Nowadays we have access to many documents such as testimonies, photographs, books, and representations of the Second World War and the Holocaust. It’s through these accounts that we can understand how Nazism came to be so powerful. A lot has been said about the Third Reich’s eagerness to conquer the world, their obsession with unveiling the most mystical secrets of humanity to justify their racial “superiority,” and the contradictory personality of its leader. One of these contradictions it that Hitler hated tobacco but had a especial predilection for other substances.
Maybe this can explain why many Nazis agreed to commit the most despicable atrocities in name of its leader. Fanaticism is a strong drug, but it’s not the only one. By the late thirties and early forties, the Führer and his followers were dedicated to destroying an important part of the world. However, there’s an important factor that is unknown by many: the large amounts of cocaine and other drugs used during the Third Reich. Like many other people during World War Two, Hitler was also an avid consumer. In fact, as historian Norman Ohler explains in his book Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany, synthesized cocaine was patented in 1862 by the German pharmaceutical Merck who practically bought most of the production of coke leafs from Peru, making it a commonly consumed substance that worked as anesthesia.
In the early twentieth century it became obvious that it was an extremely addictive substance, and when consumers discovered that the effects of this drug were stronger when inhaled, hospitals were filled with patients presenting severe damages in their respiratory tract. The United States made its use illegal in 1914, but in some countries, such as Japan and Germany, the market for this drug was at its peak. Sigmund Freud, who was addicted to the substance himself, openly prescribed it to his patients.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, Germany saw the immense potential of the drug. The excessive consumption of cocaine among the troops and high-ranking officials increased when they started seeing it as an essential tool in the battlefield. The Soldiers’ performance would be twice as efficient after consuming it. According to Ohler, Nazis thought it was the perfect drug for submarine crews, and soon they created chewing gum with high doses of cocaine to keep them “alert and motivated.”
It all changed with the invention of Pervitin. Concerned about the addictive effects of drugs like morphine, cocaine, and other opiates, pharmaceuticals sought to develop other alternatives. In 1938, Temmler commercialized some special pills to defeat fatigue and stress. Pervitin, which at first wasn’t considered an addictive substance, was the equivalent of drinking two cups of coffee; it provoked an increase in the adrenaline levels and self-confidence while decreasing fatigue rates, pain, sleep, and hunger. This caught the attention of Otto Ranke, a doctor enlisted in the Reich’s Army, who in 1939 promoted its consumption among the soldiers. Many assure that Poland’s invasion was actually achieved under the effects of methamphetamine, which proved the “positive” side of consuming Pervitin as a military strategy. During battle, German soldiers committed themselves to combat thanks to the doses of meth they consumed, which increased their courage and performance.
The war lasted until 1945, when the allied forces entered Berlin. The Führer committed suicide in his bunker and his reign of terror was finally over. The conflict might have ended, but Pervitin was still highly consumed, especially by the survivors that were still addicted to these pills. They only needed a medical prescription or the help of the black market to get them. During the following decades, it was used as an antidepressant as well as a weight-control medication. It also became very popular among students who wanted to increase their academic performance. It wouldn’t be until the seventies when the production and commercialization of Pervitin was officially forbidden and illegal.
Human beings have long used drugs in an attempt to go beyond the limits of their bodies and minds. These substances have been seen as ways to expand them. Many things have happened since then, evolving into the current drug trafficking issues, that have become so serious and complex, that have taken over several areas of life such as art.
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards