Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich

Nor­man Ohler; Shaun White­side, trans.
  • Review
By – March 2, 2017

Nazi pro­pa­gan­da on the eve of the Nazi seizure of pow­er in 1933 empha­sized the man­ner in which the Jews poi­soned the mind and soul” of the Ger­man peo­ple. His­to­ri­ans attribute this to the over­whelm­ing pres­ence of the small Ger­man Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion in the arts, pol­i­tics, press, and econ­o­my; absent from the stan­dard list, how­ev­er, is the accu­sa­tion that Jews con­tributed to Germany’s decline through the dis­sem­i­na­tion of nar­cotics, the great­est tox­ic effect which was alien to the coun­try and the race.”

The anti­se­mit­ic asso­ci­a­tion of the spread of drugs with Jews merged into a a sin­gle tox­ic or epi­demi­o­log­i­cal unit that men­aced Ger­many.” Once Hitler — who end­ed his life, Ohler notes, as an addict in the throes of with­draw­al — rose to pow­er, nar­cotics were for­bid­den for per­son­al use in Nazi Ger­many, but jour­nal­ist and author Nor­man Ohler expos­es the hypocrisy of the Nazi pro­pa­gan­da machine inas­much as nar­cotics became a sta­ple of Ger­man life, rang­ing from Hitler’s injec­tions of Eukadol (a cousin of Hero­in) by his pri­vate physi­cian, Theodore Morell, to the use of Pervitin by the Ger­man army.

Among the many inter­est­ing sec­tions of Ohler’s book is his dis­cus­sion of Pervitin and its uses by Ger­mans in World War II. One of the side effects of the drug was that it allowed sol­diers to fight tire­less­ly — for more than 48 hours with­out sleep. In the German’s inva­sion of Poland, which led to the deaths of 100,000 Pol­ish sol­diers, and by the end of the year, 60,000 Pol­ish cit­i­zens, the drug helped the aggres­sors to work with­out any sign of tired­ness until the end of the mis­sion… it pro­vid­ed that extra por­tion which made every­thing that much easier.”

Ohler also includes a chap­ter on the Nazi use of slave labor in Sachen­hausen, where exper­i­ments were con­duct­ed on pris­on­ers to explore how drugs might increase endurance of the Wehrma­cht in bat­tle. (The med­ical” exper­i­ments at Auschwitz, by con­trast, focused on brain­wash­ing and con­scious­ness con­trol.) Although it is known thatEin­satz­grup­pen, the Wehrma­cht, and Germany’s East­ern Euro­pean helpers used alco­hol to for­ti­fy them­selves for the oper­a­tions of the Holo­caust by bul­lets,” the use of drugs in the mur­der of Euro­pean Jew­ry unfor­tu­nate­ly remains large­ly unexplored.

While drugs alone can­not explain Germany’s ear­ly suc­cess­es in World War II, Ohler makes an impor­tant case for the impor­tance of the explo­ration of this sub­ject toward a more com­plete his­tor­i­cal under­stand­ing of the Third Reich and the Holocaust.

Relat­ed Reads:

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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