One of the weirdest things that’s happened to me as an adult is that I’ve learned how fluid “history” can be. Growing up, my understanding of the concept of history was that smart people figured out what happened, and they told us, and that was it. In college books like Lies My Teacher Told Me and A People’s History of the United States opened up my thinking to the idea that any narrative (historical or otherwise) comes from a point of view and has a purpose.
With all that in mind, I was surprised to learn about Nazi drug abuse. And, I was also not surprised that I had not learned this information before.
The information: The Nazis did a lot of drugs! Pervitin (meth), Eukadol (oxy basically), you name it. Hitler in particular graduated from “wellness” to dependence on an artificial immune system and energy. In the 1930s you have a leader congratulating himself on vegetarianism to moving towards wellness injections with things like vitamins and hormones. With the help of his own “personal physician” he moves on to injections of all kinds, including opioids and various forms of cocaine. (Hitler was proud he didn’t snort the powder like an addict.) Doctor notes indicated that Hitler was receiving so many shows that the injections became difficult. Track marks were a source of gossip. Ohler believes that Hitler’s drug use escalated rapidly after a failed assassination attempt left him injured.
Ohler also explores the idea that many of the drugs we know today came from Germany, and how Pervitin helped the Germans successfully launch the blitzkrieg because the Nazis didn’t need to sleep. One of the saddest stories about the widespread use of pharmaceuticals – German researchers forced people in concentration camps to take massive amounts of cocaine in order to run for miles and miles back and forth. Why? To test artificial shoe leather for the Wehrmacht.
I appreciated that Ohler doesn’t use the Nazi drug problem as a moral or ethical excuse for their atrocities. In fact, he connects dots and draws lines from cultural hubris to the drugs and the acts themselves. He argues the need for and justification of the drugs are in line.
An interesting read if not an uplifting one. But, back to the purpose of history. It’s better to know than to not know.