Don't Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does

Khalid Elhassan - October 7, 2021

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
A Berlin cabaret during the interwar years. Pickwick’s Art Blog

7. The Context of WWI and its Aftermath Led to a German Drug Epidemic

Before the evils of narcotics and the harmful effects of addiction were fully understood, drugs did not carry much of a moral stigma. German chemical research was fueled by the sale of morphine, first distilled from opium by a German chemist in the early nineteenth century, and patented by Merck not long afterwards. Further research on opium, morphine, and their derivatives, led to their inclusion in popular (and over the counter) products such as cough suppressants and household pain relievers. The pharmaceutical giant Bayer made a killing off of heroin, which was legal in Germany until the 1950s.

The widespread tolerance towards drugs was further boosted by WWI and its aftermath. There were millions of casualties, many of whom needed drugs for prolonged periods during recovery, and the authorities’ were less concerned with the drugs’ addictive properties, and more with their effectiveness as pain relief. It was in that context that Germany experienced an under-reported but widespread epidemic of hard drug addiction in the 1920s and 1930s, mostly by veterans who got hooked on drugs taken for pain relief, or medical personnel who had easy access to such drugs.

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
Pervitin. Is It Paleo

6. The Nazis Attacked the Use of Some Hard Drugs, and Approved of the Use of Others

Drug addiction was so pervasive that even a high ranking official such as Herman Goering, Hitler’s second in command, was widely known to have a pill habit – developed while recovering from a bullet he took during the failed 1923 Beer Hall Putsch – without it generating much controversy. In that context, to the extent that addiction was even recognized as such, it was perceived as readily curable. Most of the time, however, addiction’s symptoms were wrongly attributed to other conditions, or misdiagnosed altogether in accordance with quack pseudoscientific theories that were prevalent at the time.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, the use of cocaine and heroin, which became popular after WWI, went into precipitous decline. The Third Reich attacked those drugs as poisons, deliberately introduced to Germany by Jews as part of a sinister plot to undermine and weaken the Aryan race. However, attacks against those particular drugs did not indicate an across-the-board policy against drugs, per se. Heroin and cocaine might have become socially unacceptable in Nazi Germany, but the Nazis were fine with drugs they viewed as performance enhancing. Chief among those was crystal meth, in the form of Pervitin.

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
Otto Friedrich Ranke, the medical officer who introduced methamphatimines to the German military. Wikimedia

5. Germans Spent WWII Tweaking on Crystal Meth

In 1938, German pharmaceutical Temmler began to market methamphetamine pills under the brand name Pervitin. A high ranking army doctor, Otto Freidrich Ranke, saw the newly discovered drug’s potential as a means to keep tired troops and pilots alert, and to keep the entire German military euphoric. Ranke tested Temmler’s new product on university students, who exhibited a sudden spike in alertness and productivity, despite being short on sleep. Elated, and as ignorant as the rest of Germany’s medical community of narcotics’ harmful side effects, Ranke saw to it that Pervitin was approved for issue to the armed forces, and ordered into mass production.

During WWII, Germany’s military issued its men millions of packets of Pervitin a pill whose effectiveness in keeping the troops alert was compared to drinking strong coffee by the gallon. On top of that, it made the worries of German soldiers disappear, and infused them with feelings of happiness and euphoria. Or at least it did so for a few hours, before the effects wore off or the soldiers popped more pills to maintain the high for as long as possible. Given the context that Pervitin is basically crystal meth, the German military spent WWII tweaking.

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
Pervitin. The Atlantic

4. The Context That Explains “Nazi Super Soldiers”

In the war’s first year, the Germans swept through Poland, Denmark and Norway, the Lowland Countries, and France. It was in the context of the astonishing speed and fury of the blitzkrieg that reports of “Nazi Super Soldiers” emerged. The pace and ferocity of the German advance owed much to innovative tactics, that integrated infantry, armor, and air, into a seemingly irresistible juggernaut. However, the Allies could not figure out the inexplicable energy and tirelessness of the German soldiers, who seemed indefatigable as they advanced and fought day and night, with little or no rest.

The reason was crystal meth, or Pervitin, which German troops were encouraged to pop in order to fight fatigue. The packaging read “Alertness Aid“, to be taken “to maintain wakefulness“. It was accompanied by a warning that it should only be used “from time to time“. However, once people start to use drugs, they seldom limit their intake to “from time to time”. Things got worse when medical authorities realized that cocaine’s effects overlap substantially with those of amphetamines, with the added “benefit” that cocaine produces greater euphoria. So cocaine was added to Pervitin.

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
A tweaking SS member. American Heroes Channel

3. The Nazis Issued Their Soldiers Crystal Meth Mixed With Cocaine

The new Pervetrin was an even more addictive drug cocktail. Millions in the German military could not get enough of their crystal meth, and especially not enough of their crystal meth after it got laced with cocaine. Many wrote home, to ask their loves to mail them Pervitin. One such was Heinrich Boll, a German postwar author who won the 1972 Nobel Prize for literature. In a 1940 letter to his parents, 22-year-old Boll begged them to send him some Pervitin, which he wrote not only kept him alert, but also chased away his worries.

