Norman Ohler: Blitzed (Bonus Episode)

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Will Jarvis

In this bonus episode, we’re joined by the author of Blitzed, Norman Ohler, to talk about drugs and their role in warfare. 

William Jarvis 0:05
Hey folks, welcome to narratives. narratives is a podcast exploring the ways in which the world is better than in the past, the ways it is worse in the past, where it’s a better, more definite vision of the future. I’m your host, William Jarvis. And I want to thank you for taking the time out of your day to listen to this episode. I hope you enjoy it. You can find show notes, transcripts and videos at narratives Well, hey, Norman, how are you doing today?

Norman Ohler 0:40
I’m quite good. It’s quite cold still in Berlin, even though we already in mid May. But I’m fine. Thank you. How are you?

William Jarvis 0:51
Doing? Good. Well, thank you so much for coming on today. Before we happen to some of our questions about your work, could you give us kind of a brief bio? And you know, how did you start thinking about drugs and Nazi Germany? You know, it’s such an interesting topic that was really unexplored before you got to it, it seems like,

Norman Ohler 1:10
Yeah, well, I mean, I have been writing novels before I published three novels in Germany. When, at one point, an old friend of mine said I should write my fourth novel about drugs in Nazi Germany, which I an idea that I immediately declined, because it said there were no drugs being used, and not just work, clean cut t total errs, inventors of the war against drugs, I knew that part of the Nazi propaganda. But he’s said that he had different information. And he challenged me to start a little bit of research, which I did. And then I found that he was actually right. He was a DJ in Berlin. So he’s not a writer, but he’s kind of a hobby historian. And then I started writing a novel and showed it to my publisher. And he said, it’s not really good, because the topic is so interesting that it would be watered down in a novel. He suggested I should write a nonfiction book, an idea that I declined, because I thought nonfiction books unnecessary, boring. But then I thought about it for two days. And I realized that actually, his suggestion is the correct one. And then I decided that it should also be possible to write non boring nonfiction books, they of course exist. But I hadn’t really read a lot of nonfiction books. I’m not that interested in nonfiction. But then I, I started to, you know, attack the challenge.

William Jarvis 2:51
That’s great. And what was kind of the most surprising thing to you in looking at the subject of drug use in Nazi Germany?

Norman Ohler 3:00
Well, I mean, when I spoke to my grandfather, in the 80s, when he was still alive, he always told me that Nazi Germany was a place where everything was in order. And there was like this myth that it was a disciplined society. So to find out that drugs played such a big role was obviously surprising. And then to see that a big part of Nazi ideology was this. Health duty they call it, everyone had to be healthy. Drugs were forbidden and taboo. So to see that, in reality, they used quite a lot of drugs and very hard drugs like methamphetamine is interesting in general. And then in particular, I thought that the drug consumption of Hitler was very interesting, because I had not suspected him of using, especially opioids or cocaine, which he did. So that was there was actually fascinating to research and write about.

William Jarvis 4:08
Definitely. And how extensive was Hitler’s drug use?

Norman Ohler 4:12
Well, I mean, this depends on your definition of drug. He certainly had a doctor that liked to give him medications. This is Dr. Theo Morel, who became a personal physician in 36 and gave him almost daily injections of various remedies and substances until 45. So for nine years, it received 1000s of injections, which is unusual in itself. And from 36 to 40. That’s like the first phase of Hitler’s drug intake or drug drug taking this was these were mostly vitamin so not really drugs, actually more supplements. But then in 41 he received for the first time opioid dolen team. And that kind of was a game changer because from that moment on, Hitler had experienced the strong effects of receiving an opioid intravenously. And he wanted more of those euphoric feelings, and physical states and mental states. And from 43 to till the end of 44, he received quite a lot of opioids. And also he received hormonal injections like steroids. So it was really kind of a wild mix towards the end. Especially what, when the war started to become difficult. For Germany, we can see that he was taking more and more drugs to, I would say, flee reality and keep his charisma up. So he could still convince his generals of his ridiculous and crazy ideas how to how to lead this war. So the longer the war takes the more drugs he uses.

William Jarvis 6:13
Gotcha. And he does, I believe you wrote about this. You’ve talked about it. He got an opioid injection before what a big meeting with Mussolini trying to convince him to stay as part of the Axis powers in 1943, I believe. Could you talk about that a little bit?

Norman Ohler 6:31
Yeah, this was in July, I think it was July 18 1943. Italy threatened to break away from the axis. And Hitler was quite depressed about that. He, he thought it was like a betrayal by Mussolini. There was a decisive meeting between the two dictators in northern Italy. HCA didn’t want to go he felt pressured, he felt insecure. And for the first time before the meeting, he received a new medication called in German or eco doll, which has at its as its active ingredient, oxycodone. And when he after he received that his mood completely changed. He became self confident, euphoric. And, basically, he talked nonstop during the meeting with Mussolini talk for like six hours without stopping. Which was a problem for Mussolini, because he simply was not able to discuss his own concerns about the war, and certainly wasn’t able to tell Hitler that Italy would leave the the axes and would would would stop the war. And after that meeting, Hitler actually said to morale that the success of this day was all thanks to him to the doctor. So apparently, that opioid injection was, was historical in a way,

William Jarvis 8:07
definitely guided the course of history there. perverting, you know, what is it I may have butchered the pronunciation there. And what impact did it have on the German war effort.

