Everyone is familiar with modern history’s greatest boogeymen, the Nazis, and their bid for world domination. What many are not aware of, however, is the role Methamphetamine played in Nazi-controlled Germany. Although history’s retelling of the second world war largely overlooks it. It’s clear that meth played a fundamental part in the Nazi war effort. Everything from the innovation and implementation of Blitzkrieg to the strategic decision-making of Nazi high command. The lives and work of the German populace on the home front were touched by the new wonder drug. On the one hand, meth strengthened the Nazi’s already formidable offense. However, the meth high comes at a steep cost, and Hitler and Germany learned that lesson the hard way.
Methamphetamine was first synthesized in the late 19th century from the ephedra plant. Although the drug proved potent, the process by which it became produced was prohibitively costly. In 1919 a Japanese chemist named Akira Ogata invented a new process for meth production using phosphorous and iodine to crystalize the compound. This process produced the world’s first crystal meth. This new version of the drug was cheaper and easier to produce than the original and even more potent. Users of crystal meth reported an intensely stimulating high lasting up to 12 hours from ingestion.
Effects included decreased appetite, euphoria, increased motivation, inflated self-perception, and a numbing of negative emotions, including fear. The potential of such a cheap and effective drug was quickly realized. Before extensive research to understand the consequences of meth use, many industrial nations realized its potential upside. They began gearing up to produce it on a large scale. By the start of WWII, All of the world’s greatest militaries were in possession of amphetamines. Still, Nazi Germany believed in its utility most and became prepared to employ it aggressively despite the risks.
It’s no wonder the German high command had no reservations about using meth considering the habits of Hitler himself. Despite the clean public image the Nazis carefully built for Hitler, he was a remarkably committed drug addict. On one occasion, at a dinner party for Nazi elites, doctor Theodor Morell gave Hitler a combination of gas pills and probiotics that fixed symptoms related to a gastrointestinal issue he’d been suffering from for some time. He became an instant believer in the doctor.
Morell began working increasingly closely with Hitler, prescribing him more drugs. Eventually, Morell had Hitler on an impressive cocktail of daily medications, including but not limited to; vitamin and sex hormone injections for general health, barbiturates and morphine for sleep, and Methamphetamine and cocaine to awake. According to Morell’s notes, Hitler received over 1,100 injections from 1941-1945. He was a genuine Opiate, cocaine, and methamphetamine addict, and those around him said that he was severely aged and addled by his constant drug use.
Pervitin, the pill version of crystal meth, was brought to market in Germany in 1938. It was marketed as an anti-depressant and alertness aid, and it was even sold over the counter. Third Reich leadership, many of whom were already experimenting with meth, testosterone, and other drugs, quickly made plans for its use on the front lines. In 1939 Germany invaded Poland and paused momentarily while it made plans for its fateful blitz into western Europe. As part of their preparation, they equipped their troops with an ample supply of Pervitin.
In April of 1940, the Nazis began their invasion of western Europe with a never-before-seen tactic called Blitzkrieg, “lightning war” in German. In WWI, forces were spread across a tremendous geographic width, and movement and communication were slow. Therefore, the war was characterized by stalemate. By WWII, the advent of mass-produced tanks and planes, improvements in radio communications, and the development of Methamphetamine allowed theNazis to devise a way to fight an offensive at never-before-seen speed. They focused nearly all their forces at the enemy’s weakest point. Then with armored vehicles like tanks leading the way and a powerful air force specially geared toward ground support overhead. They drove us deeply into the enemy lines as possible. They focused on cutting lines of communication and supply and creating chaos for the allies. Eventually causing their defeat by toppling their organizational structure instead of destroying their forces.
Hopped up on meth, the Germans did not need to stop for rest, for multiple days on end. Because of this, they could continually defy the enemy’s predictions of their progress. Once they got the French and British on their heels, they never stopped to allow them to regroup. They toppled Belgium and the Netherlands in a matter of days. They then struck the WW1-like fortifications of France with momentum and crashed through with ease.
While the allies scrambled to regroup, they rolled through the entire country of France, driving the British expeditionary force to Dunkirk. They were eventually evacuated, capturing Paris, and forcing the French government to surrender. The time from the beginning of the Nazi westward push to the unconditional surrender of Europe’s most powerful military (the French) was a mere six weeks.
The military strategy of Blitzkrieg was not just perfectly suited to the novel military technologies of the era like tanks, planes, and communications equipment. It also meshed perfectly with the new pharmaceutical advancement of high-grade crystal meth. The Nazi military had they not had Pervitin at their disposal, would not have been the impressive attacking force they turned out to be. Their trademarked blitzkrieg attack would likely still have been effective up front, but they would have had to stop nights to rest their troops. These periodic pauses would have allowed the allies to regroup, re-establish an organized defensive, and bog down the Wehrmacht, which was only effective when moving at lightning speed.
Aside from its impact on military strategy and on Hitler’s decision-making, meth may have played an even more profound role in the unfolding of the second world war. Meth abuse can cause anxiety, paranoia, confusion, irrationality, and aggression and can even trigger psychosis. Meth and other damaging drugs were offered over the counter to the German public by the late 1930s, and their use was widely encouraged for everyone from homemakers to factory workers to soldiers.
This reality, along with the stress of a world war, likely destabilized the collective German psyche, both military and civilian, opening the door for increasingly cruel and unhinged policies. It’s expected an aggressive, anxious, and paranoid populous would be more likely to carry out or be a party to genocide than one that was sound in mind. It’s possible Hitler may not have been able to carry out the holocaust without the assistance of crystal meth.
Nazis were not up to the standard of their enemies, no amount of meth could overcome that reality. What’s more, drug abuse in the Nazi high command created rot, and poor strategy became the norm. Despite knowing the Nazi’s numbers were inferior in men and equipment, Hitler decided to invade Russia. Against the advice of his generals, Hitler focused his attack on Stalingrad, hoping to strike a blow at Joseph Stalin’s ego.
The German war machine was never prepared to fight a long war on two fronts. However, meth addict Adolf Hitler was so full to the brim with self-confident arrogance that the Nazis attacked Stalingrad anyway and stalled them there in 1942. They laid siege to the city for almost an entire year and were eventually ground to dust by the hearty and resourceful Soviets. The remainder of the war was a slow bleed-out for the Nazis and for Hitler. As Hitler retreated to the bunker, he would eventually shoot himself. Withdrawals reportedly struck him because allied bombing had ceased the supply of the meth and opiates he desperately needed to function.
World War 2 was history’s largest-scale and most destructive war. Within it was millions of stories weaving into and out of each other. History is still parsing them almost 80 years later, if that’s any indication of the conflict’s complexity. The rampant and purposeful drug use of the Nazis has been largely overlooked until recently. Nearly every level of German society was affected by Methamphetamine during the war and its lead-up. Some of the questions people have about the reasons for the incredible tragedies of the conflict may have answers, at least partially, related to meth.