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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.