Millions of Pervitin pills were issued prior to Operation Barbarossa, the German surprise attack against the Soviet Union. The pills became incredibly popular with the troops, who nicknamed them “tank chocolate“. However, the cocaine-laced crystal meth produced terrible long term effects, and short rest periods were inadequate to make up for the extended stretches of wakefulness while tweaking. In the context of widespread pill use and abuse, millions became addicts, with side effects such as sweating, dizziness, depression, hallucinations, and psychotic episodes in which soldiers shot themselves or their comrades.

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
Hitler and his doctor, Theodor Morell, a quack who kept the Fuhrer doped up throughout WWII. Novinsky

2. Hitler Became a Full Blown Junkie

Even as his troops rampaged across Europe and the Mediterranean basin while tweaking on cocaine-laced crystal meth, the Fuhrer himself became a daily user of Pervitin. That, perhaps, sheds light on some of his inexplicable wartime decisions. As the war progressed, Hitler found it increasingly difficult to even get out of bed in the morning without shots of a drug concoction that included Pervitin. That was thanks in large part to a quack doctor, Theodor Morell, who eased Hitler’s chronic digestive ailments with cultures of live bacteria.

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
A beaming Fuhrer. Rolling Stone

The relieved dictator rewarded Morell by making him his personal physician, and the doctor’s popularity skyrocketed, especially among high ranking ranking Nazis. That popularity was not due solely to the boost that Morell got from his status as Hitler’s doctor: he routinely treated his patients by injecting them with concoctions of addictive drugs, that had them coming back for more. Herman Goering, himself an all out drug addict and copious pill popper, sarcastically referred to doctor Morell as “the Reichmaster of the injections“.

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
Hitler’s last official photo, shortly before his death. Keystone Features

1. The Context That Explains Hitler’s Cocaine Addiction

Dr. Morrell not only got the Fuhrer hooked on crystal meth via Pervitin, he also turned him into a cocaine addict after the quack prescribed it to soothe the dictator’s sore throat and clear his sinuses. It was in the context of that treatment that Hitler soon developed an irresistible compulsion to soothe his throat and clear his sinuses. By 1945, Hitler was a full blown junkie with rotting teeth, addicted to a bewildering variety of drugs. When his drug supplies ran out in the war’s closing weeks, the Furher suffered all the symptoms of severe withdrawal: delusions, psychosis, paranoia, extreme shaking, and kidney failure.

Pervitin remained popular and readily available in Germany after the war, frequently prescribed by doctors as an antidepressant or as an appetite suppressant, or readily obtainable on the black market. German students – especially medical students – were huge fans of the drug, which they used as a stimulant to help them cram for exams. It was only removed from medical supplies in East Germany in the 1970s, and in West Germany in the 1980s, before it was finally banned and declared illegal after German reunification in the 1990s.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

All That is Interesting – How Drugs Like Pervitin and Cocaine Fueled the Nazis’ Rise and Fall

Atkin, Ronald – Pillar of Fire: Dunkirk 1940 (2000)

Black Loyalist – Washington’s Revolution (Harry, That Is, Not George)

Bright Hub Education – Famous African Americans Of the Revolutionary War

Bussanich, John, and Smith, Nicholas D. – The Bloomsbury Companion to Socrates: The Politics of Impiety – Why Was Socrates Prosecuted by the Athenian Democracy? (2013)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Socrates

Encyclopedia Britannica – Thirty Tyrants

Fleming, Peter – Operation Sea Lion: The Projected Invasion of England in 1940, an Account of the German Preparation and the English Countermeasures (1957)

Groves, Leslie R. – Now It Can Be Told: The Story of the Manhattan Project (1983)

Guardian, The, September 25th, 2016 – High Hitler: How Nazi Drug Abuse Steered the Course of History

Gonick, Larry – The Cartoon History of the Universe, Volumes 1 – 7: From the Big Bang to Alexander the Great (1990)

History Collection – 10 Prominent Ancient Athenians

Horne, Gerald – The Counter Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America (2014)

Kolchin, Peter – American Slavery: 1619-1877 (1993)

Krentz, Peter – The Thirty Tyrants at Athens (1982)

Morrison, Donald R. – The Cambridge Companion to Socrates: Socrates and Democratic Athens (2010)

Ohler, Norman – Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich (2017)

Online Institute For Advanced Loyalist Studies – A History of the Black Pioneers

PBS – George Washington’s Runaway Slave, Harry

Rhodes, Richard – The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986)

Rolling Stone, March 15th, 2017 – Hitler and His Drugs: Inside the Nazis’ Speed Craze

Schama, Simon – Rough Crossings: The Slaves, the British, and the American Revolution (2007)

Skeptoid – No, Hitler Did Not Let the British Escape at Dunkirk

Spiegel, May 30th, 2013 – The German Granddaddy of Crystal Meth

Toland, John – Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath (1982)

Waterfield, Robin – Why Socrates Died: Dispelling the Myths (2009)

Wikipedia – Drug Policy of Nazi Germany

Wikipedia – Thirty Tyrants

Wolpert, Andrew – Remembering Defeat: Civil War and Civic Memory in Ancient Athens (2002)

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