The Nazis preached abstinence in the name of promoting national health. But when it came to fighting their Blitzkrieg, they had no qualms about pumping their soldiers full of drugs and alcohol. Speed was the drug of choice, but many others became addicted to morphine and alcohol.
On May 29, 1940, the 22-year-old soldier wrote to his family again:
Many of the Wehrmacht's soldiers were high on Pervitin when they went into battle, especially against Poland and France -- in a Blitzkrieg fueled by speed. The German military was supplied with millions of methamphetamine tablets during the first half of 1940. The drugs were part of a plan to help pilots, sailors and infantry troops become capable of superhuman performance. The military leadership liberally dispensed such stimulants, but also alcohol and opiates, as long as it believed drugging and intoxicating troops could help it achieve victory over the Allies. But the Nazis were less than diligent in monitoring side-effects like drug addiction and a decline in moral standards.
After it was first introduced into the market in 1938, Pervitin, a methamphetamine drug newly developed by the Berlin-based Temmler pharmaceutical company, quickly became a top seller among the German civilian population. According to a report in the Klinische Wochenschrift ("Clinical Weekly"), the supposed wonder drug was brought to the attention of Otto Ranke, a military doctor and director of the Institute for General and Defense Physiology at Berlin's Academy of Military Medicine. The effects of amphetamines are similar to those of the adrenaline produced by the body, triggering a heightened state of alert. In most people, the substance increases self-confidence, concentration and the willingness to take risks, while at the same time reducing sensitivity to pain, hunger and thirst, as well as reducing the need for sleep. In September 1939, Ranke tested the drug on 90 university students, and concluded that Pervitin could help the Wehrmacht win the war. At first Pervitin was tested on military drivers who participated in the invasion of Poland. Then, according to criminologist Wolf Kemper, it was "unscrupulously distributed to troops fighting at the front."
Even then, doctors were concerned about the fact that the regeneration phase after taking the drug was becoming increasingly long, and that the effect was gradually decreasing among frequent users. In isolated cases, users experienced health problems like excessive perspiration and circulatory disorders, and there were even a few deaths. Leonardo Conti, the German Reich's minister of health and an adherent of Adolf Hitler's belief in asceticism, attempted to restrict the use of the pill, but was only moderately successful, at least when it came to the Wehrmacht. Although Pervitin was classified as a restricted substance on July 1, 1941, under the Opium Law, ten million tablets were shipped to troops that same year.
Pervitin was generally viewed as a proven drug to be used when soldiers were likely to be subjected to extreme stress. A memorandum for navy medical officers stated the following:
"Their spirits suddenly improved"
The effects were seductive. In January 1942, a group of 500 German soldiers stationed on the eastern front and surrounded by the Red Army were attempting to escape. The temperature was minus 30 degrees Celsius. A military doctor assigned to the unit wrote in his report that at around , six hours into their escape through snow that was waist-deep in places, "more and more soldiers were so exhausted that they were beginning to simply lie down in the snow." The group's commanding officers decided to give Pervitin to their troops. "After half an hour," the doctor wrote, "the men began spontaneously reporting that they felt better. They began marching in orderly fashion again, their spirits improved, and they became more alert."
Towards the end of the war, Germany used younger and younger soldiers. More and more of them relied on drugs or alcohol for courage and endurance.
Toward the end of the war, the Nazis were even working on a miracle pill for their troops. In the northern German seaport of Kiel, on March 16, 1944, then Vice-Admiral Hellmuth Heye, who later became a member of parliament with the conservative Christian Democratic party and head of the German parliament's defense committee, requested a drug "that can keep soldiers ready for battle when they are asked to continue fighting beyond a period considered normal, while at the same time boosting their self-esteem."
A short time later, Kiel pharmacologist Gerhard Orzechowski presented Heye with a pill code-named D-IX. It contained five milligrams of cocaine, three milligrams of Pervitin and five milligrams of Eukodal (a morphine-based painkiller). Nowadays, a drug dealer caught with this potent a drug would be sent to prison. At the time, however, the drug was tested on crew members working on the navy's smallest submarines, known as the "Seal" and the "Beaver."
