World War 2 may have been a few years shorter if it weren’t for the methamphetamine hyping up Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany — stoking a fire far beyond mere patriotism in the Third Reich.
Even before Blitzkrieg, Nazi armed forces’ little helper Pervitin was widely available in the German market through Berlin drug maker Temmler. Students and housewives alike were energized by the drug, sometimes sold as “chocolates.” As the military maneuvers of the Wehrmacht demanded an increasingly inhuman offering from its soldiers, the methamphetamine in pill form was distributed as a daily dose of nationalism — at least 38 million tablets were directly supplied to Adolf’s men during World War 2.
While some scholars may doubt the outsize role that methamphetamine played on Hitler’s sanguinary tactics, there were at least some decisions made during World War 2 that Norman Ohler, author of Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany, believes to be unthinkable without the use of the drug, he told The Guardian.
“The invasion of France was made possible by the drugs. No drugs, no invasion. When Hitler heard about the plan to invade through Ardennes, he loved it [the allies were massed in northern Belgium]. But the high command said: it’s not possible, at night we have to rest, and they [the allies] will retreat and we will be stuck in the mountains. But then the stimulant decree was released, and that enabled them to stay awake for three days and three nights. Rommel [who then led one of the panzer divisions] and all those tank commanders were high – and without the tanks, they certainly wouldn’t have won.”
Once the ability to push men beyond their limits was found with Pervitin, the Nazis sought to apply their findings to other similarly unfathomable tasks. German U-boats, or submarines, required a small crew that could stay awake for days on end without fail, something that World War 2 Nazi doctor Gerhard Orzechowski tried to achieve with a cocaine chewing gum. The miracle substance was tested on concentration camp detainees who were forced into metal boxes with a treadmill running underneath — forced to keep walking until their body gave way to crippling exhaustion.
“If you’re fighting an enemy bigger than yourself, you have no choice. You must, somehow, exceed your own strength. That’s why terrorists use suicide bombers. It’s an unfair weapon. If you’re going to send a bomb into a crowd of civilians, of course you’re going to have a success.”
In fact, methamphetamine wasn’t even the only drug popular in the Wehrmacht during World War 2, nor the only one popular with Adolf himself. Hitler dabbled in everything from opiates to high-quality cocaine — sometimes mixing the two for a dizzying speedball effect. It is, however, important to note that these drugs were never considered recreational for the Nazis. In fact, the opium, cocaine, and morphine that ran through the German nightlife of the 1930s was condemned as a dangerously “Jewish” scourge, reported The Independent.
Adolf was actually just trying to take the advice of his trusted doctor, Theodor Morell, though it appears that the Fuhrer later grew less trustful of his prescriptions. Still, Hitler was eager to spread his ideas of doped-up dictatorship. Ohler uncovered documents proving that Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was on the exact same regimen as Hitler at one point.
“I found out that Mussolini – patient D, for Il Duce – was another of Morell’s patients. After the Germans installed him as the puppet leader of the Republic of Italy in 1943, they ordered him to be put under the eyes of the doctor… there’s not enough material to say he was an addict. But he was being given the same drugs as Hitler.”
The role of methamphetamine and other drugs on the World War 2 strategies of Nazi Germany may have at least partially remained uncovered because the substances weren’t condemned following the fall of the Third Reich. Despite the fact that soldiers often suffered horrible withdrawal symptoms, Pervitin continued to be easily acquired in Germany up until the 1970s and 80s, according to a report from German daily Der Spiegel.
Not quite convinced that World War 2 could have ended earlier without the proliferation of methamphetamine in Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany? Ohler’s book will be released in the U.S. market in April, but its British edition can be purchased online now.
[Featured Image by Hannelore Foerster and Hulton Archive/Getty Images]