Rating: 4 Stars
Germany has a long history in pharmaceuticals. Possibly its most famous chemist, Felix Hoffman, managed to, within a span of two weeks, invent / synthesize both aspirin and heroin. With companies such as Bayer and Merck, they were worldwide producers of drugs.
In the pain and humiliation after WWI, the Germans, during the Weimar Republic, descended even more into hedonistic consumption of drugs.
In the 1920s, the Nazi party came to strength. One of their core messages is purity and cleanliness. They strongly advocated against drug use. They blamed the German reliance on drugs upon (shocking!) the Jewish people. In the Nazi view, the metaphysical poison that the Jewish people represented was actualized in the poison of drugs.
Their message of strength and purity was one of the many reasons that Germans were attracted to them. When the Nazis seized power, they immediately began to crack down on drug use. Drug addicts were forbidden from marriage. Their early euthanasia policies involved murdering those that they deemed insane, a category in which they included drug addicts.
The story ends happy, right? Over time, the Nazi party continues to stands for purity, especially its famously teetotaler vegetarian leader, right?
Um, yeah…not so much.
The book focuses on drug consumption both within the German military forces and on Adolph Hitler himself.
At the start of WWII, the Germans knew that they were over-matched. There simply wasn’t enough Germans to conquer the Allies in any conventional confrontation. The generals knew this and actively advocated against fighting.
There was one general, Manstein, that came up with a genuinely innovative concept. Instead of fighting the allied armies head on, he advocated a lightning thrust through the Ardennes, which was largely undefended and generally considered impassable.
However, for that plan to work, speed was absolutely of the essence (as in, a blitzkrieg). They would literally have to push to the coast in a matter of days to split France and to conquer it. To do so, the soldiers would have to be awake, alert, and fighting for up to four days.
How was this to be done?
Well, earlier, a drug named Pervitin had been recently developed. Pervitin isn’t particularly remembered now, but you might know it by its chemical name, methamphetamine. Yep, we’re talking meth. In experiments on soldiers, it appeared that they could stay up for virtually unlimited numbers of hours while on meth.
In preparation for the attack, tens of millions of meth pills were created and handed out to troops.
Amazingly enough, it worked. The Nazis moved at a historically unprecedented pace. The hapless French and English stood no chance of keeping up. If Hitler hadn’t inexplicably stopped the advance, they would have been pushed the Allies into the channel. The Nazis thought that they’d discovered the miracle drug.
However…a couple of things. As anyone who has watched Breaking Bad knows, meth is not a great long term drug. At some point, all of those neurotransmitters that it sucks up need to be replenished. If you don’t, fun things like paranoia and hallucinations start cropping up.
Also, although it worked for a very short invasion like France, it did not work so well for the invasion of the Soviet Union. There was just too much land mass. The Soviets bend but not break defense extended the invasion. Even though the Nazis conquered an almost unimaginable amount of land in the first months, the key here is the phrase months. Feeding your soldiers meth for long periods of time isn’t exactly a recipe for success. As the Soviets regrouped and got stronger, inevitably whatever chemical advantage the Nazis had started wearing off, and their long decline began.
Over time, the military doctors tried other cocktails to try to find the perfect drug to essentially keep soldiers awake and alert for longer periods of time, but the result more than not was horrible side effects.
The other theme of the book was about Hitler himself. Even in the mid 1930s, he complained of feeling weak and had serious digestive issues. He chanced upon a vitamin doctor named Dr Morrell, who, when he heard Hitler’s complaints, confidently told him that he could cure him. He gave Hitler an injection, and, lo and behold, Hitler almost immediately began feeling better.
Convinced, Hitler insisted that Dr Morrell always be by his side. At first, Morrell stuck to injections of glucose, vitamins, and steroids.
Over time, these injections were no longer able to revitalize Hitler. Hitler began to make increasingly querulous demands upon Morrell. Morrell, desperate to keep his place as Hitler’s personal physician, began to try ever more exotic remedies, including such things as atropine, strychnine, sexual hormones, supplements made from uterine blood, and derivatives of bulls’ testicles.
Even this proved ultimately to be not enough. Hitler was due to meet with Mussolini. Italy was in a very bad spot and Mussolini wanted to end the war. Hitler was to overwhelm Mussolini and convince him to continue fighting, but he just didn’t have it in him to do so. He just sat in bed despondent and there was talks of cancelling the meeting, which would have been disastrous to the Nazis.
None of Morrell’s usual bag of tricks were proving to be effective. In desperation, he gave Hitler an injection of Eukodal. That proved to be a miracle drug. He almost immediately bounded up, and true to form, completely dominated Mussolini.
Eukodal is a brand name. What is Eukodal? It might be slightly better known as oxycodone. Yep, the Nazis weren’t just into meth but also oxy.
Although the record is murky, it appears that from point on, Morrell regularly injected Hitler with Eukodal. As pretty much everyone knows, long term use of oxycodone also isn’t a great idea. Eventually, Morrell began to add to the injection to offset the sedating effects of the opioid. What did he use as the stimulant? Cocaine. Yep, Morrell started injecting Hitler with what almost any modern drug addict would recognize as a speedball.
It can scarcely be a mystery why, by the time 1944 rolls around, that Hitler is truly a wreck. Morrell has trouble finding veins to perform the injection. One of Hitler’s arms is uncontrollably shaking. He can barely stand. He is drooling. He nearly overdoses at one point. When he decides to kill himself, he is legitimately concerned that he won’t be able to hold the pistol.
This is a side of Nazi Germany that I hadn’t read about. It appears that Ohler did a significant amount of original research. I’ll be interested in if, over the next several years, this work will have an influence upon the historically agreed upon narrative of Hitler and Nazi Germany.