Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich

by Norman Ohler

Other authorsShaun Whiteside (Translator.)
Hardcover, 2017




Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.


"The Nazi regime preached an ideology of physical, mental, and moral purity. But as Norman Ohler reveals in this gripping new 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 an overwhelming case that, if drugs are not taken into account, our understanding of the Third Reich is fundamentally incomplete"--Provided by publisher.… (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 VersionPerson
A quick and enthralling read, bustling with immense details and footnotes. It makes some generalisations here and there, but overall this is fantastic.
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 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 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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