Timothy R. Smth is on the staff of Book World.
In the 1930s, a smitten German could buy his fraulein boxed chocolates spiked with methamphetamine. When Germany invaded France in 1940, its soldiers marched on Pervitin, an early form of crystal meth, which kept them perked for the lightning speed of Blitzkrieg warfare.
On the verge of destroying the British forces at Dunkirk, Hermann Göring, the head of the air force, was zonked on morphine when he had a eureka moment. “The world lay at his feet, and in his blissfully opium-soaked brain he decided that the glorious victory over the Allies should under no circumstances be left to the arrogant leaders of the army,” writes Norman Ohler in “Blitzed,” his fascinating, engrossing, often dark history of drug use in the Third Reich.
Weather interfered, the planes stayed put, and the army watched as the British slipped away.
Reading “Blitzed,” one gets the impression that the Germans were consuming Pervitin like Goldfish crackers or Skittles, “to help with childbirth, to fight seasickness, vertigo, hay fever, schizophrenia, anxiety neuroses, depressions, low drive, disturbances of the brain — wherever the German hurt, the blue, white, and red tube was at the ready.”
During the waning days of the war, the Nazis developed cocaine chewing gum for young sailors to use while piloting single-man submarines on suicide missions.
“Trust the Germans to concoct some truly awful sh--,” the writer William Burroughs commented.
Addiction went to the top. Adolf Hitler began taking glucose injections in the 1930s so he could hold his arm in the Nazi salute for impossibly long times, ever the Ubermensch. But as the war advanced, he became dependent on harder stuff. Hitler’s doctor gave the Führer daily injections of oxycodone, hormone preparations, a collection of pills and serums, and quack remedies made from pigs’ liver.
“In fact it was the immediate high of the injections that allowed Hitler to feel like a world ruler and gave him a sense of strength and unshakable confidence that he needed to make everyone else keep the faith in spite of all the desperate reports coming from every front,” Ohler writes.
Hours after a near-fatal bombing in his bunker, Hitler took an injection of oxycodone to meet with Benito Mussolini, Italy’s strongman. His appearance at the train depot seemed miraculous. But Hitler’s injuries, including two burst eardrums, were worse than expected. The only local anesthetic available was cocaine, and it started a new addiction.
By the end of the war, Hitler had the tell-tale signs of an addict: Track marks mottled his forearms, his hands trembled. He stooped. He drooled. His blood was the consistency of strawberry jelly. By the winter of 1945, with Soviet forces closing on Berlin, Hitler ran out of drugs.
“Now the Fuhrer had irrevocably entered the reality of his lost war,” Ohler writes. “Everything weighed on him all of a sudden, and as an infinitely heavier burden than before — naked as he was without the hormones of happiness.”
He shot himself on April 30. Out of drugs, he knew full well the reality of his demise. As for his mistress, Eva Braun, his final gift to her wasn’t a box of chocolates but a cyanide pill.
By Norman Ohler
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 292 pp. $28