Hitler Was a Secret Junkie — but Does It Actually Matter?
If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.
An analytical look into Norman Ohler’s Blitzed
Adolf Hitler, the ruthless and inhuman German dictator that nearly murdered millions of people (ruined countless people’s lives and erased history through the decimation of European cities), was apparently on a drug cocktail of cocaine and opioids throughout World War II? Well, he was — and it’s the subject of Norman Ohler’s latest nonfiction book Blitzed. It’s always been a mystery as to why Hitler’s unrelenting, and often times, crazed manic optimism never seemed to dissipate as the war progressed, despite the fact that the Third Reich was losing the war they waged. And really, it’s not so hard to put the pieces together when you realize most of the Nazi party was drugged up and blitzed out.
The evidence is all there: in obscure letters, records, and diary entries of various Nazi party members, including Hitler’s personal doctor, Theo Morell — who treated Hitler up until 1945 when he was fired (Hitler finally seemed to “realize” Morell drugged him as a way to deal with his health issues). Ohler researched all of this in the German federal archives and other collections. According to Ohler, the drug was manufactured in ridiculous quantities, in 35m tablets — and claimed that average civilians Pervitin became a routine “grocery item.”
The book describes three phases of Hitler’s drug use administered solely by Morell: the first being high doses of vitamins, the second starting in 1941 with opiate usage, and the third starting in 1943 with heavy opiate usage.
Hitler, who bragged about being a celibate drug-free vegetarian (who refused to drink), initially started waging his war alongside propaganda that he would make Germany a drug-free state. Of course, this was far from the truth, especially considering with relationship with Eva Braun, who was hidden from the public for this reason. This bizarre duality — the false illumination of purity and the real life of grotesque psychopathy and excessive behaviors — showcase the hypocrisy of the Nazi party, as well as highlighting the fact that the war was not a war to “help” Germany or to be more pure, but merely a war on the Other (people who were Jewish, disabled, gay, etc).
Starting in 1941, as the war turned a rather dismal turn for Germany (thanks, Russia), Morell began giving Hitler opiates when he became sick for the first time. Between 1941 and 1944, his health declined — which has been noted significantly by historians, but it has been speculated to be the result of Parkinson’s Disease. Hitler may have suffered from the disease, as it appeared Morell did give him medication to treat it; however, his declining health could have also very well been a result of intense drug usage — and then withdrawal when he fired Morell in 1945.
But Hitler wasn’t the only one on drugs; so was the entire Nazi army. It all started in the mid-1930s when Berlin pharmaceutical company Temmler developed Pervitin, a methamphetamine, which we call crystal meth. The drug, which Ohler claimed, was used so widely and commonly that it became used to anything from depression to fatigue by the German civilian population, as realized by Professor Otto Ranke, who then started doing tests on German soldiers and realized it was the precise drug needed to win the war, as it reduces fear, need for sleep, and increases focus and attention.
This resulted, very quickly, in tablets of methamphetamine supposedly being given like candy to the troops regularly — two before an advance, and then another pill after 12 hours, and then so on and so forth. Basically, all of Germany was blitzed out — and clearly, the rest is history. In general, at the time, the Temmler factory made 833,000 pills a day. Apparently, even Leo Conti, the then-minister of health was concerned about Germany’s addiction — although nothing came of his worries.
While the drug use has never been so widely and publicly written about before, it’s also not necessarily the first book of its kind. While the information was indeed hard to find and coded in some of the documents (for instance, Morell, while writing lengthy daily entries about Hitler’s drug use, often obscured the language so if the entries were checked, it would be hard to know exactly what the drugs were), there is some controversy over how widespread the drug use was. While the New York Times, “Hitler biographer Ian Kershaw called it ‘a serious piece of scholarship,” other scholars believe that Ohler has overplayed the drug usage in a way that presents as false historical picture. Richard J Evans wrote in the Guardian as such, stating:
“Earlier historians have shown in detail the limited extent of Hitler’s drug abuse, while there are other books, notably Werner Pieper’s Nazis on Speed, which put the military employment of methamphetamine into perspective. 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.”
It’s also crucial to note that Ohler, whose book is definitely fascinating, may also be misleading — and that could be dangerous especially in a time of political turmoil and growing public racism. For instance, in the book itself, Ohler said that he purposefully wrote with a “distorted perspective,” which as a reader, automatically questions his authority and intention. While I don’t think Ohler is anti-Semitic, I also do wonder about the outcome of this book and the intention of portraying a drugged-up Germany.
For example, this portrayal of a “blitzed” out Germany and Hitler could be seen as sympathetic, as it almost makes it seem like the German people and soldiers didn’t entirely know what they were doing — or were too preoccupied with getting their fix that an entire genocide seemed to be happening without much thought. While I’m not a moral police, that thought, or implication, has serious ramifications, especially for those who World War II wasn’t a direct affect in their families’ lives. As someone whose entire family served during World War II, and whose family has relatively recent immigrant roots, I also can’t help but question some of it, even though it is a fascinating part of history.
The bigger questions to raise are if Hitler’s and the Nazi party’s drug use actually matter? And should we allow it to matter? While Ohler did state that Hitler was the “master of his senses” and that he knew what he was doing, it also seems to present its own duality within the text itself that isn’t fully resolved or acknowledged enough — yes there was drug usage and yes, drugs do terrible things to our bodies as humans, but racist psychopaths who murder people are still morally responsible for their actions, regardless of what chemicals runs through their bodies. While Ohler says this, some of it remains ambiguous in a way that is unsettling, especially now.