“Pervitin” – Wehrmacht’s Wonder Drug
Hitler and Wehrmacht’s (the Germany Army) Generals wanted victory at any cost; they doled out drugs, including speed in the form of Pervitin, morphine and alcohol freely to their troops. According to the writings of Heinrich Boell, who later became a notable writer and the first German to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize for literature post World War II, his letters to home revealed his own personal growing need. In May of 1940 he asked his family to send him some Pervitin and six months later he asked for more and a mere two months later he repeated it again. The addiction and shortened period of time between requests was very telling.
German soldiers were supplied with methamphetamines early in 1940 especially in their battles taking over Poland and France as the Blitzkrieg was fueled for speed. The drug of Pervitin, manufactured by the Berlin pharmaceutical company of Temmler, was touted in the Klenische Wochenshrift (the Clinical Weekly), per Otto Ranke, Military Doctor and head of the Institute for General and Defense Physiology at Berlin’s Academy of Military Medicine, as a wonder drug for soldiers in battle. Among the accomplishments were:
- Heightened awareness
- Increased self confidence
- Cooperation in taking dangerous risks
- Increased concentration
- Reduced sensitivity to pain, hunger and thirst
- Reduced need for sleep
The drug, approved for German soldiers had been first tested on 90 University students with what German military officials perceived as great results. Over 35 million tablets were shipped to Wehrmacht soldiers in 1940. The recommended dosage was one to two tablets “as needed.” It was later decided that two tablets taken once would eliminate the need for sleep for three to eight hours. The dose repeated again would be effective for up to 24 hours.
Although admittingly concerned about the regenerative period between doses, with negative results noted such as excess perspiration, circulation problems and some deaths, another ten million tablets were shipped to the troops in July of 1941. The doctors felt the results were worth some risk and that the soldiers performed above average while medicated. A case in point was used in reference and possibly as justification that in January of 1942, when German soldiers were trying to evade capture through ice and snow from the Soviets, they were bone weary, tired and ready to give up. Their commanding officer gave them Pervitin and within 30 minutes he reported that they were once again eager to march and alert. The end justified the means to Hitler and his army.
The Nazis were much more tolerant toward the end of the war toward drug addiction than those succumbing to alcoholism, probably because of their fear of being sued for their participation. Many drug addicts were sent to drug treatment programs and for help in monitoring the addiction and not committing crimes while under the influence.
Not so, with alcohol. Even though generally the military officers of the Nazi army turned a blind eye to soldiers drinking and even rewarded them with alcohol and sold Schnapps regularly, those who were involved in fights, accidents, violence against officers and engaged in unnatural sex acts were punished. In severe cases and under the guise of a law stated as “for the prevention of offspring with hereditary diseases,” German doctors forced sterilization on many and even euthanasia. Death by firing squad was performed on one occasion of methyl alcohol sales that resulted in blindness and deaths of military.
German doctors admitted that during World War II they experimented on themselves for the best program of drugs to get through the day. A morning cocktail of cognac and injections of morphine; a noon time fix of cocaine and an evening treatment of Hyoskin (an alkaloid used as medicine) seemed to work.
Toward the end of war, Vice Admiral Hellmuth Heye requested even more from German pharmacologists. They had a wonder drug; now give them a miracle drug. Gerhard Orxzechowski responded with a drug called D-IX. Today, anyone caught with a drug this potent would be charged with felony possession and sent to prison; the ingredients were:
- 5 mm Cocaine
- 3 mm Pervitin
- 5 mm Morphine
This was supposed to be the miracle drug of war: one that would keep soldiers ready for battle when asked to continue beyond what was considered normal, but at the same time keep their self-esteem bolstered. Perhaps it was good for the German troops that Germany lost the war.