JLF 2018: Was Hitler a ‘super junkie’? A peek into the Fuhrer’s tryst with cocaine and opiates

Norman Ohler, author of Blitzed, discusses drug abuse in Nazi Germany

books Updated: Jan 29, 2018 11:40 IST
Prerna Madan
Prerna Madan
Hindustan Times, Jaipur
JLF,Jaipur Literature Fest,Jaipur Lit Fest
Author Normon Ohler (left) in conversation with Rakshanda Jalil (centre) and Anna Funder(right) at Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF). (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

In August 1941, Adolf Hitler received opioids for the first time. Germany was invading the Soviet Union, and Hitler’s generals wanted to send troops towards Moscow. The ‘Fuhrer’, however, wanted to divide his army and send them towards Leningrad to capture oil.

In between all this, Hitler suffered from a “terrible” flu, and he asked his physician Theodor Morell to give him something stronger than vitamin injections. This was the making of a “super junkie”, said Norman Ohler, author of the book Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany.

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At a session titled Hitler and His Times featuring author Anna Funder, Norman Ohler and Rakshanda Jalil on Saturday, Ohler, who has extensively studied Morell’s notes, said that at first, like everyone else, he had believed the “Nazi propaganda” of Hitler being a man of “abstinence”; that the fascist leader did not consume alcohol or drugs, and was a vegetarian.

But Morell’s notes give a “completely different picture” of the 20th century’s arch anti Semite, who ordered 6 million Jews to their deaths. “Hitler always knew better on this artificial high,” Ohler said. He pointed out the irony of Nazi Germany introducing strict drug laws even as big companies like Bayer and Temmler legally sold methamphetamines as medicines.

The author and filmmaker stressed that his book did not absolve Hitler and Nazi Germany of its actions. “His (Hitler’s) actions don’t originate from his drug-induced mind… Drugs didn’t make him evil, they helped him sustain his racist ideology,” Ohler said, expressing surprise that Hitler’s “terrible” autobiography Mein Kampf was readily sold in India though it is still banned in Germany.

When asked if drugs could have been responsible for Hitler’s tactical errors during World War II, Ohler said that Hitler’s “stupid decision” in 1944 to withdraw troops from the East and deploy them in The Battle of The Bulge, effectively allowing an opening for the Russians to attack Germany, was based on a “drug craze that came out of cocaine euphoria”.

Ohler says cocaine was added to the long list of drugs given to Hitler after he was injured in Operation Valkyrie, an assassination attempt on July 20, 1944.

Blitzed evoked a mixed reaction after its release in 2016. A review by British historian, Richard J Evans, strongly refuted inferences in Ohler’s book, saying that the book “involved massive exaggeration based on spurious interpretations of the evidence”.

“Germans, the author hints, were not really responsible for the support they gave to the Nazi regime, still less for their failure to rise up against it. This can only be explained by the fact that they were drugged up to the eyeballs,” Evans wrote in The Guardian.

Another review in The New York Times by Dagmar Herzog conceded that Ohler’s proposition that Hitler used drugs regularly should be “taken seriously” but also warned the book was “pieced together from a mix of hard evidence and complete speculation”.

However, noted author of books on the Second World War, Antony Beevor, said in The New York Review of Books that Blitzed was “very well researched” although it might irritate some historians.

Whatever the critical verdict, the session based largely on Ohler’s book was remarkably interesting.

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First Published: Jan 27, 2018 16:21 IST