We had a chat with Norman Ohler, whose latest book, 'Der Totale Rausch,' explains the story behind the Nazis' "performance enhancing" drug habits.
Hitler, possibly on Eukodal. Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Norman Ohler's latest book, Der Totale Rausch (Total Rush), tells the story behind the Nazis' "performance enhancing" drug habits. It turns out that many of those involved in Hitler's party, from the Wehrmacht all the way up to top-tier leadership, were massively into their chemicals. Ohler got his hands on the records of Hitler's personal physician, Dr. Theo Morell, and was able to determine that the führer himself received 800 injections over the years.
We sat down with the author to find out more about what sort of gear the Nazis were into, and why so few historical books have written about the subject.
VICE: Hi, Norman. So Hitler and others in the Nazi Party were really high all the time?
Norman Ohler: That's what my research suggests. But you have to differentiate. Each of them had their very own predilections and addictions. Not all of them took every drug. Some more, some less. Some of them were on methamphetamine—for example, Ernst Udet, the Chief of Aircraft Procurement and Supply. Others were on strong anesthetics, like Göring, whose nickname was actually "Möring," from morphine. And it's proven that Hitler took Eukodal—the German brand name for [the synthetic opiate] oxycodone—intravenously. I wanted to investigate where this mass drug consumption came from in the first place and what historical relevance it has.
Plenty of weekend warriors would have a hard time remembering exactly which drugs they took on a Friday night. How can you prove what Hitler took 70 years ago?
All aspects of the Third Reich were diligently noted and written down. Hitler's personal physician, Dr. Theo Morell, left behind extensive records. I was able to look over them in the Federal Archive in Koblenz, the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich and the National Archives of the USA in Washington, DC. The individual injections Hitler received each day are noted in these records in black and white. Fascinating reading.
In your book you wrote that Hitler's personal physician was overweight and unsightly and that he ate like a pig. It doesn't exactly sound like the Aryan dream. How did this close relationship between Morell and Hitler develop?
Everyone around Hitler was appalled by Morell; Hitler himself was the only one who wasn't. They developed a symbiotic relationship because of the drugs. Morrell was supposedly not allowed to go to his brother's funeral—because he would have been away from Hitler for two days. The Führer needed his shots every day. Everybody knows how it feels when your dealer is on vacation.
What made you decide to write this book?
One of my DJ friends, who is a resident at Club der Visionäre [in Berlin], told me about the topic and I decided to write a novel about it. I realized that trying to make fiction wasn't working. What's interesting here are the facts. So that's why I decided to write a nonfiction book on the subject. Fiction is one thing, historical fact is something else.
The book has been quite polarizing so far. While Spiegel called you out for not being a historian, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reviewed it quite positively. What do you think it is about the subject that has provoked these varied responses?
The subject focuses on the meaning of a chapter of world history that isn't exactly negligible, so of course there are people who don't want to accept new perspectives. This has a lot to do with fear, and also interpretational sovereignty. There are academic watchtowers: who's allowed to say what about a certain subject? Many people fear, for example, that my book would relativize the Nazis' guilt. That's the main question, of course. And there needs to be an answer to it.
Talking of guilt, is there any imaginable way in which the Nazis' drug consumption could change their criminal culpability?
Certainly not. The fundamental legal tenet "actio libera in causa" applies here. It means that if you get intoxicated in order to carry out an offense that you've already planned, it doesn't diminish your culpability. The Nazi regime's criminal plans were already laid out in Hitler's inflammatory text Mein Kampf, and they began being implemented in the 1930s, before drugs had taken hold.
National Socialism is a dark chapter in German history. You don't only describe the leadership's consumption in your book, you also talk about experiments with drugs that took place in concentration camps. What happened there exactly? What kind of human experiments were there?
In Sachsenhausen, prisoners were forced to do the so-called "pill patrol." They were forced to ingest a new "wonder drug," which contained high doses of cocaine, methamphetamine, and Eukodal, and then run in a circle wearing a backpack all night long. The navy conducted these tests alongside the SS. Prisoners in Dachau were pumped full of mescaline without knowing. They were trying to develop new methods of interrogation. The Americans also happened upon the results of this experiment when they liberated the camp. American intelligence agencies used this material later for their "Project Artichoke," which aimed to unmask supposed Soviet spies.
The doped-up Wehrmacht invaded Poland and France at such speed that people called it the Blitzkrieg. Were all the soldiers really on drugs?
Thirty-five million doses of Pervitin were provided for the campaign in France. The active ingredient in Pervitin is methamphetamine, which we call crystal meth today. The tank units were especially doped-up. Luftwaffe pilots also took methamphetamine. You could say that the Blitzkrieg was a Methkrieg.
Was crystal meth used by the military after 1945?
The Nazis were forerunners when it came to fueling wars with drugs, but the allies soon followed. They used speed [amphetamine]. And the Americans, for example, haven't ever given that up: they administered massive amounts of speed to their pilots in the Korean War.
What about the German armed forces?
They've used Modafinil, a wakefulness-promoting agent, in Afghanistan. It keeps you awake and pushes you and supposedly has no side effects. The military medicine advisory board is currently deliberating whether so-called performance enhancing substances should continue to be distributed in large quantities.
Why has this subject of Nazis and drugs been neglected until now? Is it because it's taboo?
It's because of the National Socialists' own concept of "fighting narcotics," which established state control over substances and, in doing so, made drugs a taboo in general. This caused the subject to be dismissed by the sober sciences—comprehensive studies are still avoided by universities today.
How does your personal drug biography compare to Hitler's?
I haven't tried every drug that I talk about in Der Totale Rausch. Especially because if I tried to get anywhere close to Hitler's consumption levels, I wouldn't have been able to write a book. Really, nobody could take that amount.