History

How the Nazi Soldiers Used Drugs During Fighting in World War 2

During World War II, the Nazi war machine stormed through much of Europe. But did you know that some Nazi troops were taking the drug methamphetamine during the fighting? Jefrey Ramos explains.

An advert for Pervitin, now more commonly known as methamphetamine. Source: Onkel Dittmeyer, available here.

An advert for Pervitin, now more commonly known as methamphetamine. Source: Onkel Dittmeyer, available here.

Methamphetamine: An Unlikely Factor in Hitler’s Destructive Blitzkrieg

Most history fanatics have heard the WWII stories. How Germany overwhelmingly invaded its European neighbors – they quickly took over countries using the Blitzkrieg strategy. We know they were ruthless, cruel, and unforgiving. Yes, they were taking orders from a maniac dictator, but they were not super humans. Sure, they were well trained, they had deadly war machines, but what further aided the Third Reich to stomp out its adversaries? You ever been to Hollywood past 10pm? That’s right. Speed, or methamphetamine, better known during World War II as Pervitin, was a substance that was issued and used as an enhancer by Hitler’s Nazi regime.

 

The Commercialization of Meth In Germany and How it was Popularized

After World War I, drug use in Germany boomed. It is not hard to imagine such a thing would happen in a society that was ravaged by war. After all, Germany had lost World War I, and they were severely penalized for it. Many veterans and people felt defeated, punished, and humiliated. Drugs tend to be something that certain groups of people turn to when they experience these sorts of agonies. Germany was defeated, and many veterans began to indulge in drug use. Major pharmaceutical companies in Germany mass-produced various types of drugs such as methamphetamines. Temmler-Werke produced and sold methamphetamine under the brand of Pervitin in the 1930s. Pervitin became prevalent during this time thanks to a massive marketing campaign. People could access it without a prescription, even in the form of chocolates. It was a methamphetamine-based stimulant. German society began to use these drugs more openly. The campaigns even targeted housewives – they would promote the drug as an anti-exhaustion wonder drug, so Germans were no strangers to drugs and their effects.

 

Human Capabilities were not enough for Hitler’s Plans

Fast forward to World War II. Here we have Hitler trying to invade territory after territory. He’s ruthless and he wants the operations to be done and executed expeditiously. The obstacle that stood in front of Hitler’s conquest was simply human nature – and the limitations that came with it. For a rapid approach, Hitler needed continuous momentum and strength for his lightning war. However, soldiers were human, and they absolutely needed rest and time to heal. This is where meth came in. Pervitin made soldiers awake and in need of less rest. Thus, Germany began to issue Pervitin to its forces. The logic behind it was that it helped troops and personnel stay awake for long periods of time, but most importantly, not feel exhaustion. This would make the soldiers better – until the drugs came down. That’s right. We don’t actually believe they became the Red Skull, Captain America’s super-powered nemesis, himself do we? Like any drug of such a nature, it was only logical and natural that meth was going to have catastrophic effects on the troops. 

 

The Consequences of Pervitin use on the Third Reich

Nazi soldiers did in fact experience withdrawals when there were shortages of the drug. Others suffered accidental overdoses. There was an incident where a group of soldiers surrendered to Allied forces without a fight. They were likely in a meth-influenced state the night before, and their paranoia caused them to exhaust their ammunition. When the real Allied forces came into contact, they turned themselves in. The chain of command became aware – such incidents combined with less funds eventually led to Germany cutting the distribution of Pervitin.

It is now known that Hitler was an avid drug user. His personal physician would administer various types of drugs throughout his life. It is only logical that someone who used drugs for so long would see it as acceptable for his armed forces to use them too.

 

Pervitin and Hitler’s Policies

It is important to note that Germany was not the only world power in World War II to administer drug stimulants to their forces. The Allies also used amphetamines to stand combat fatigue. It is a practice that was not unknown to other countries.

The reader should also remember that while the effects of Pervitin may have made some Nazi activities worse, it was not the underlying reason why the Nazis committed so many atrocities. Hitler’s ideology came about much earlier than Pervitin’s distribution in the 1930s. Hitler expressed his political and racist views in his book Mein Kampf. While the book was published in 1925, Hitler’s military drug distribution effort unfolded at scale during the fighting in the war.

What do you think of the use of Methamphetamine during World War II?

Finally, Jefrey writes on his personal site here.

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