Book argues that widespread use of methamphetamine occurred in Germany during war.
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There is no other way to put this: Norman Ohler has written a book that is sympathetic to the Nazis.
The German novelist first published Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich in 2015, delving into non-fiction to recast the Nazis as a nation full of drug addicts, pursuing mass murder and world annihilation while jacked up on methamphetamine.
The international best seller is now being released in the United States, but is it true?
Ohler begins his sensational story by tracing the origins of the German pharmaceutical industry, focusing his literary lens on a pill called Pervitin, a synthetic version of methamphetamine. It’s a stimulant similar to adrenaline that can easily pass from the blood into the brain, and was once the drug of choice for college kids and kamikaze pilots.
In Ohler’s narrative, Pervitin is the great untold story of the Third Reich. In Germany, he writes in Blitzed (Houghton Harcourt Mifflin, 226 pp., * out of four stars), the drug “landed like a bomb, spread like a virus, sold like sliced bread, and was soon as much of a fixture as a cup of coffee.” More importantly, Pervitin “allowed the individual to function in the dictatorship.”
Author Norman Ohler. (Photo: Joachim Gern)
This is a dangerous assertion, one that mitigates individual responsibility, and suggests that Hitler’s rise may have been facilitated by a collective German drug high. As Ohler knows, there is scant evidence to actually support his remarkable claim.
He suggests that everyone — housewives, bankers, students, etc. — was hooked on Pervitin, but he makes no mention of how they acquired it or how such vast quantities could have been produced to meet the extraordinary demand.
Illicit drug use was widely stigmatized by the Nazis and a number of laws were passed criminalizing its use. Doctors filed “drug reports” on patients who were prescribed narcotics for more than three weeks and addicts could be imprisoned indefinitely. Many ended up in concentration camps. Ohler’s revision casts all of this aside, arguing that we’ve actually been misled by historians.
Much of his fantastical tale focuses on the actions of a single man, Theodor Morell, who served as Hitler’s personal physician. The “fat doctor in the light-brown gabardine coat” is a marginal figure in most historical accounts of Nazi Germany, but in this story he is given center stage.
We discover that Dr. Morell kept meticulous records of what he gave Hitler, and Ohler is intrigued by an ‘x’ that occurs frequently in those entries. The doctor explained in his journals that the ‘x’ was a placeholder, often representing glucose, but our narrator believes it could be something more sinister. Playing fast and loose with the prescription pads of history, Ohler suggests that x really stood for methamphetamine.
But Morell was careful to document the fuhrer's medications and dosages. On the rare occasion an opiate was prescribed, the drug was underlined in his notepad.
Was Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler a drug addict? (Photo: AP)
“It was the immediate high of the injection,” Ohler writes, “that allowed Hitler to feel like a world ruler and gave him a sense of the strength and unshakeable confidence that he needed.” The author claims that between autumn 1941 and summer 1944, Hitler “hardly enjoyed a sober day.”
This contradicts what is known about the German leader and there are no references or footnotes to fully support it. We’re simply given an argument that pharmacologic addiction enabled self-delusion and genocide and are expected to accept it.
Blitzed offers an unnecessary and misguided revision of history, concocted with circumstantial evidence and unsubstantiated claims. “The myth of Hitler as an anti-drug teetotaler,” Ohler writes, “…is a myth that demands to be deconstructed.” No, it doesn't.
Matt McCarthy is a physician and author of The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly
Goodreads reviews for Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich
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