Drugs in Third Reich

Third Reich drug policies are an uncharted realm of historical research, but apparently there wasn’t a large “drug problem” in Germany. Opium had been banned in 1929 (though barbiturates and codeine were still over-the-counter items), and the nation’s borders were more easily sealed than America’s. Still, drug users were classed among the “mentally defective,” and the Nazis kept card files on several thousand of them. Those from well-connected families were given treatment, but most probably were murdered by 1940 in the roving gas vans of the genetic-purification program.

Instead, the chief focus of der Rauschgiftbekampfung was an intense propaganda program against alcohol and tobacco, based on the “performance principle,” an extension of the work ethic under which no individual had the right to do anything that might diminish his productivity to the state—or her ability to bear future workers, soldiers, and mothers. Advertising championed the Fuhrer as the model of sobriety. As the American journalist A. J. Liebling later put it, “Hitler was the epitome of the abstemious man. When the other Krauts saw him drinking water in the beer hall, they should’ve known he was not to be trusted.”

But, like many drug warriors, Hitler wasn’t really against dprugs. As the war turned against him, he turned increasingly to amphetamines and barbiturates to keep functioning. For soldiers he supported development of a synthetic heroin derivative, named dolophine in his honor, later renamed methadone. Amphetamines were issued to important military units, and a nitrous oxide system was built into the Nazis’ late-model fighter plane, the Focke-Wulf 190. And I. G. Farben, the Nazi chemical monopoly, reaped enormous profits on huge clandestine shipments of heroin, many of them distributed by fascists in Buenos Aires, as late as 1943.

Furthermore, at the beginning of mescaline’s heyday during the Weimar Republic, Hitler probably used the psychedelic as a conditioning agent a la Charles Manson. Between 1919 and 1923, the Thule Society, a pseudo-occult fraternity and death squad led by Hitler and his mentor, Dietrich Eckhart, murdered some 300 left-wing politicians and labor organizers in Bavaria. During the same years, several hundred Jews, communists, and homeless persons disappeared. Though definitive evidence is lacking, there are suggestions that Hitler and Eckhart repeatedly took their proto-Nazi cadres deep into the forest, dosed them with mescaline, and coached them to take sexual gratification from slowly torturing these victims to death.