Alcohol consumption was encouraged
Alcohol, the people's drug, was also popular in the Wehrmacht. Referring to alcohol, Walter Kittel, a general in the medical corps, wrote that "only a fanatic would refuse to give a soldier something that can help him relax and enjoy life after he has faced the horrors of battle, or would reprimand him for enjoying a friendly drink or two with his comrades." Officers would distribute alcohol to their troops as a reward, and schnapps was routinely sold in military commissaries, a policy that also had the happy side effect of returning soldiers' pay to the military.
"The military command turned a blind eye to alcohol consumption, as long as it didn't lead to public drunkenness among the troops," says Freiburg historian Peter Steinkamp, an expert on drug abuse in the Wehrmacht.
But in July 1940, after France was defeated, Hitler issued the following order:
But the temptations of liquor were apparently more powerful that the Führer's threats. Only a year later, the commander-in-chief of the German military, General Walther von Brauchitsch, concluded that his troops were committing "the most serious infractions" of morality and discipline, and that the culprit was "alcohol abuse." Among the adverse effects of alcohol abuse he cited were fights, accidents, mistreatment of subordinates, violence against superior officers and "crimes involving unnatural sexual acts." The general believed that alcohol was jeopardizing "discipline within the military."
According to an internal statistic compiled by the chief of the medical corps, 705 military deaths between September 1939 and April 1944 could be linked directly to alcohol. The unofficial figure was probably much higher, because traffic accidents, accidents involving weapons and suicides were frequently caused by alcohol use. Medical officers were instructed to admit alcoholics and drug addicts to treatment facilities.
The number of cases in which soldiers became blind or even died after consuming methyl alcohol began to increase. From 1939 on, the University of Berlin's Institute of Forensic Medicine consistently listed methyl alcohol as the leading factor in deaths resulting from the inadvertent ingestion of poisons.
The execution of a 36-year-old officer in Norway in the fall of 1942 was intended to set an example. The officer, who was a driver, had sold five liters of methyl alcohol, which he claimed was 98 percent alcohol and could be used to produce liquor, to an infantry regiment's anti-tank defense unit. Several soldiers fell ill, and two died. The man, deemed an "enemy of the people," was executed by a firing squad. According to the daily order issued on
But soldiers apparently felt that anything that could help them escape the horrors of war was justifiable. Despite general knowledge of the risks involved, morphine addiction became widespread among the wounded and medical personnel during the course of the war. Four times as many military doctors were addicted to morphine by 1945 than at the beginning of the war.
German doctors experimented on themselves
To prevent an "outbreak of morphinism, as occurred after the last war," Professor Otto Wuth, a master sergeant and consulting psychiatrist to the military's senior medical command, wrote a "Proposal to Combat Morphinism" in February 1941. Under Wuth's proposal, all wounded who became addicted as a result of treatment were to be centrally recorded and reported to the "District Medical Board," where they would be either legally provided with morphine or routinely examined and sent to drug rehabilitation treatment centers. "In this manner," Wuth concluded, "morphine addicts will be recorded and monitored, and the entire group will be prevented from becoming criminal."
The Nazi leadership was more lenient with those who became drug-addicted as a result of the war than with alcoholics, probably because the Wehrmacht was concerned that it could be sued for damages, because it was in fact responsible for dispensing the drugs in the first place.
New research shows that Nazis were going to turn their soldiers to robots with the help of a special chemical. Until recently, the chemical has been kept secret. So-called Experiment D-IX started in November of the year 1944 in Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Eighteen prisoners were marching on the semicircular square, which was used for daily call-overs. The prisoners were carrying backpacks that weighed 20 kilos each. They were called “pill patrol” and could march without a rest up to 90 kilometers a day. Everyone knew that they were like guinea-pigs that were used for testing the new method for preserving the energy of a human body.
Hitler’s chemists wanted to find out, how long those people could last. At first, those poor prisoners sang songs and whistled various melodies as they marched. Twenty-four hours later, the majority of them fell down on the ground dead. Nazi chemists tested their new wonder pills on those people. The pills were called D-IX. This was also the work code of the whole experiment. The pills contained cocaine together with other drugs. As the Third Reich leaders believed, the new pills were supposed to turn German soldiers into tireless and fearless warriors.
