Originally submitted on August 11th 2017.
The insinuation that the German army were taking drugs such as Crystal Methamphetamine whilst simultaneously conquering the vast majority of the Western World between 1939-1945 is an outlandish one. I am well aware of this. Therefore, when making a statement such as this, facts are of the utmost importance. Fortunately, in this case, there are many. A recent piece of work by historian and author Norman Ohler named ‘Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich”’ has dismissed any insinuation or doubt and provided undeniable evidence that prolonged and sustained drug use in the Wehrmacht was prevalent. Ohler’s book is a well written, hugely researched body of work. ‘Blitzed’ has provided us with concrete evidence that Crystal Meth was just one drug amongst a litany of others, used in a cocktail by the Third Reich. This cocktail allowed the Nazi soldiers to deal with the rigours of war essentially unaffected and without the urge to sleep.
Suggesting that the Wehrmacht including Hitler were taking illicit drugs not just orally but intravenously might be misconstrued as hyperbole. Even saying aloud the words ‘Crystal Methamphetamine’ whist writing this piece I can see in my mind’s eye preconceived perceptions of Methamphetamine users that I have formed. Therefore, in an attempt not to be prejudiced, I would urge the readers of this article to dismiss any preconceived notions or ideas of Methamphetamine users and distance yourself from the names of the drugs in question. This is imperative in understanding the complexity of what was going on behind the closed doors of the Third Reich.
Crystal Methamphetamine was one of the main drugs in use, others were pig testosterone, opiates, morphine and barbiturates as well as intravenous vitamin injections. If we remove the names of the drugs for a moment and simply use the letter ‘X’ for explanatory purposes, understanding what was happening becomes far more attainable. For example, a group of soldiers have marched 40km at night, they haven’t slept, food rations are low, water rations are low and their mood is even lower. The camp is visited by trusted Nazi physician Dr. Theodore Morell and all are given a supply of pills. The instruction from Morell is that pill ‘X’ is to be taken once a day, but only when the soldier feels the effects of exhaustion. Within thirty minutes of taking pill ‘X’ the soldier no longer feels hunger, he is no longer thirsty, he is no longer tired and instead feelings of increased concentration, alertness and an abundance of energy overwhelm him.
Based on these effects, pill ‘X’ is a miracle drug and the doctor that administered the prescription is hailed as a genius. However, what Morell fails to mention to the soldiers is that pill ‘X’ is Crystal Methamphetamine condensed from its usual rock structure into pill form. He also fails to mention that despite it having short term effects such as the soldiers experienced, it is extremely addictive and has catastrophic withdrawal symptoms as well as side effects such as skin picking, skin crawling known as ‘formication’, extreme tooth decay, weight loss and hair loss.
If you search for the definition of ‘Crystal Methamphetamine’ online you will soon realise why it was the drug of choice in Nazi Germany, “In low doses, methamphetamine can elevate mood, increase alertness, concentration and energy in fatigued individuals…. The psychological effects of methamphetamine can include euphoria, alertness and concentration, decreased sense of fatigue, insomnia or wakefulness, self-confidence as well as violent behaviour.” The perfect drug for war, right?
The drug was rebranded and named ‘Pervitin’, it was made available to the public as well as to soldiers. It was sold over the counter in pharmacies. Interestingly, as well as Dr. Theodore Morell being Hitler’s personal physician and highly ranked member of the Third Reich, he also owned one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in Germany that manufactured Pervitin. It becomes abundantly clear as to why he was so eager to administer the drug. Pervitin was produced in staggering quantities by the German pharmaceutical industry, which at the time was the most advanced in the world. It was promoted as the people’s drug, a wonder chemical available as a pill, injectable solution, chewing gum or even in chocolates for the fatigued housewife. High on speed, the members of the master race worked, produced and sang the glories of the Fuhrer as never before.
Pervitin became the Nazi’s most trusted weapon of war. Thousands of soldiers took the substance out of their helmets on the battlefield or were given it by their medical officers. It was laid on their tongues and gulped down with a swig of water. Within twenty minutes the nerve cells in their brains started releasing neurotransmitters, all of a sudden dopamine and adrenaline intensified perception and put the soldiers in a state of absolute alertness. There were no more breaks as an uninterrupted chemical bombardment had broken out in the cerebrum. Crazed soldiers with methamphetamine, dopamine and adrenaline gushing through their veins could now march into enemy territory with feelings of invincibility and most importantly with the absence of fear. A powerful drug indeed.
