posted on July 03, 2018 11:45
BkRev #1830. Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich. (2017) Norman Ohler. Boston: Houhgton Mifflin Harcourt. 292 pp. Price $28.00, ISBN: 978-1-328-66379-5
Norman Ohler’s, “Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich,” is a fascinating deep dive into a world of unregulated legal drugs and unscrupulous abuse of pharmaceuticals to further political gain. The setting is Nazi Germany and the protagonist is not a certain mustachioed villain, but a dumpy Dr. Frankenstein figure who was Hitler’s personal physician (insert: “drug dealer”). A wonderful read, particularly during the summer reading season, it has very little utility or applicability for advisors, however.
In a time where international companies with recognizable names (Bayer, Merck, among others) produced huge quantities of drugs which are currently illicit (cocaine & heroin), Germany reigned as the supreme chemists of the world. Into this world enter Hitler and the Nazi’s- professed teetotalers- whom Ohler (2017) wrote, “underpinned anti- drug policy with propagandistic pomp and draconian punishments.” (p. 1) Meanwhile, in the form of vitamin supplements, chewing gum, & candies a new wonder drug emerged- methamphetamine, trademarked and marketed as “Pervitin” in Germany, known as crystal meth today. The effects, as Ohler hammered in over the next 225 pages, is a country and its leader following the familiar path of a drug addict.
“Blitzed” is a wonderfully engaging book that fascinates even those familiar with the time period and subject. As a long- time teacher of history, Nazi Germany is a familiar landscape to me, but I was shocked and disturbed by unfamiliar stories of its brutality. Ohler described the horror of the “shoe- walking unit,” a group of prisoners in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp tasked with testing shoes for the Nazi war machine. Prisoners literally walked to their deaths around a track in the name of Research and Development for Nazi shoe makers. Sadly, they also became test subjects for drug cocktails destined for the med kits of soldiers, sailors, and airmen. The supreme drug medium that emerged was cocaine chewing gum, enabling some of the prisoners to walk for close to 48 hours uninterrupted. Horror stories such as these permeate the entire book.
One weakness emerges in the book- an imbalanced look at the time period and events of World War II. This is not to say, however, that the book is poorly sourced- its bibliography is well rounded and deep. It relies heavily on primary sources, including some overlooked archives in need of attention by other authors. Ohler’s approach as a novelist comes through, however, in his adherence to his primary narrative strain. The most obvious example comes with his description of the “Blitzkrieg” phase of World War II- Germany’s rapid advance through the low countries culminating with the Fall of France in 1940. The author credit’s Germany’s astonishingly swift victory almost entirely to the use of methamphetamine by its military forces. Ohler provided compelling evidence that this drug use was pervasive- an almost entirely overlooked element in the study of WWII. A historical account, however, would do well to analyze this element with the myriad of other factors that go into such complicated military campaigns.
I struggled with the question of this book’s applicability to the role of advising throughout the review process. I considered including a thinly stretched logic chain whereby advisors can spot signs of drug use in our students through a close examination of the drug addled characters of Ohler’s book. In fact, there is little applicability for the practice of advising provided by this book. While I highly recommend reading the book- save a spot on the shelf of your professional library for other books.
Ohler, Norman. (2017). Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich. (Shaun Whiteside, Trans.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. (Original Work published 2015)