A recently-published book by German writer Norman Ohler confirms what historians long suspected: Nazi soldiers, like their leader, Adolf Hitler, were cranked to the gills on drugs, including methamphetamine, as they swarmed Europe and Russia during World War II.
The Daily Beast's Abby Haglage writes that Ohler's German-language book The Total Rush dug through German and American records for years to reveal more about Hitler's "drug-induced genocide." Ohler found that Nazi soldiers were brutally efficient rage zombies in part because they were cooking their brains with "a pill form of crystal meth, called Pervitin." Initially marketed in the late 1930s as an over-the-counter alternative to coffee — no doubt it was damned effective there — Pervitin "gave the Nazis the alertness they needed to remain awake for hours."
Ohler found that Pervitin also played a role in one of Nazi Germany's most dramatic tactical innovations—the Blitzkrieg, or "lightning war." German soldiers in the narrowly-grouped tank and air battalions knifing across neighboring borders were, writes Haglage, "awake for 'days at a time,'" and jacked up on enough meth to "hike as many as 36 miles in a day."
Haglage references research into the effects of meth on the brain and concludes it "undoubtedly" factored into "the Nazi’s ruthless and murderous rampage," since their handy doses of Pervitin would have overloaded the soldiers' brains with feel-good chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, only to induce "fits of severe irritability, anger, and rage" as it began to wear off.
Reports from American journalists stationed in Germany during World War II had previously hinted that the meth pills weren't just for German soldiers. Writing in a syndicated column published in 1943, Howard K. Smith described average German citizens "seeking escape" through drug use. "Outside the armaments industry," Smith wrote, "the only business which is making big money in Germany is the patent-medicine industry." Smith described women carrying pill boxes and German men popping pills with every meal. "Young girls," Smith reported, "welch boxes of Pervitin from air-force officers to reinforce energy that should be natural."
Hitler may not have popped Pervitin like a dude eating Tic-Tacs on a first date, but he pretty much mainlined everything else, Ohler found, a practice that likely contributed to the persistence of his genocidal delusions.
Could an early Allied strike on the teams of Walter Whites cranking away in Nazi meth factories have altered the course of World War II? It probably wouldn't have hurt at the time. And hey, at the very least, maybe Breaking Bad would have been about a completely different blue drug.
Photos by Elias Gayles/Flickr