Pervitin, the drug that helped the Nazis in their blitzkrieg (but slowly destroyed them)

Pervitin, the drug that helped the Nazis in their blitzkrieg (but slowly destroyed them)

It is at the heart of Temmler factoriesin the suburbs of Berlin, that pervitine was patented in 1937. It is a derivative of methamphetamine with psychostimulant properties. At the time, Germany is the capital of artificial paradises: the country produces 80% of the cocaine consumed in the world and its laboratories are at the forefront of pharmaceutical research in this area. In a post-war society with broken morale, morphine and heroin are common palliatives, particularly among veterans, who thus soften their trauma.

Mass-produced as early as 1938, pervitin quickly won the hearts – and bloodstreams – of thousands of Germans. Advertising relays the promises made by this “miracle pill” (“wunderpill”), available without a prescription in pharmacies.

More effective than coffee, this substance keeps you awake for dozens of hours, boosts concentration and delays the effects of fatigue. A Berlin confectioner even adds some to the recipe of its pralines! But the free access drug, it seems, ended up worrying the authorities: removed from the green lists of pharmacies in 1939, pervitine was banned two years later.

Super-soldiers, instructions for use

The brief success of the miracle pill was enough to arouse the curiosity of Otto Ranke, a university professor who then headed the Reich Institute of Military Physiology. According to him, pervitine could be the key to the coming war.

During its circulation in the body, it increases endurance, allows soldiers to walk sixty kilometers a day and to stay awake for forty successive hours, it delays the feeling of hunger and thirst, anesthetizes fear… In short, it is the perfect compound to add to military bowls!

After testing the compound on students, the Dr Ranke made his first large-scale experiment during the lightning invasion of Poland in September 1939. Cameo to the eye, the Wehrmacht brought the country to its knees in less than five weeks.

The reports from the front are ecstatic: “Everyone is fresh, cheerful, excellent discipline. No accidents. Effects last long. Sees double and with colors after the fourth pill.” Despite the side effects, pervitin became, according to Professor Ranke’s formula, “a militarily valuable substance”.

The junkie under the kepi

It only remains to transform the test, with the blessing of the Führer. From the spring of 1940, Hitler distributes 35 million doses to his legions, particularly targeting fighter pilots and tank drivers, who consume it in the form of chocolate bars. In the middle, we nicknamed this brand new drug “Panzerschokolade»i.e. “the chocolate of the tankers”: the rapidity of Blitzkrieg owes much to the effects of stimulantswhich increases the aggressiveness of the soldiers and crowned the German offensive with success of May 1940.

In a few weeks, everything is done: the humiliating surrender of June 22, 1940 marks the end of the “blitzkrieg”. The Wehrmacht won the first round with formidable efficiency, the Allies are on the ropes. But the German general staff comes close to bad trip: because the side effects of pervitin consumption do not take long to make themselves felt.

Insomnia, depression, cardiac arrest and hallucinations are reported among junkies in uniform. Not to mention flash addictions: “It’s hard out there, and I hope you’ll understand if I’m soon only able to write to you once every two to four days, writes Heinrich Bölla 22-year-old rookie, in a letter to his family. Today I’m just writing to ask for pervitin.”

It even seems that some soldiers would have killed each other during psychotic episodes! Recognizing the dangers of this stimulant, German doctors tried to regulate its use. But although the consumption of pervitin was divided by ten between 1940 and 1941, it still exceeded one million tablets each month…

From excitement to overdose

The trivialization of taking this substance contrasts sharply with the policy of sobriety promoted by the Nazi regime. Since 1933, drug users have been confined in a specialized institution for two years (minimum); German doctors are also encouraged to break the seal of medical secrecy to report their patients taking substances.

Polishing his image as a providential man, Hitler assures that he abstains from drinking alcohol, smoking and eating meat… Yet the Führer himself tastes the “Jewish poison”, absorbing maddening quantities addictive substances to feed his hyperactivity and fight stress. His personal doctor, Theodor Morell, would thus have carried out more than eight hundred injections of amphetamines, steroids and various opiates on behalf of his “patient A”.

Little by little, the explosive cocktail that saturates the Führer’s veins threatens his health: paranoia, tremors, kidney failure, loose teeth… His relatives see his features grow hollow and hear him making incoherent remarks. Addicted, Hitler believes himself invulnerable; his military skills suffer, since he soon dispenses with the advice of his generals.

Morell’s barbiturates also corrupt his sleep cycles, with the Führer typically sleeping until noon (we can’t wake him up on the morning of D-Day, which delayed the German counter-offensive). The dictator does not stop poisoning his body until supplies become impossible – in the spring of 1945, in a capital in ruins.

Shortly after, the Führer put an end to his days. His reign of terror ends here. But not that of the pervitine, which takes refuge in the underground economy to make its nest there. It is now called “crystal meth”.

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