Norman Ohler 8:18
And the team is, is methamphetamines was the brand name that German company Tamla who developed or found methamphetamine or developed it into a medicine called it it was patented in 1938 in Germany, and quickly became a hit in the in the civil society. It was totally illegal and you could buy it in any pharmacy, you could buy pure methamphetamine, pure crystal meth, each pill had three milligrams of methamphetamine contain three milligrams of methamphetamine. And at one point there was well, not there was at one point the so called army physiologist, Professor Otto Vanka. Heard about this pervy team, this new medicine that everyone enjoys. Everyone takes in order not to have to sleep so much. I mean, if you take methamphetamine, you don’t need to sleep that much. At least in the beginning. You feel like you have an extra boost of energy. So that was kind of the word on the street. If you’ve take this pill and you feel better, you’re more taut and talkative, you can stay up longer you can work more. So he thought that could be interesting for soldiers and he made tests at the Medical Academy of the of the German army, giving young medical officers Pavarotti and compared to coffee, caffeine and placebos and found that on meth you can stay awake longer, you actually become a little bit dumber. He also found that that the front cortex does not solve highly complex problems as precisely as as a sober frontal cortex. But it actually solves more quested answer, it gives more answers in a period of time. So you become faster, you don’t sleep as much. And he thought this is great for soldiers. So he tried to contact his superior the, what’s it called, it’s the Surgeon General, it’s called in America, I think that so the equivalent in Germany, but that guy declined, that he didn’t understand the concept of a synthetic stimulant. So when Germany invaded Poland, there was no official ruling about methamphetamine. But this professor Ranko realized, because he asked many medical offices in the fields, he realized that many medical offices were already taking it. And then he was then successful to make it an official army drug for the Western campaign, the war against France, Belgium and and Holland and Great Britain. And when Germany attacked France on May 10 1940 35 million dosages of methamphetamine were being used by these by the German by the German army and air force. So that blitz campaign that was actually that actually relied on the time factor because that campaign against France only worked if the German troops would be able to move very fast and to France and cut off the surprise French, to the Defense Forces encircle them. And they could only do that with the help of methamphetamine, which actually enabled the German soldiers to stay awake for the first couple of days and nights in the campaign. So methamphetamine was highly important for that astonishing victory in the West,

glenn jarvis 11:58
I loved how you told that story, that portion of the story, the move towards or the sweeping across France with Providence, in your book, that portion of the story was really great. And nobody knows about this. And not only does nobody know about this, but like, they understand the concept of Blitzkrieg, or at least it’s been told to everybody in, in the history books, but they don’t understand that like, four days of not sleeping straight with tank drivers. Like the military advantage you have there is mind blowing. So when I read that, I, I thought, oh, people really don’t get it. It’s it’s four days of not sleeping, which just isn’t possible without men.

Norman Ohler 12:38
I find it I think it’s impossible, actually. And then was the only concern that they had with this plan before they implemented the methamphetamine first they had the plan that they would have this this splits campaign and then the concerns were but can they really stay awake for that long and Hitler’s it of course they can that German that superhumans. Right. Back, they only could because they use methamphetamine. Because otherwise it’s simply not possible. And I mean, that idea that Professor Vanga had is revolutionary. And it’s no surprise that the German army was the First Army to use that, but not the last. Amphetamines have since then become like a staple for for military organizations all over the world. So they all kind of copied it, but not usually not with methamphetamine, just with amphetamines, or with you know, other forms of amphetamines, which are still used today also by for example, terrorists when they go into when they when they go into actions, that red would require you to stay awake for a long time because it and it also has different effects. It not only keeps you awake, it also limits your fear. And and it limits your inhibitions so you are less your conscience is you have less problems killing people on amphetamines. So it is quite an efficient and obviously dangerous drug. Right for for anybody with a weapon in the hand and it’s in his or her hand.

glenn jarvis 14:27
So that leads me to the question, why did the German stop about 10 miles out of Dunkirk? Was it more a political struggle with the with the Luftwaffe and the Wehrmacht? Or was it? Was there something else going on?