Constantly striving to discover new ways to improve soldier’s endurance, back in German occupied territories, Nazi doctors performed characteristically cruel scientific experiments on Jewish inmates at Dachau and Auschwitz. They would force groups to march in circles without sleep for days at a time to determine whether cocaine or crystal meth was a better stimulant for soldiers. As well as this, Morell had a company that gained a monopoly on all the slaughterhouse remains from occupied Ukraine, items such as pituitary glands, organs and testicles from slaughtered pigs. In the United States National Archives in Washington, D.C., there were vivid descriptions of the hygienic conditions of Morell’s manufacturing lab in occupied Moravia. Livers arrived foul, sometimes after weeks in Army trains, which had to stop intermittently because of Russian bombing. Therefore, the company used acetone to sterilize the livers. After 1943, companies were not allowed to bring new medicines to the market because product quality testing was not possible given the war. But Morell got around these restrictions, pumping the substances into Hitler’s blood as well as testing various chemical concoctions on prisoners of war which he used as guinea pigs in order to find the correct dosage or formula.
Pervitin was generally viewed as a proven drug to be used when soldiers were likely to be subjected to extreme stress. A memorandum for navy medical officers stated the following: “Every medical officer must be aware that Pervitin is a highly differentiated and powerful stimulant, a tool that enables him, at any time, to actively and effectively help certain individuals within his range of influence achieve above-average performance.” Between the months of April and July in 1940, more than 35 million tablets of Pervitin were shipped to the German army and air force. Some of the tablets were sent to the Wehrmacht’s medical divisions under the code name OBM, and then distributed directly to the troops. A rush order could even be placed by telephone if a shipment was urgently needed. The packages were labelled “Stimulant” and the instructions recommended a dose of one to two tablets “only as needed, to maintain sleeplessness.”
Pervitin gave German soldiers an edge because Methamphetamine in certain doses reduces fear and the desire for sleep. This was crucial in Germany’s Blitzkrieg campaign. The Blitzkrieg was Germany’s lightning war. Tanks, aeroplanes and men attacked as one concentrated force, moving at high speed, day and night. In the space of only 10 days the German army carved through the combined forces of Holland, Belgium, Britain and the world’s largest army France. The Blitzkrieg succeeded because it didn’t stop for breath. German tanks were fast, powerful and they never stopped. Their relentless advance was powered by the inhuman feats of the Nazi soldiers. They covered 100 miles per day as they pushed the front line forward without sleep or rest. The German Wehrmacht’s incredible performance was not restricted to their ground forces. On the beaches of Dunkirk in France, British soldiers were bombarded from the sky by German aircraft dive bombing. The aeroplanes screaming vertical attacks used breakthrough Nazi technology.
But it wasn’t the aeroplane that amazed Allied engineers. It was the pilot’s ability to resist blacking out under the vertical G-Forces. The Fuhrer seemed to have a German army capable of the impossible. Within only a month, Hitler was taking in the sights of the French capital and defenceless Parisians were forced onto the streets to witness their conqueror. To the Nazi’s their victory was proof of German racial superiority. But their exceptional performance made Allied intelligence highly suspicious. Even the Aryan myth of superior breeding couldn’t explain the physical ability to fight for days without sleep. Confidential military communiques reveal the Allies suspected the Nazi’s were using something to supercharge their troops but they had no idea what it was. The fear was that the Germans had developed a powerful performance enhancing chemical for their men. With the hot breath of war breathing down the Nazi’s necks it was as though they had a chemical key to making the troops do things they couldn’t normally do. It was like they had a chemical unlocking to a superhuman ability.
The effects of Pervitin were blatantly obvious. In January 1942, a group of 500 German soldiers stationed on the eastern front and surrounded by the Red Army were attempting to escape. The temperature was minus 30 degrees Celsius. A military doctor assigned to the unit wrote in his report that at around midnight, six hours into their escape through snow that was waist deep in places, “more and more soldiers were so exhausted that they were beginning to simply lie down in the snow.” The group’s commanding officers decided to give Pervitin to their troops. “After half an hour,” the doctor wrote, “the men began spontaneously reporting that they felt better. They began marching in orderly fashion again, their spirits improved, and they became more alert.”
It took almost six months for the report to reach the military’s senior medical command. But its response was merely to issue new guidelines and instructions for using Pervitin, including information about risks that barely differed from earlier instructions. The “Guidelines for Detecting and Combating Fatigue,” issued June 18, 1942, were the same as they had always been: “Two tablets taken once eliminate the need to sleep for three to eight hours, and two doses of two tablets each are normally effective for 24 hours.”
The citizens of the Third Reich were taking Pervitin on a national scale, the German Army’s Blitzkrieg attack through France was only made possible through the widespread use of Methamphetamine by Wehrmacht soldiers. The Marshal of the Luftwaffe air force, Herman Goering, was a morphine addict. Adolf Hitler, who ironically was so health conscious, he became a vegetarian in later life, was in truth a hopeless drug addict. His final days spent trembling and sweating in withdrawal, his arms covered in track marks, craving another injection of the haphazard melange of vitamins, hormones, Methamphetamine, Oxycodone and sometimes Morphine which had kept him functioning throughout the war. It sounds like fantasy, a surreal alternate history from a novel. However, this is the true previously untold story of Nazi Germany’s dirty little secret.