A fast-paced, highly original history that uncovers the full extent of drug use in Nazi Germany—from Hitler’s all-consuming reliance on a slew of substances, to the drugs that permeated the regime and played an integral role in Germany’s military performance and ultimate downfall in World War II
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A fast-paced narrative that discovers a surprising perspective on World War II: Nazi Germany’s all-consuming reliance on drugs
The Nazi regime preached an ideology of physical, mental, and moral purity. But as Norman Ohler reveals in this gripping new history, the Third Reich was saturated with drugs. On the eve of World War II, Germany was a pharmaceutical powerhouse, and companies such as Merck and Bayer cooked up cocaine, opiates, and, most of all, methamphetamines, to be consumed by everyone from factory workers to housewives to millions of German soldiers. In fact, troops regularly took rations of a form of crystal meth—the elevated energy and feelings of invincibility associated with the high even help to explain certain German military victories.
Drugs seeped all the way up to the Nazi high command and, especially, to Hitler himself. Over the course of the war, Hitler became increasingly dependent on injections of a cocktail of drugs—including a form of heroin—administered by his personal doctor. While drugs alone cannot explain the Nazis’ toxic racial theories or the events of World War II, Ohler’s investigation makes an overwhelming case that, if drugs are not taken into account, our understanding of the Third Reich is fundamentally incomplete.
Carefully researched and rivetingly readable, Blitzed throws surprising light on a history that, until now, has remained in the shadows.
Methamphetamine, the Volksdroge
National Socialism was toxic, in the truest sense of the word. It gave the world a chemical legacy that still affects us today: a poison that refuses to disappear. On one hand, the Nazis presented themselves as clean-cut and enforced a strict, ideologically underpinned anti-drug policy with propagandistic pomp and draconian punishments. On the other hand, a particularly potent and perfidious substance became a popular product under Hitler. This drug carved out a great career for itself all over the German Reich, and later in the occupied countries of Europe. Under the trademark Pervitin, this little pill became the accepted Volksdroge, or “people’s drug,” and was on sale in every pharmacy. It wasn’t until 1939 that its use was restricted by making Pervitin prescription-only, and the pill was not subjected to regulation until the Reich Opium Law in 1941.
Its active ingredient, methamphetamine, is now either illegal or strictly regulated, but with the number of consumers currently at over 100 million and rising, it counts today as our most popular poison. Produced in hidden labs by chemical amateurs, usually in adulterated form, this substance has come to be known as “crystal meth.” Usually ingested nasally in high doses, the crystalline form of this so-called horror drug has gained unimaginable popularity all over Europe, with an exponential number of first-time users. This upper, with its dangerously powerful kick, is used as a party drug, for boosting performance in the workplace, in offices, even in parliaments and at universities. It banishes both sleep and hunger while promising euphoria, but in the form of crystal meth it is a potentially destructive and highly addictive substance. Hardly anyone knows about its original rise in Nazi Germany.
Breaking Bad: The Drug Lab of the Reich
Under a clean-swept summer sky stretching over both industrial zones and uniform housing, I take the suburban train southeast, to the edge of Berlin. In order to find the remnants of the Temmler Factory I have to get out at Adlershof, which nowadays calls itself “Germany’s most modern technology park.” Avoiding the campus, I strike off across an urban no man’s land, skirting dilapidated factory buildings and passing through a wilderness of crumbling brick and rusty steel.
The Temmler Factory moved here in 1933. It was only one year later that Albert Mendel (the Jewish co-owner of the Tempelhof Chemicals Factory) was expropriated by the racist laws of the regime and Temmler took over his share, quickly expanding the business. These were good times for the German chemicals industry (or at least for its Aryan members), and pharmaceutical development boomed. Research was tirelessly conducted on new, pioneering substances that would ease the pain of modern humanity or sedate its troubles. Many of the resulting pharmacological innovations shape the way we consume medicine today.
