An excellent historical novel…
Blitzed: Drugs in Germany
As a former history teacher, I have always enjoyed reading books based about events and individuals in history. In that vein, I find books written about World War II and figures associated with that conflict to be fascinating. Truth is often stranger than fiction and this book fills that bill to a T.
Norman Ohler, a writer in his late 40’s, has written numerous works, many in his country of birth, Germany. He was educated in Germany, studying journalism in Hamburg and when he was invited by the Goethe Institute to be their writer in residence in Ramallah in 2004, he wrote about Palestinians living on the west bank and wrote up Yassar Arafat’s last interview. “Blitzed” is his follow up novel to “The Total Rush: Drugs In the Third Reich.”
Blitzed is an interesting story as it describes drug use in Germany from the beginning of the 20th century until its midpoint. The book is founded on a compilation of extensively researched facts relating to events and people in Germany during that era.
Ohler ’s writes about the drug addled decline of Adolph Hitler, the German armed forces and the German population during the first half of the century until the end of WWII. There is no intricate plot to the book. Rather, it is a description of the progressive decline of the German authorities, its military and its general population.
The linking thread for his story is Dr. Theodor Morell, the Fuehrer’s personal physician and his personal pharmacologist, to be politically correct. Though it is never really clear if Morell a formally trained doctor, he was recognized as such by becoming Hitler’s personal supplier of drugs. However, Morell did work in pharmaceutical industry, eventually owning a German drug production which enriched him immensely but only until the end of the war. Every German city with any industry at all was razed by allied bombing raids and so no factory was let intact in all of Germany at the end of the war. However, through his position as Hitler’s personal physician, Morell climbed to the pinnacle of his power and social status personally prescribing and administering addictive drugs to Hitler before, during and until the very end when Hitler committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin in April, 1945. A nursing order nun found him homeless and abandoned on a bombed out street in Berlin.
The book is a straightforward narrative based on incredible research, so much that Ohler was able to write two books from the material he found.
Ohler describes how a variety of drugs were being used increasingly by more and more Germans as the nation declined in morality and ethical living in the 1930’s. The reader is easily seduced into believing that the Germans were a nation experiencing mass depression caused by declining living conditions throughout the entire nation because of the economic breakdown due to inflation and the world wide economic depression of the 1930’s. Ohler implies Germany suffered more than other countries because of their incredibly maniacal leadership which ultimately end in catastrophic ruin for the country.
Drug use grew among German people during the period but Ohler does not fault the German people wholly for this. He writes about the growth and development of the drug producing companies in Germany during the time: Bayer, Merck, Boehringer, and Knoll. These companies blended and partnered as economic conditions fluctuated and declined leaving the population searching for comfort and distraction using drugs.
During the 1920’s, social and economic conditions in Germany ripped open the door to wide spread drug use, greatly in Germany but not with drug free innocence elsewhere. Other nations throughout the world and in parts of Europe were as guilty as Germany in this regard. For German pharmaceuticals, these were heady times financially as they became worldwide drug suppliers. Though there was violent opposition to the free-and-easy drugged life style lived by so many in Germany, the nation still was looked upon as being the sin centre of moral decadence during the period. The movie ‘Cabaret’ captures that spirit of moral decay and sinful sensationalism very well. Germany was the hot spot of pharmacological escapism and immoral high jinks. If you wanted escapism as portrayed by the 1920’s American speakeasy without the accompanying hangover, Germany was your destination and drugs were your medium, easily obtained, practically affordable.
Hitler was a logical part of this melange of physiological diversion. He was viewed as “…all genius and body….doesn’t drink…eats only vegetables…doesn’t touch women.” He is alleged as not even drinking coffee and he gave up smoking at the end of WWI. He became an idol to many Germans as a tea-totalling, celibate dedicated to the work of governing and managing their nation. Logically, his aura and his charisma intensified as Germany’s basked in glorious victories, one after the other in the early years of the war.
Hitler’s dedication to his position called for intensity and energy that went beyond normal human parameters. Dr. Morell was the Fuehrer’s pharmaceutical angel, his drug supplying best friend. In the beginning of this personal drug use history, ‘patient A’ was given drugs to relieve him of intestinal cramps and pains, with reasonable success. In the later years, the drugs were first administered to give Hitler energy and stamina, allowing him to work at extranormal human capacities. And in the final year, the drugs were used to keep the body functioning as it was simultaneously collapsing from years of excessive drug use. The Fuehrer’s drug use escalated in relation to Germany’s decline on the battlefield.
Ohler’s second story pertains to the use of drugs among the German military. There too the drug scenario mirrored the general use by the nation. At first, the military drug use was a form of escapism from the fatigue and relentless of combat. Then, the drug producers discovered other effects from their drug exploration and experimentation. They found that drugs could extend the combat capabilities of the soldier. Drugs could increase the soldier’s stamina, revitalize the soldier’s from fatigue and even dullen the soldier’s ethical and moral judgement. In all these instances, the German high command was very aware of what drugs could do for the German war machinery and the machine got fueled and lubricated appropriately. “Blitzed” took on a whole new meaning when one thinks of the German “Blitzkiegs” in the early part of WWII.
Eventually, Ohler writes how drugs became the fuel of somnambulism. The German youth soldiers were drugged so they did not realize what they were doing, meaning they would fight without thinking, without awareness. They became the drugged automatons of the Third Reich, going into combat with “no sense, no feeling, no awareness” of what they were doing, becoming unquestioning fighting machines with the emphasis on fighting and not machines.
Throughout the book, Ohler clearly describes the various drugs which were used. They varied extensively in what they were and their purpose: pain killing opioids, energy boosting amphetamines, mental escalating heroins and opiums, even pseudo-vitamins, “Vitamultin.” In the last year of the war, chemical labs were producing an amazing volume of the increasingly needed drugs, not just as used by the German military machine, but as demanded by international addicts and users beyond the Germany’s borders. The story boggles the mind; the variety of drugs which were created amazes; the experimentation methods to discover new and more potent drugs is awestriking; the revenues from the production, distribution and supply of the chemical product astounding.
The book is well written considering it is a sweeping history of the drug use in Germany and elsewhere in the first half of the 20th century. The book reads well and Ohler maintains reader interest by interspersing his narrative with personal anecdotes about Hitler, his commanders and the powerful politicians who worked with him.
To anyone who enjoys history books written well and based on seemingly extensive research this book fills the bill well.
And to Ohler’s credit, he never stoops to judgements of any kind, no moralizing, no ethical condemnation of the people he writes about. He tells a story, factually and authentically and leaves the judgement and condemnation to others.
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