We have all heard about the drug epidemic sweeping our nation. There is a new book by German author Norman Ohler, titled Blitzed – Drugs in the Third Reich, that gives quite a new look on the history of our self-medication.
My introduction to the world of drugs probably began as a teen watching old movies depicting Chinese opium dens. As I began studying history I discovered that the British were the first drug dealers, forcing the Chinese to trade opium for tea during the 1800s. Naturally, the Chinese government didn’t want to expand opium use among its people and fought two Opium Wars against the Brits. China lost and the Brits peddled their opium, gaining Hong Kong in the deal.
(Fast forward to post-World War I Germany.) Italian scientist Stanislao Cannizzaro may be the “Father of Chemistry,” but the Germans took it to great heights. They developed aspirin, a boon to mankind, but “opiates above all were still a German specialty,” according to author Ohler. During the 1920s, Germany was the major exporter of morphine and heroin. Moreover, German companies like Merck controlled 80% of the global cocaine market. In 1937, a German chemist synthesized methamphetamine (crystal meth). It was sold over the counter as Pervitin.
This story might end here but for Ohler’s revelations on how Pervitin shaped the course of the Second World War. There is also an Italic connection.
Pervitin was a wonder drug for everything that ailed Germans – from depression to lethargy this pill put bounce in your step. The German military found that soldiers and airmen taking Pervitin became obermenschen, able to remain awake for days at a time. Millions of doses were consumed during the war to fuel the vaunted blitzkrieg. The French weren’t only outflanked in 1940, they were out-pepped. German troops stayed awake for four days at a time while French troops dozed. The Allies assumed the Nazis were better motivated until the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera revealed on September 13, 1940 “La pillola di coraggio” (the Courage Pill) as Germany’s secret weapon. Not to be outdone, the Brit started supplying its pilots with Benzedrine to keep them awake.
The Italian revelation made such a splash that word got to the Third Reich’s Chief of Health. (Here’s a shocker) That man was Leonardo Conti, a Swiss Italian, and as good a Nazi as der Führer himself. Conti was appalled to learn that Pervitin was fueling the Master Race. Not only health conscious, Conti was also a racist of the highest order in charge of creating the ideal Aryan race. He pioneered the sterilization and gassing of the deformed and mentally ill. He wanted to make Pervitin verboten. But the military ignored Reichführer Conti. By 1941, with the invasion of the USSR, Pervitin was classified by the High Command as “decisive for the outcome of the war.”
Der Führer himself had become a drug addict thanks to his personal physician Dr. Theodor Morell. According to author Ohler’s research, Hitler (code named “Patient A”) was inoculated daily with a cocktail of vitamins, hormones, cocaine, and Pervitin. Even the generals who had to attend meetings with Hitler asked Morell to give them drugs to cope with the boss’s tirades.
In July, 1943, Mussolini met with Hitler intent on asking his Axis partner to make peace on the Eastern Front. Hitler, pumped up with Morell’s cocktail which now included Eukodal (akin to heroin), harangued the Italian for three hours about their ultimate victory. Mussolini couldn’t fathom where Hitler’s euphoria was coming from and left the meeting bamboozled. A few days later, the empty-handed Duce was relieved of command and arrested by the King.
Interestingly, Dr. Morell occasionally treated Mussolini (code named “Patient D,”), probably for ulcers. It is doubtful Morell slipped him any “cocktails” because the doctor lamented having no luck in curing him. Besides, il Duce‘s gloomy mood and behavior remained unaltered since the invasion of Sicily.
Meanwhile, Reichführer Conti watched haplessly as the encircled Third Reich became a drugged nation, increasingly addicted as the war news worsened. He was captured by the Allies in 1945 but hanged himself in his Nuremberg cell.
Dr. Morell was captured but never charged with a crime. He died from obesity in 1948.
History, as you can see, has many layers. Beside his need for uppers, Hitler suffered from spastic constipation, excessive gas, and insomnia. What humanity his megalomania didn’t destroy, his addicted body did. Mussolini had no idea he was dealing with a junkie. -JLM