Were the Nazis better soldiers because they took drugs?

ByDonald L. Leech

Aug 10, 2022

If one were to wonder what motivated Hitler’s notoriously stone-hearted and goose-stepping Nazi soldiers, such obvious options as hatred and bigotry might come to mind.

But in truth, Nazi soldiers were fueled, in the most traditional sense of the word, with methamphetamines.

While Nazi ideology was firmly anti-drugs, according to TIME (in an excerpt adapted from “Killer High: A History of War in Six Drugs” by Peter Andreas), an exception was made for speed. Other drugs, such as opium, were associated with weakness, which Hitler and his followers abhorred.

“We don’t need weak people,” Hitler said. “Only the strong.”

Drugs for the Nazi household

Unlike drugs taken for escape purposes, methamphetamines made their users feel more alive – faster, stronger versions of themselves.

It wasn’t just the Germans who relied on amphetamines during the war. In fact, it was America’s success with a similar drug, Benzedrine, at the 1936 Olympics that inspired German chemist Fritz Hauschild to attempt to develop his own version. A year later, Germany’s first methylamphetamine, Pervitin, was patented, according to The Guardian.

As the war progressed, Hitler ordered his nation to be constantly on alert, using slogans such as “Germany, wake up!” to get the message across. People reacted, making Pervitin, initially available without a prescription, a blockbuster drug.

Those from all walks of life benefited from the bold and energetic feeling given to them by amphetamines – which made possible the ideal Aryan superhuman stereotype.

The Hildebrand chocolate factory has gone so far as to create chocolates fortified with amphetamines. Marketed to housewives, women were advised to eat two or three before cleaning. Not only would their chores be done in no time, but they would lose weight in the process.

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Nazi meth on the front line

But if amphetamines changed the lives of housewives, one can only imagine their effect on Nazi soldiers, the group that relied most on pervitin.

It was Otto Ranke, director of the Defense Physiology Research Institute, who was largely responsible for the presence of the drug on the battlefield. It was his plan to defeat the enemy with super-powered soldiers who didn’t need to stop to sleep or eat, heightening feelings of aggression and lowering inhibitions.

Ranke, a daily user himself, wrote that he thought pervitin would be “an excellent substance for waking up a fatigued squad…We can see the tremendous military significance it would have if we were able to eliminate natural fatigue using medical methods”.

In his wartime letters and records, Ranke wrote that he worked 36–50 hours at a stretch without noticeable fatigue, and an increasing number of officers began to follow suit.

Invasion of pills in Poland

But it was Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 that served as the first real battlefield test of the drug with historic effect.

Not only were 100,000 Polish soldiers killed in the attack, but the invasion ushered in a new form of warfare known as blitzkrieg., or “blitzkrieg”, a surprise attack overwhelming the adversary with rapid, mechanized force. All about precision, focus, and relentless power, the blitzkrieg approach had no room for fatigue or error. Hence the interest of a substance that erases fatigue and increases concentration. According to medical historian Peter Steinkamp, ​​“The Blitzkrieg was guided by methamphetamine. If not to say that Blitzkrieg was founded on methamphetamine.

In early 1940, pervitin was only available by prescription in order to ration the drug for soldiers. Between April and July 1940, the German military received more than 35 million tablets of methamphetamine. There were even amphetamine chocolate bars given to tank crews known as Fliegerschokolade (“aviator’s chocolate”) and Panzerschokolade (“tanker’s chocolate”). In April 1940, the German High Command issued a “stimulating decree” telling doctors how to dispense Pervitin to their men: two pills to be taken once the advance had begun, after 12 hours another pill, then after 12 hours another pill. .

“They distributed it to the line troops,” according to historian Shelby Stanton. “Ninety percent of their army had to march on foot, day and night. It was more important to them to keep knocking during the blitzkrieg than to get a good night’s sleep. This whole damn army got up. It was one of the secrets of the blitzkrieg.

Did drugs give the Nazis victory over France?

In his book “Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich,” German author Norman Ohler attributes the Nazi victory in the Battle of France to Pervitin.

“Hitler was unprepared for war and his back was against the wall,” Ohler told Al Jazeera. “The Wehrmacht was not as powerful as the Allies, their equipment was poor and they had only three million soldiers against four million for the Allies.

“Soldiers lay awake for days, walking nonstop, which wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the crystal meth, so yes, in this case the drug influenced the story. “

Hitler: The Ultimate Drug Addict

During this time, the Führer himself went from being a health fanatic to being a drug addiction leader.

Ohler told NPR he could identify “three phases” of Hitler’s drug use. It started harmlessly enough, with injections of vitamins and hormones meant to help Hitler achieve top health. But after falling ill in 1941 and feeling the instant healing effects of an injection of opiates, Hitler began to request the substance regularly. By 1943, the “heavy opiate” phase had begun, with Hitler becoming addicted to a drug called Eukodal. Is it an active ingredient? Oxycodone.

Hitler also most likely became addicted to cocaine when it was prescribed to him, first to numb the pain resulting from his ears damaged in the July plot, then to treat the headaches and pressure he was feeling. in her head. When the Merck company in Darmstadt was destroyed by British air raids in December 1944, Hitler was no longer able to get his multiple patches.

“I believe that the deterioration of Hitler’s health in 1945 when he was in the Berlin bunker, this wreckage of a man that we can witness in some photos or in this footage that came out of that time , is due to withdrawal symptoms,” Ohler said. says NPR.

Other Drug-Fueled Armies

While WWII was a particularly pharmaceutical war, it wasn’t the first time soldiers turned to substances for power and it wouldn’t be the last.

Viking berserkers whose violent, trance-like fighting style was likely due to the consumption of “magic” mushrooms, the rampant addiction to painkillers and amphetamines during the Vietnam War, the use of the Syrian amphetamine Captagon in Middle East conflicts, there is no doubt that those on the front lines have been turning to psychoactive substances for centuries.

The North Korean military, according to defectors, distributed methamphetamine to soldiers in the years following World War II, The New York Times reported. The drug is now so popular and common in North Korea that it was considered a trendy Lunar New Year gift as recently as 2019.

There is no doubt that the Second World War could have been radically different without amphetamines. These same qualities prized by Nazi soldiers – confidence and speed – are seen as necessary for success today as they were decades ago.

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