© Neil Spark

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Speeding Nazis

January 5, 2017

 

Pervitin was a shopping staple in Nazi Germany. And it propelled the Blitzkrieg of 1940 when Nazi troops occupied six countries in the first nine months of World War II.

Pervitin was a methamphetamine. It fuelled the German army. It fuelled the civilian population’s happiness. This is the proposition promoted in Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany a non-fiction book by novelist Norman Ohler.

Hermann Göring’s morphine addiction was well known. I have read and seen documentaries about Hitler’s drug use. And others have written about Pervitin’s role in the Blitzkrieg. Ohler cites the work of historians, including Werner Pieper, Peter Steinkamp and Karl-Heinz Frieser.

Ohler’s readable and revelatory book puts drugs front and centre of the Nazi regime in a way no one else has. There’s plenty of apparent evidence for Ohler’s argument. It helps explain Blitzkrieg that turned soldiers into machines that could go for days without sleep. It helps explain Hitler’s miraculous recovery from the assassination attempt of 20 July 1944. He met the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini just a few hours after a bomb went off. The bomb badly damaged the building it was in and shredded Hitler’s trousers.

Ohler has his critics. Eminent World War II historian Richard J Evans writes Ohler’s interpretation of the evidence is spurious. Evans doesn’t go as far as accusing Ohler as being a Nazi apologist but he criticises him for going some of the way. Ohler’s claim Pervitin was on the grocery shopping lists of most Germans before the war was a sweeping generalisation not supported by fact. I agree with Evans’ assertion that Ohler’s claim is “dangerous” because it implies Germans weren’t responsible for their support for the Nazi regime, “still less for their failure to rise up against it”. Evans writes this apparent absolving of responsibility explains why Blitzed is a bestseller. Hardbacks sold out in Germany before Christmas last year.

Ohler writes Hitler’s drug use “did not impinge on his freedom to make decisions”, and concludes “he was anything but insane”. But Evans says the disclaimer is contradicted by everything else in the book.

“It’s all too reminiscent of the claims made by some old Nazis I spent an evening drinking with in Munich’s Bürgerbräukeller, the starting-point for the 1923 beer-hall putsch, in 1970: Hitler rescued Germany from ruin but went mad during the war. Here, too, is a good reason for the book’s success in Germany.”

Blitzkrieg is portrayed as an 11-day drug rampage, writes  author and critic Mike Jay in the London Review of Books. The “breathless narrative overdrive” is “exhilarating” but Pervitin’s role is not “delineated”.

Hitler’s decline into ever-increasing dependence on a wide range of drugs is documented in the second half of the book.Hitler’s personal physician, Dr Felix Morrell, was with Hitler continually from 1940 to April, 1945. Hitler was the addict; Morrell was the supplier.

Blitzed is a rollicking read and provides a new angle on Nazi Germany. I enjoyed it but as with everything an element of scepticism is needed.

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