a while. A lesser, and more interesting theme was the fate of the average German soldier/addict. Meth use among the Luftwaffe, tankers and mini submariners and, during Blitzkrieg, is mentioned. But what goes up, must come down. Is there any documentation of exactly how German meth heads performed, as told by American or Soviet troops? What about withdrawals among German prisoners? What about notes and interviews of the average cranked up SS soldier or tank commander? With crank being dispensed like candy, that story would have been much more interesting. Overall, an exciting book and William Burroughs was right, "Leave it to the Nazis.."… (more)
LibraryThing member villemezbrown
With a tendency to be sensationalistic and overblown, this doesn't seem to be a particularly rigorous or wholly credible history, but it sure is fun, and I had a "feels right" gut check as I finished. The author uses the evidence of prevalent drug use in Germany not to excuse the Nazis but to explain some of the inexplicable early gains and later day bad decisions they made during the war. Hitler and his nation follow the early powerful highs and inflated confidence then the eventual long-term burnout, desperation and decay that is the fate of a drug addict.… (more)
LibraryThing member dwhatson
While Hitler's political ambitions were already well underway, one cannot wonder how much Dr Morell's drug cocktails influenced the outcome of WW2. The alleged widespread use of methamphetamine by Germany's military and the civilian population is truly disturbing. Furthermore, the power that Morrel gains during the war, as Hitler's personal physician, combined with the horror stories of methamphetamine use during combat make this book a fascinating read.… (more)
LibraryThing member rdwhitenack
Audiobook. I had no idea drugs were so prevalent in WWII. Definitely explains some of the behaviors. An eye opening book about the power of these drugs. One could arguably make the case that the Axis powers, i.e. Germany, lost the war because of a reliance on these drugs. Hitler was dependent on many drugs at the time of his death and the author does an excellent job retelling the story of how it got to that point. The author is careful to explain, and at one point explicitly describes how the drugs were not at fault for his madness, and that he was a murderous sociopath far prior to his dependency. The dependency sped things along.… (more)
LibraryThing member VersionPerson
A quick and enthralling read, bustling with immense details and footnotes. It makes some generalisations here and there, but overall this is fantastic.


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