Last year, German writer Norman Ohler published The Total Rush (Der totale Rausch). The book explored the supposed widespread use of drugs in Nazi Germany.1 With droll chapter titles such as “Sieg High—Blitzkrieg Is Methamphetamine War,” Ohler’s book captured the attention of some observers in the United States, whose takeaway message seems to have been that “Nazi soldiers were addicted to Pervitin, a pill form of crystal meth.”2 Academic historians, on the other hand, have been far more critical of Ohler. As one historian of medicine wrote in a recent review, “The author stakes too much on sensationalism and thus gives the reader a false impression about the meaning of drugs under National Socialism.”3
For quite some time, there has been no shortage of public interest in the health and habits of Germans during the Third Reich. Not surprisingly perhaps, Adolf Hitler has drawn much of this attention. Claims have regularly circulated that he suffered from functional/hysterical blindness at the end of World War I (possibly, but not definitively, true); that he was beset by a hand-washing compulsion (there is no evidence for this); that he had only one testicle (the evidence appears to be contradictory); and that he was a homosexual (highly doubtful). Added to this have been psychopathographies and psychohistories—the latter primarily rooted in psychoanalysis—that have tried to attribute Hitler’s views and behavior to some form of psychopathology. These latter accounts have been consistently and categorically dismissed by most historians of Nazi Germany for being simplistically reductive and neglectful of historical context.
Drug consumption habits
What then do we know about the health and drug consumption habits of the Nazi leader of the German people from 1933 to 1945? In 1999, psychiatrist Fritz Redlich published a well-received book, Hitler: Diagnosis of a Destructive Prophet, which relied on written and oral statements made by Hitler and those around him, particularly the records of Hitler’s chief personal physician, Theodor Morell.4 Redlich’s analysis painted a picture of Hitler in power as a man with a laundry list of maladies, some more severe than others.
Before the outbreak of war in 1939, Hitler’s complaints included insomnia, eczema, and GI discomfort. His health is known to have declined considerably, starting in 1941. Redlich cited a host of ailments, including tinnitus, severe headaches, dizziness, impaired vision, abdominal spasms, impairments in motility and, during the final year of the war, jaundice, laryngitis, runny nose, more bouts of GI spasms, tremor of his hands, and conspicuous difficulties in locomotion (evidence of Parkinson disease).
In 1945, his GI symptoms and tremors worsened, eventually leaving him unable to move around completely on his own. In treating these symptoms over the years, Morell prescribed for Hitler a cocktail of medications that included opiates (morphine, oxycodone), barbiturates, cocaine, amphetamines, and bromides. In the end, Redlich drew a conclusion that has been repeated frequently ever since: that “Hitler abused amphetamines, particularly between 1939 and 1943, (and) was temporarily impaired by such abuse.”4
1. Ohler N. Der totale Rausch: Drogen im Dritten Reich. Cologne, Germany: Kiepenheuer & Witsch; 2015.
2. Haglage A. Uncovered records show Nazis were high on meth. The Daily Beast; September 10, 2015. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/09/10/uncovered-records-show-.... Accessed April 15, 2016.
3. Gnausch A. Review, H-Soz-u-Kult; 24 March 2016. http://hsozkult.geschichte.hu-berlin.de/rezensionen/2016-1-209. Accessed April 15, 2016.
4. Redlich F. Hitler: Diagnosis of a Destructive Prophet. New York: Oxford University Press; 1999.
5. Neumann H-J, Eberle H. Was Hitler Ill? A Final Diagnosis. Cambridge, UK: Polity; 2013.
6. Hoffmann A. Drogenkonsum und kontrolle: Zur Etablierung eines sozialen Problems im ersten Drittel des 20. Jahrhunderts. Wiesbaden, Germany: VS; 2012.
7. Steinkamp P. Pervitin (methamphetamine) test use and misuse in the German Wehrmacht. In: Eckart E, ed. Man, Medicine, and the State: The Human Body as an Object of Government Sponsored Medical Research in the 20th Century. Stuttgart, Germany: Steiner; 2006:61-71.
8. Snelders S, Pieters T. Speed in the Third Reich: methamphetamine (Pervitin) use and a drug history from below. Soc Hist Med. 2011;24:686-699.