Hamburg-based criminologist Wolf Kemper believes that D-IX pills were Hitler’s last secret development. The pills should have helped him to win the war, which was about to be lost for fascist Germany. Kemper deals with the studies of little-known events of the latest months of World War II. The description of those events will be included in his new book about the use of drugs during the Third Reich era. It is an open secret that the big-time Nazi propaganda held up any drug addiction to shame. Such propaganda was launched back in 1993: Nazis basically lambasted the “devilish” cocaine – the major drug of the demoralized European Bohemia of the 1920s. However, the Nazi regime did not hesitate to let its soldiers use those drugs, trying to turn them into thoughtless robots.
The use of an amphetamine called Pervitine was a usual thing at the Western front in the very beginning of the war. Nazi leaders believed that the use of that stimulant would inspire their troops to noble and heroic deeds for the sake of the victory. A factory of the Berlin company Temmel, which manufactured Pervitine, supplied the Nazi Army and the Luftwaffe with 29 million of Pervitine pills during the period of April-December of 1939. The Ground troops high command ordered to keep that a secret. Official documents mentioned the drug under the code name OBM. Yet, Nazis underestimated Pervitine’s side effects. The “consumers” could not do without the drug really soon. In 1939, German doctors determined during their inspections at the Western front that the soldiers used pervitine without any control at all. The period to recover from the drug effect was getting longer and longer, while attention concentration ability was getting weaker and weaker. This eventually resulted in messages of lethal outcome in several Nazi divisions in France and Poland. Doctors’ warnings were left with no attention. All orderly bags were filled with that dangerous drug during the last years of the war. They prescribed Pervitine pills to anyone, who had any ailing complaints.
Nazis conducted more and more of their tests with the new wonder chemical, although the war was coming to its end. It occurred to the Third Reich leaders to launch the series production of the new D-IX substance on March 16, 1944. Vice Admiral Helmut Heye stated at a session with pharmacologists and small military units commanders that there should be a new medicine invented to help German soldiers stand the tense situation longer and to make them feel more uplifting than usual in any situation. After the war, the admiral became a Bundestag deputy for defense issues, by the way. Heye’s suggestion was completely supported by such an influential figure as Otto Szorzeny (after the successful operation to release Mussolini in September of 1943, the commander of the Friedensthal special unit was awarded with the German National Hero title). Skorzeny was searching for a new drug for his division for long. After he had a very detailed conversation with the leadership of Hitler’s headquarters in Berlin, there was a group of researchers set up in the city of Kiel. The group was presided over by pharmacology professor Gerhard Orchehovsky. The group was given a task to develop and launch the production of the needed drug. Criminologist Kemper believes that the plan was approved by Adolf Hitler himself: none of such projects could be implemented without his approval.
Orchehovsky came to conclusion after several months of hard work at Kiel University labs that he finally created the needed substance. One pill contained five milligrams of cocaine, three milligrams of pervitine, five milligrams of eucodal (morphine-based painkiller), as well as synthetic cocaine that was produced by the company Merk. The latter drug was used by German fighter pilots during World War I as a stimulant for their large-distance sorties. The invented cocktail of drugs was supposed to be tested by mini-submarine crewmen first. The results were supposed to be checked during their navigation in the Kiel Bay. Skorzeny ordered to send him a thousand of those pills. He wanted to test their action on the members of the Forelle diversionary unit of submariners, which was a part of Danube destructive unit of the German death squad.
Researcher Kemper came to conclusion that the results of the tests were very inspiring. That made Nazi leaders continue the experiments, testing the new drug on the people, who walked in circles 24 hours a day, carrying 20 kilos backpacks. Those people were Sachsenhausen concentration camp prisoners. They became like laboratory guinea-pigs in November of 1944. The goal of the experiment was to determine the new stamina limit for D-IX exposed humans. Medical records of that time show that several participants of the experiment felt fine with only two or three short stops a day: “The considerable reduction of the need in sleep is very impressive. This drug disables man’s action ability and will.” In other words, D-IX made a human being a robot. The results of all those tests inspired their initiators to supply D-IX drug to the entire Nazi Army. However, they failed to launch the mass production of the substance. Allies’ victories at both fronts in winter and spring in 1945 resulted in the collapse of the Nazi regime. The absurd dream of the wonder drug was crushed.