Norman Ohler 14:42
Well, that halt or that Hitler issued is one of the great mysteries of World War Two and I tried to explain it pharmacologically and blitzed it’s the only explanation that I have. I mean, it’s a psychological and pharmacological explanation. Hitler which is also an interesting story always had problems with the Army High Command. From the beginning, they had different opinions on how to wage this war, this World War Two, Hitler had different ideas, then then then then the high command. And when the when the tank when the tank divisions, for example, Ramos division stormed through France, Hitler, even though he had given this order, I was quite surprised by the actual speed on the ground, he was not a meth head himself. So he basically he was in the map house looking at the map of France and just couldn’t believe how fast they were going. And they he couldn’t understand that they would not act, the way a division usually acts with backing up and making bridge heads and securing the positions and all that that military stuff that you learn this tank divisions on math, they just stormed and they never stopped. So Hitler became a skeptical of what they were actually doing. It didn’t get it anymore. So at one point he he spoke to girl in the head of the Luftwaffe about this and Girling said, these generals, they don’t listen to you anymore, they just do whatever they wish. This is not good. A they will become very famous in the German public, everyone will say we won the war because of these crazy generals, you Hitler, you have to you know, get back into the driver’s seat otherwise be they will be, you know, vulnerable to maybe allied attacks, which was ridiculous, because the allies were already beaten basically. And see Girling wanted to have the victory for himself. So he said to Hitler, I can finish off the British troops from the air with the Luftwaffe, which was a ridiculous idea, because you can’t really destroy I mean, maybe you can nowadays, but at the time, it was not a good idea to try to destroy a whole, a whole ground level ground troops of the enemy by bombing them from the air, it would have been much better to do it on the ground as they were already doing it. But Hitler issued this whole order, in order to, you know, become the decisive force again in this campaign. And that was this big mistake, because that way the British could escape through Dunkirk evacuate back to Great Britain and staying, you know, sizable force during the rest of the war and eventually beat Germany.

glenn jarvis 17:48
You You explain these characters really? Well, you characterize them very well. I like the Luth Wafaa, the head of the Luftwaffe being you know this. I mean, heroin addicted, wearing flamboyant clothes and in the middle of Nazi Germany, and then, you know, Hitler being egoic and how much do you think that these individual characters and how they? How much do you think their personalities affect directly history? Because it seems to me like that egoic act that Hitler took stopping, you know, the military 10 miles from Dunkirk, it seems like that is like an obvious example of, you know, a personality shaping history.

Norman Ohler 18:40
Yeah, I think that personalities are highly responsible to shaping history. I mean, when, you know, the heads of states are not robots that act in a some kind of neutral rational way. I mean, they’re the human beings with you know, problems in the private lives which then you know, magnifying their political decisions. Also in in England, I mean, that they had a guy called a guy like Churchill was very important for Great Britain like a maniac. He’s a maniac, just like Hitler. So you need a maniac to beat a maniac also, Starling in the Soviet Union was such a maniac so Hitler had to maniacs against him. If and that was good for the for the for the coalition against Hitler that they were so strong that they were such strong personalities. But obviously, it did not fit in within the Nazi dictatorship. Personalities maybe were even more important because it was not a rational system, I think like in London. They would actually discuss and the same actually they did in Moscow, like Starling would discuss or would actually Lead, leave his generals to lead the war effort. He wouldn’t micromanage everything like Hitler did. So it’s important also that you can that you can also turn down your personality and let the professionals do their do what they can do best. So Starling was good with that. He said to his generals, you lead the war, basically. I mean, he would, he would let them make decisions. And I think it was the same in Great Britain, Churchill didn’t make every decision, I think they made a lot of rational decisions, which were helpful for their war effort, while in the Nazi clique, there were basically no rational decisions made everything was determined by mood, by ideology, by by drug highs, and not really by the reality on the ground. So that’s why I think in the end, the Nazi system had to fail because it was just not corresponding to reality in the world, not relating to the reality in the world.

William Jarvis 21:23
That makes sense. I’ve got one more big question for you, Norman. You released a new book just recently about resistance to the Nazis? I think it’s a specific person. But you know, how common was German resistance to the Nazi regime? You know, was it a very common thing? Was it not common at all? What’s your sense about that?

Norman Ohler 21:43
Yeah, you’re talking about my book, The bohemians, about two lovers, lovers have oh, and Libertas, who created the largest resistance network within Berlin against the Nazis. And, in fact, their actions against the dictatorship, were quite unusual. Resistance against the Nazis was a fringe phenomenon. Most people agreed, or at least kept their mouth shut. It was very dangerous to do something against the regime. The Gestapo was trying to monitor the whole, you know, population. So that’s why I wrote this book about the bohemians, this group in Berlin, because they were really brave. And they said, even if it might cost us our lives, we cannot say yes to what is going on, we have to try to find ways how we can say no, and how we can educate people about the horror that’s going on. So resistance is rare, but when it occurs, it’s highly interesting.

William Jarvis 23:05
Definitely. Quite interesting. Well, Norman, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people find your books?

Norman Ohler 23:13
They can go to the local book shops, which still exist on on our planet. And I think that actually opening up again, all over the world. So it’s worth going again, and looking at the strange things which are called picking them up. And yeah, you can buy blades or the Bohemians. Obviously, you can also order it online or just don’t download it, because that’s really that’s not good. And I don’t earn anything, and it’s cost money to write these books. So go to the bookshop.

William Jarvis 23:55
That sounds great. Well, thanks, Norman. We really appreciate it.

Norman Ohler 23:58
It was a pleasure. I’m sending all the best wishes to the United States of America.

William Jarvis 24:04
We appreciate it. Thank you.

Thanks for listening. We’ll be back next week with a new episode of narratives.

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