Adolf Hitler is remembered as many things: a genocidal warmonger, a hateful ideologue, a failed art student. But the phrase “drug addict” is usually not high among the list of epithets.A new documentary, to be aired this weekend by Britain’s Channel 4, digs into the Führer’s “hidden drug habit.” Based on details in a 47-page American military dossier compiled during the war, Hitler was taking a cocktail of 74 different drugs, including a form of what is now commonly known as crystal meth. He also took “barbiturate tranquilizers, morphine, bulls’ semen,” according to reports.The revelations aren’t exactly new. Methamphetamines, which were pioneered in Germany at the end of the 19th century, were used by various armies during World War II as stimulants to aid fatigued soldiers. The drug was popularly consumed in Germany as Pervitin, a pill Hitler took among his various medications.
As a young soldier in the Wehrmacht, Heinrich Böll — who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972 — wrote forlorn, bleak letters home. “Perhaps you could obtain some more Pervitin so that I can have a backup supply?” he requested in a 1940 letter, cited by German publication Der Spiegel.
Hitler was apparently prescribed these drugs by Theodor Morell, an unconventional doctor who examined Hitler daily beginning in 1936. The American dossier drew upon Morell’s personal letters.
News of Hitler’s meth consumption spawned yet another “Downfall” parody on YouTube:
The Nazi leader was supposedly injected with extracts from bull’s testicles to boost his libido — the Führer needed to cut a virile figure in public and, as reports suggest, keep up with Eva Braun, his much younger consort. Other medicines were aimed at combating a host of Hitler’s maladies, ranging from stomach cramps to symptoms related to a potential bipolar disorder.
He was apparently under the influence of methamphetamine when he held his last meeting with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in July 1943 — a reportedly tense, one-sided affair with Hitler lecturing his counterpart, whose hold on power was about to totally unravel.
The Daily Mail offers some more detail on the new revelations:
The dossier also debunks one of the most enduring legends about the Fuhrer – the claim that he lost a testicle when he was injured at the Battle of the Somme. Morale-boosting ditty ‘Hitler has only got one ball’ was popular during the Second World War and his admirer Unity Mitford suggested he ‘lacked something in the manly department’.
But the American records, which feature in a Channel 4 documentary, show the dictator was not monorchid (the medical term for being born with one testicle). They also shoot down claims that Hitler was a predatory homosexual who massacred 150 supporters to hide his secret.
Hitler’s own addictions shouldn’t obscure the vast scale drugs like methamphetamine were consumed by both sides in World War II. Millions of tablets of various narcotics were issued as stimulants to soldiers. The nickname for Pervitin in Germany was Panzerschokolade, or “tank chocolate.”
“Two tablets taken once eliminate the need to sleep for three to eight hours, and two doses of two tablets each are normally effective for 24 hours,” advised the Nazi military command, in a communique released in 1942. The German invasions of Poland and France, says Der Spiegel, were driven by soldiers hooked on meth and copious amounts of alcohol.
The drug’s ill effects were less known, including insomnia, hallucinations, erratic behavior and a dulling of brain functions over time. The trope of the “zombie” Nazi soldier is a popular one in science fiction — and, as these reports all reveal, that may not just be because of the evils carried out by Hitler’s murderous regime.
Ishaan Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He previously was a senior editor at TIME, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York.