Did Hitler’s Drug Problem Change the Course of History?

History Hit Podcast with Norman Ohler

Nazi Germany Twentieth Century World War Two
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Image credit: From Eva Braun’s Photo Album, seized by U.S. Government.

This article is an edited transcript of Blitzed: Drugs In Nazi Germany with Norman Ohler on Dan Snow’s History Hit, first broadcast 29 April 2016. You can listen to the full episode below or to the full podcast for free on Acast.

The myth of Adolf Hitler, the teetotal vegetarian, someone who wouldn’t drink coffee let alone have a beer, was mostly all Nazi propaganda, an attempt to construct the führer as a pure person.

In fact, when he met his personal physician, Theo Morell, in 1936 Hitler began a journey towards an all-consuming drug habit that would go on to dominate the rest of his life.

Glucose and vitamins

Hitler’s drug consumption can be divided into three phases. In the beginning, it started rather harmlessly with glucose and vitamins, only he took them in high dosages and injected them into his veins. Arguably a bit weird already.

He quickly became addicted to these injections. Morell would arrive in the morning and Hitler would pull back the sleeve of his pyjamas and get an injection to start his day. It was an unusual breakfast routine.

Hitler’s motivation was that he never wanted to get sick. He was very suspicious of his generals, so he couldn’t afford to be absent from a briefing. It simply wasn’t possible for him not to be functioning.

When he met his personal physician, Theo Morell, in 1936 Hitler began a journey towards an all-consuming drug habit that would go on to dominate the rest of his life.

Theo Morell, Hitler’s personal physician.

But in August 1941, when the war against Russia was running into its first problems, Hitler actually did get sick. He had a high fever and diarrhoea and he had to stay in bed.

This was a sensation at headquarters. The generals loved it because they could have a briefing without crazy Hitler dominating the room and maybe even make some rational decisions about how the war against Russia should be run.

Hitler found himself fuming in bed and he demanded that Morell give him something stronger – the vitamins just weren’t working anymore. He had a high fever and felt extremely weak but he was desperate to be in briefings.

Morell started to explore hormones and steroids, the sort of stuff athletes would take today if there were no doping regulations. Hitler received his first injection in August 1941 and it immediately made him well again. The next day he was back in the briefing.

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Pig’s liver injections

Hormone and steroid injections quickly became a regular part of his routine.

When the Ukraine was being occupied by Germany, Morell made sure that he had a monopoly on all the carcasses from all the slaughter houses in Ukraine so he could exploit the glands and the organs of as many animals as possible.

By that time had his own pharmaceutical factory and made concoctions like Morell’s pig’s liver extract, which he would give to Hitler. In some ways, Hitler became Morrell’s guinea pig.

In 1943 a regulation was introduced in Germany stating that no more new medications could be put in the market while the country remained at war.

Morell had a problem, because he was developing new medicines all the time. His solution was to inject them into the führer’s bloodstream. Hitler would then personally vouch for the new medicines and insist that they were approved.

Hitler loved these experiments. He thought he was an expert in medicine, just like he thought he was an expert in everything.

The hygienic conditions in Morell’s factory were absolutely appalling, however. The pig’s livers that were brought by Wehrmacht trains from the Ukraine sometimes had to stop for five days in the heat, so they were often rotting on arrival.

Morrell would cook them with chemicals so they were still usable, before injecting the resulting formula into the bloodstream of Patient A – Hitler.

It’s no surprise that Hitler’s health deteriorated quite quickly in the later years of the war.

Hitler and Eva Braun, who also became addicted to eukodal. Credit: Bundesarchiv / Commons.

The harder stuff

In July 1943, Hitler had a very important meeting with Mussolini, who wanted to leave the war effort. He could see that it wasn’t going well, and he wanted to turn Italy into a neutral country. Hitler really didn’t want go to the meeting – he felt sick, nervous and depressed and feared that everything was falling apart.

Morell wondered if it was time to give him something else and settled on a drug called eukodal, a half-synthetic opioid manufactured by the German company Merck.

Eukodal is similar to heroin, in fact it’s stronger than heroin. It also has an effect that heroin doesn’t have – it makes you euphoric.

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When Hitler took eukodal for the first time, before that dreaded meeting, his mood changed immediately. Everyone was very happy that the führer was back in the game. His enthusiasm was such that, on the way to the airport to fly to the meeting with Mussolini, he demanded a second shot.

The first shot had been administered subcutaneously but the second was intravenous. It was even better.

Eukodal is similar to heroin, in fact it’s stronger than heroin. It also has an effect that heroin doesn’t have – it makes you euphoric.

During the meeting with Mussolini, Hitler was so energised that he pretty much just shouted for three hours.

There are several reports from that meeting, including an American intelligence report. To the embarrassment of everyone in attendance, Hitler didn’t stop talking throughout the entire duration of the meeting.

Mussolini couldn’t get a word in edgeways, meaning he wasn’t able to voice his concerns about the war effort and, perhaps, raise the prospect of Italy leaving. So Italy stayed.

At the end of the day Hitler told Morell, “The success of today is totally yours.”

Hitler’s anxiety about a meeting with Benito Mussolini was dealt with by a couple of shots of eukodal.

After the Operation Valkyrie bombing, Hitler was quite severely injured, which wasn’t broadcast to the German public.

Morell was rushed to the scene of the attack and found that Hitler was bleeding from his ears – his eardrums were torn. He injected him with very strong painkillers.

Hitler again had a meeting with Mussolini that evening and, once again, thanks to Morrell’s wonder drugs, appeared totally unharmed and fit, even after the horrific bomb blast.

Mussolini said, “This is a sign from heaven, the führer is completely unharmed. He can still have this meeting.”

From then on, Hitler’s drug use became very heavy.

A new doctor, Erwin Giesing, came in after the bomb attack, bringing with him a further addition to Hitler’s medicine bag – cocaine.

Giesing’s reports are stored at the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich. He describes how he administered pure cocaine, also manufactured by Merck Company, to Hitler, who absolutely loved it.

“It’s a good thing you’re here, doctor. This cocaine is wonderful. I’m glad you found the right remedy to free me from these headaches again for a while.”

Hitler’s addictions were out of control by the end of the war, which became particularly problematic, because the drugs began to run out.

In the final days in the bunker, Morell would send his men out on motorcycles, through bombed out Berlin, to find pharmacies that still had drugs, because the British were bombing pharmaceutical plants in Germany. It was quite hard to find eukodal, which turned into a big problem for Hitler, not to mention his wife Eva Braun and Göring, who had a long-term morphine habit.

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Did Hitler’s drug use change the course of history?

When you think about the euphoric Hitler marching into meetings and insisting that there would be no retreat, then consider how delusional he was towards the end of the war, it’s hard not to wonder if his drug use might have prolonged the war.

If we look at World War Two from the summer of 1940, the last nine months, at least in Central Europe, produced more deaths than the previous four years of conflict.

Perhaps that can be attributed to the continuous delusional state that Hitler was in at that time. It’s hard to imagine that a sober person would be able to stay in that madness for so long.

British intelligence had planned to assassinate Hitler for some time but, towards the end, they stepped away from that plan, because they realised that, with this dysfunctional Hitler in place, it would be easier for the Allies to have a total victory over Nazi Germany.

If there had been reasonable leaders in Germany by 1943, if, for example, Albert Speer had become the leader of Nazi Germany, it seems entirely likely that there would have been some kind of peace arrangement.

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History Hit Podcast with Norman Ohler