Friday, 28 October 2016

Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany by Norman Ohler Review

Nowhere were the 1920s more roaring than in Berlin - cocaine and morphine were available over the counter and cheaper than alcohol, and everyone was escaping reality, particularly since life in the Weimar Republic, with its mass unemployment and hyperinflation, was such a nightmare! Then these drugs started to be outlawed for obvious reasons (physical/mental health damage, addiction, death, etc.) and the Nazis came to power in 1933, supposedly ushering in an era of abstinence and sobriety, mirroring their Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler. 

In Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany, Norman Ohler reveals the shocking extent with which the Third Reich was riddled with hardcore drugs, from Hitler to the ordinary German hausfrau, and what a major factor certain drugs like Pervitin, played in the war. 

Pervitin - or crystal meth as it’s known today - was seen as a performance enhancer, to help you become more productive and overcome fatigue. Two tablets would keep you wired for 48 hours, which proved enormously useful once war broke out and the Wehrmacht began advancing on France. German soldiers kept popping Pervitin and went days without sleep, marching endlessly round the clock towards Paris. Ohler doesn’t claim Pervitin was behind Blitzkrieg’s success but the implication is there - it certainly seemed to help a great deal and it would explain the speed with which the Germans conquered France. 

The most fascinating part of the book is Hitler and his escalating drug use thanks in large part to his enabler/private doctor, Theodor Morell. Hitler went from vegetarian teetotaller at the start of the war to full-blown junkie at the end who was having 8 to 10 injections and 120 to 150 tablets a week! The list of drugs he was on is incredible - cocaine, morphine, strychnine, Pervitin, meth, and Eukodal (a more powerful strain of heroin), to name just a few! He was also being injected with all manner of bizarre concoctions derived from animal parts - hardly vegetarian! 

Hitler’s “treatments” began in 1941 which is coincidentally when the war started to go south for the Nazis. After the surprising triumph of Blitzkrieg - which he had no part in and was as astounded as the Allies - Hitler demanded he have full control of the armed forces and his decisions may not have been improved by making them on a cocktail of Class A drugs! Morell may have inadvertently helped the Allies by turning Hitler into a drug addict and destroying his health. Again, Ohler isn’t foolish enough to make drugs the singular cause for the major turning points of the war but he does make a very strong case for their importance when considering them. 

The book is filled with remarkable stories. One of the most memorable is the creation of the Neger combat vessels, one-man U-boats which were intended to be hit-and-run attackers and which turned out to be little more than metal coffins for most of their German pilots, who’re still at the bottom of the sea. Some of the survivors almost went mad from chewing cocaine gum and popping meth pills to stay awake for 10 days in a row in order to navigate their near-useless subs in the underwater blackness! It was an insane plan only the desperate and strung-out could’ve come up with! 

Norman Ohler’s Blitzed isn’t just a meticulously researched and informative read but also utterly compelling, written in an accessible style with a novelist’s eye for pacing. More than that, it’s an important book that will undoubtedly change the way historians and the public view Hitler, the Third Reich and the Second World War going forward. An absolutely outstanding and first-rate book, Blitzed is a must-read for anyone interested in learning about the sensational and little-reported-on druggie underside of the Nazis.

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