By now the former Temmler Factory in Berlin-Johannisthal has fallen into ruin. There is no sign of its prosperous past, of a time when millions of Pervitin pills a week were being pressed. The grounds lie unused, a dead property. Crossing a deserted parking lot, I make my way through a wildly overgrown patch of forest and over a wall stuck with broken bits of glass designed to deter intruders. Between ferns and saplings stands the old wooden “witch’s house” of the founder, Theodor Temmler, once the nucleus of the company. Behind dense alder bushes looms a forsaken brick building. A window is broken enough for me to be able to climb through, stumbling into a long dark corridor. Mildew and mold grow from the walls and ceilings. At the end of the hallway a door stands beckoning, half open, encrusted with flaking green paint. Beyond the door, daylight peers through two shattered, lead-framed industrial windows. An abandoned bird’s nest hides in the corner. Chipped white tiles reach all the way to the high ceiling, which is furnished with circular air vents.
This is the former laboratory of Dr. Fritz Hauschild, head of pharmacology at Temmler from 1937 until 1941, who was in search of a new type of medicine, a “performance-enhancing drug.” This is the former drug lab of the Third Reich. Here, in porcelain crucibles attached to pipes and glass coolers, the chemists boiled up their flawless matter. Lids rattled on pot-bellied flasks, orange steam released with a sharp hissing noise while emulsions crackled and white-gloved fingers made adjustments. Here methamphetamine was produced of a quality that even Walter White, the drug cook in the TV series Breaking Bad, which depicts meth as a symbol of our times, could only have dreamed of.
Prologue in the Nineteenth Century: The Father of All Drugs
Voluntary dependence is the finest state.
?— ?Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
To understand the historical relevance of methamphetamine and other substances to the Nazi state, we must go back before the beginning of the Third Reich. The development of modern societies is bound as tightly with the creation and distribution of drugs as the economy is with advances in technology. In 1805 Goethe wrote Faust in classicist Weimar, and by poetic means perfected one of his theses, that the genesis of man is itself drug-induced: I change my brain, therefore I am. At the same time, in the rather less glamorous town of Paderborn in Westphalia, the pharmaceutical assistant Friedrich Wilhelm Sertürner performed experiments with opium poppies, whose thickened sap anesthetized pain more effectively than anything else. Goethe wanted to explore through artistic and dramatic channels what it is that holds the core of the world together ?— ?Sertürner, on the other hand, wanted to solve a major, millennium-old problem that has plagued our species to a parallel degree.
It was a concrete challenge for the brilliant twenty-one-year-old chemist: depending on the conditions they are grown in, the active ingredient in opium poppies is present in varying concentrations. Sometimes the bitter sap does not ease the pain quite strongly enough, and other times it can lead to an unintended overdose and fatal poisoning. Thrown back entirely on his own devices, just as the opiate laudanum consumed Goethe in his study, Sertürner made an astonishing discovery: he succeeded in isolating morphine, the crucial alkaloid in opium, a kind of pharmacological Mephistopheles that instantly magics pain away. Not only a turning point in the history of pharmacology, this was also one of the most important events of the early nineteenth century, not to mention human history as a whole. Pain, that irritable companion, could now be assuaged, indeed removed, in precise doses. All over Europe, apothecaries had to the best of their ability (and their consciences) pressed pills from the ingredients of their own herb gardens or from the deliveries of women who foraged in hedgerows. These homegrown chemists now developed within only a few years into veritable factories, with established pharmacological standards. Morphine was not only a method of easing life’s woes; it was also big business.
In Darmstadt the owner of the Engel-Apotheke, Emanuel Merck, stood out as a pioneer of this development. In 1827 he set out his business model of supplying alkaloids and other medications in unvarying quality. This was the birth not only of the Merck Company, which still thrives ...
