I first heard of Norman Ohler’s Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich before it found a publisher. Even at that point I found the idea fascinating. My knowledge of the Second World War isn’t deep. I was born less than two decades after it happened, so it was still heavy in American consciousness, but as a child I wasn’t much interested in history. (I was a fan of monsters even then.) Like many people, since November of 2016 I’ve had a renewed interest in how the Nazis rose to power, and how a highly intelligent nation could follow someone as unstable as Hitler. When I spotted Blitzed on a discount table at the Moravian Book Shop I figured it was a good opportunity to learn more.
Never a drug user myself, I grew up in a culture where such use was prevalent. I had never realized, however, just how ubiquitous drugs were in Nazi Germany. Ohler begins by noting the use of crystal meth in keeping German soldiers awake and alert for days at a time, thereby allowing Blitzkrieg to take place. The offensive on the western front would likely not have worked without it. The story gets seedier from there. Hitler, a vegetarian who eschewed drugs and alcohol, had a personal physician who began giving him daily injections of vitamins and what we’d likely recognize as placebos for a number of physical ailments. Even as decisions were made for genocide, der Führer was being injected with hard drugs of the opiate family, eventually becoming an addict. Decisions about the fate of an entire nation were being made by a leader so high that straight thinking wasn’t a possibility.
Ohler is careful not to claim that Hitler’s excesses of hatred and megalomania were the results of his drug use. They were there well in advance of his decline. Outside the bunkers in which Hitler spent much of the war, drugs were widely used, and abused, in the German military. In order to try to entice young men into what would become suicide missions, high doses of drugs were provided, often enough to prevent the effective outcome hoped for. This is a fascinating, sordid story. It’s a side of the tragedy of the war that we don’t often hear, and it’s a further indication of just how easily madness spreads. Reading the descriptions of Hitler’s personality, in this particular era, was frightening. Especially since history has a nasty tendency to repeat itself.