Norman Ohler, 2015

If you’ve ever wanted to read a detailed description of Hitler’s bowel movements, have I got the book for you!

The professor of one of the WWII classes I audited back when I had time for such things recommended this book, so when it popped up while I was looking for audiobooks to listen to as I drove between tutoring appointments, I added it to the queue.  The author makes four main claims:

  • Though we tend to associate them with later eras, both cocaine and heroin were developed in Germany in the nineteenth century, and the Weimar Republic was awash in both.  It had Merck and Bayer pumping out the drugs; it offered a culture experimenting with new freedoms after centuries of authoritarian government; and it hosted a population looking to escape reality following an economic collapse that followed on the heels of a devastating war.  Those attracted by Nazi rhetoric about the importance clean living and treating the body as a temple may well have been largely reacting against the drug‑fueled libertinism of Berlin’s cabaret scene.

  • In the initial phases of WWII, Nazi troops pounded down handfuls of pills that came in cheerful red and blue packages stamped with the name “Pervitin”.  Developed in 1938 by the Temmler corporation, Pervitin is better known to us by its generic name, methamphetamine.  The blitzkrieg Germany used to knock France out of the war got its name both from the lightning speed of the Nazi advance and from its shocking bravado.  German divisions would assault fortified positions head‑on, sending the defenders running, and then race onward day and night as if sleep were no concern.  What traditional accounts of the blitzkrieg miss, Ohler contends, is that both that fearlessness and that breakneck pace are easily explained if you realize the Nazi soldiers were all on crank.

  • In perhaps the least surprising revelation on record, the Nazis tested their attempts to formulate a sort of super‑Pervitin on prisoners in the extermination camps.  They also used the prisoners as guinea pigs for mind‑control drugs.

  • But the bulk of Blitzed is devoted to Hitler himself and, even more, to his personal physician, Theodor Morell.  Morell had been a Berlin doctor, popular with German celebrities, who offered Hitler a remedy for a stomach ailment that Hitler declared a miracle cure.  Hitler decreed that Morell was never to leave his side, and soon was demanding, and receiving, multiple injections every day.  Initially these were fairly harmless: vitamins, glucose.  Then came the hormone concoctions made of things like liquefied pig livers and bull prostates.  Eventually Morell introduced Hitler to a Merck product called Eukodal—​better known to us by its generic name, oxycodone—​which Hitler took to demanding on a routine basis.  Then, following his injuries in a 1944 assassination attempt, Hitler added cocaine to his regimen, which combined with the Eukodal meant that the self‑professed teetotaler was doing speedballs.  The twitching, drooling, jaundiced Führer of the last days, Ohler submits, was not only ravaged by years of hard toxins and foreign hormones, but with Germany’s pharmaceutical factories reduced to rubble, was also in the throes of withdrawal.

I’ve noticed that the critics of this book tend to zero in on the depiction of Hitler as drug‑addled, charging that it constitutes an attempt to let Hitler off the hook for Nazi atrocities, and waving off the author’s pre‑emptive response that his book is no such thing.  This strikes me as strange for a few reasons.  First, there’s the matter of the timeline: if Hitler started getting injections in the late 1930s and turned to the hard stuff around 1943, that hardly makes drugs responsible for Nazi ideology, which was formulated long before.  Second, these criticisms reflect a mindset in which voluntary intoxication is a mitigating rather than aggravating circumstance.  (“Don’t put me in jail for running over those kids—​I was drunk!”)  But third, and most relevant to today: whether Hitler was drug‑addled at the end of the war is a question of fact.  You can certainly argue that Ohler has misinterpreted Morell’s notes, and why we should interpret “X” to mean Eukodal when in many places Morell explicitly writes “Eukodal” is a good question.  You can argue the math of how widespread Pervitin use was, both among the German soldiery and among the civilian population.  But you can’t argue that you don’t accept Ohler’s facts because you don’t like the implications.

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