New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice
“The strengths of Ohler’s account lie not only in the rich array of rare documents he mines and the archival images he reproduces to accompany the text, but also in his character studies… Ohler effectively captures Hitler’s pathetic dependence on his doctor and the bizarre intimacy of their bond…Blitzed makes for provocative reading.” —The New York Times Book Review
“A revelatory work that considers Hitler’s career in a new light. ‘Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich’ is that rare sort of book whose remarkable insight focuses on a subject that’s been overlooked, even disregarded by historians.” —The San Francisco Chronicle
“Blitzed is a fascinating read that provides a new facet to our understanding of the Third Reich.”—Buzzfeed
“It's as breezy and darkly humorous as its title. But don't be fooled by the gallows humor of chapter names like ‘Sieg High’ and ‘High Hitler’: This is a serious and original work of scholarship that dropped jaws around Europe when it was published there last year.” —Mashable
"A juicier story would be hard to find.” —The Week
“Delightfully nuts, in a Gravity’s Rainbow kind of way.”—The New Yorker
“Transforming meticulous research into compelling prose, Ohler delves into the little-known history of drug use in Nazi Germany.”—Entertainment Weekly
“[A] fascinating, engrossing, often dark history of drug use in the Third Reich.”—The Washington Post
“This heavily researched nonfiction book by a German journalist reports that the drug was widely taken by soldiers, all the way up the ranks to Hitler himself, who received injections of a drug cocktail that also included an opioid.”—Newsday
“The book achieves something nearly impossible: It makes readers look at this well-trodden period in a new way and does it in a readable, inviting format. It also doesn’t preclude future scholarship by professional historians to elaborate on the role of drugs in Nazi Germany.” —Newsweek
“This is Ohler’s first nonfiction book (he’s written three novels) and the first popular book of its kind, filling a gap between specialist academic literature and sensationalist TV documentaries… The book is an impressive work of scholarship, with more than two dozen pages of footnotes and the blessing of esteemed World War Two historians… Ohler offers a compelling explanation for Hitler’s erratic behavior in the final years of the war, and how the biomedical landscape of the time affected the way history unfolded… Ohler’s book makes a powerful case for the centrality of drugs to the Nazi war effort.” —The New Republic
"Explosive ... Ohler describes the chemical ignition of the first assault on the Western front with a novelist's flair." — Rolling Stone
"I had thought nothing could make [Nazis] more horrifying, but that was before I encountered Blitzed. Now I know the only thing more terrifying than the Nazis are the Nazis on meth ... Blitzed is not your typical history book ... It's amazing that biographers haven't focused on the drug angle this rigorously." — Esquire
“This bestseller has promulgated a perspective on Nazi Germany that has not really been widely explored previously and goes a long way toward explaining much on the topic, which we may heretofore have failed to realize.” —New York Journal of Books
“Ohler’s reputation precedes him… [Ohler] brings storytelling vigor to an unexplored corner of Hitlerology… Mordant and casual even in translation, it’s easy to mainline
(with a pinch of salt mixed in).” —New York Magazine, VULTURE
“The author who exposed the hidden history of Nazis on meth.” —Playboy
“In Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich, Norman Ohler accomplished a feat that many historians desire, but never quite achieve… the author manages to cover new ground and shed a bright light on a previously dark corner of 20th century history." —The Fix
“A compelling piece of serious scholarship that offers a comprehensive view of drugs in Nazi Germany that professional historians seem to have missed." —Under the Radar (Military.com)
“A fast, compelling read." —Nylon
"Ohler's astonishing account of methamphetamine addiction in the Third Reich changes what we know about the Second World War ... Blitzed looks set to reframe the way certain aspects of the Third Reich will be viewed in the future." — Guardian
"Blitzed tells the remarkable story of how Nazi Germany slid towards junkie-state status. It is an energetic ... account of an accelerating, modernizing society, an ambitious pharmaceuticals industry, a military machine that was looking for ways to create an unbeatable soldier, and a dictator who couldn't function without fixes from his quack ... It has an uncanny ability to disturb." — Times (UK)
"A huge contribution ... Remarkable." —Antony Beevor, BBC 4 Today
"The picture [Ohler] paints is both a powerful and an extreme one ... Gripping reading." — Times Literary Supplement
"A fascinating, most extraordinary revelation." — BBC World News
“Blitzed tells a deliriously druggy tale of the Third Reich.” — Paris Review
"Absorbing ... Makes the convincing argument that the Nazis' use of chemical stimulants ... played a crucial role in the successes, and failures, of the Third Reich." —Esquire
"An audacious, compelling read." — Stern (Germany)
"Bursting with interesting facts." — Vice
"Very good and extremely interesting — a serious piece of scholarship very well-researched ... There have, of course, been other books that already argued that Hitler was effectively a drug addict at the hands of Dr Morell's pills and injections of amphetamines and other drugs. But Ohler takes the argument, to my mind, further and more convincingly." — Ian Kershaw, author of To Hell and Back and The End
“An intense chronicle of ‘systematic drug abuse’ in Nazi Germany... Written with dramatic flair, this book adds significantly to our understanding of the Third Reich.” —Kirkus Starred Review
“[Ohler’s account] makes us look at this densely studied period rather d...
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