Right away, Norman Ohler steals my pen. We’re sitting in a shady corner of the sunny Chateau Marmont, and his Maui Jim sunglasses aren’t giving anything away. I am, though. He starts jotting his own notes on our conversation in a leather-bound notebook branded with the seal of a Maldives resort he himself is writing about. It’s almost absent-minded. He writes down “Theodor Morell fan club” and the beginnings of a hashtag, and then asks me if I Twitter. When he’s listening close, Ohler juts his bottom lip out like it’s a glistening pink “recording” light. I’m worried that my recorder won’t capture his speech, which barely rises above a whisper.
The last time he was at the Chateau, it was with the late Dennis Hopper. Ohler lived with Hopper for two months collaborating on a still-unproduced screenplay tracking the life of a kilo of cocaine as it traveled into the United States.
“Well, he lived in a Gehry building; very beautiful, cool house,” Ohler says. “And it was filled with art. He had one of the biggest private art collections I believe in the United States. And in the evening, he would put on his pajamas and we’d watch films. And he would only drink tea and smoke weed. And weed only outside at the pool, never in the house. Which I thought was funny—that this rebel guy wasn’t allowed to smoke weed in his own house.”
Norman Ohler is the author of Blitzed, the international bestseller that tells the secret history of the drugs that fueled the Nazi war effort. The book isn’t funny, exactly, but it has chapter headings like “High Hitler” and “Sieg High!” You kind of know what you’re getting yourself into.
There are two main strains throughout the book. The first is the pervasiveness of the drugs Pervitin and Eukodal, and how their use and abuse created and destroyed the Nazi war machine. The second regards the relationship between Doctor Theodor Morell and the man he called Patient A—Adolf Hitler.
The book opens with the development of Pervitin, the so-called Volksdroge (“people’s drug”) that was widely distributed to both the soldiers and civilians of Nazi Germany. Unlike the supposedly corrupting (not to mention Jewish) influences of alcohol and German-invented heroin and cocaine favored in the waning days of the Weimar Republic, Pervitin—described by The Atlantic as “the early version of what we know today as crystal meth”—was regarded as so safe that it was dissolved into water as a replacement for coffee.
Ohler gives Pervitin credit, to some degree, for the speed and efficacy of the Blitzkrieg, the tactic by which German troops charged through the French Maginot line and shocked the supposedly superior fighting force into quick surrender. In preparation for the attack, the Temmler factory produced 833,000 tablets per day to fill a 35 million tablet order to supply the Wehrmacht’s demand for the army and Luftwaffe. The plan was to use tanks to attack at a single point and overwhelm the French and British forces with speed and fearlessness. It worked.
“In less than a hundred hours the Germans gained more territory than they had in four years in the First World War,” Ohler writes.
Ohler gives Pervitin credit, to some degree, for the speed and efficacy of the Blitzkrieg.
He attributes the German success to a combination of Pervitin use and the French choice of battle drug: red wine.
“I didn’t write about it in Blitzed, but 3,500 trucks filled with red wine left the day the Germans attacked from the French wine regions and reached the French troops in the north of Belgium,” Ohler tells me. “They got ¾ of one liter of red wine per man per day. They did a report after the defeat and one of the things they examined was the red wine. They said it was to ill-effect that this particular drug was being issued because it just made the fighters kind of sleepy.”
The Blitzkrieg was more effective than Hitler or his high command could have envisioned, as Generals like Erwin Rommel took their freedom and rampaged throughout the French countryside. The gains were such that Hitler thought his generals must have been mistaken about which cities they were capturing; there was no possible way that they could have gone so far, so fast. The advances triggered Hitler’s anxiety, which led him to order the tanks to halt at Dunkirk so that his right hand man, Luftwaffe commander Herman Göring, could annihilate the retreating British and French from the air. (Göring, Ohler notes, was nicknamed Möring because of his copious morphine consumption.) By that means, Hitler meant to regain glory for himself and make it known that he was the man responsible for victory. Also by that means, the Allies effected an escape across the English Channel, soon to be documented in the Christopher Nolan film Dunkirk.
Though that’s just one incident, it’s microcosmic of several across the book, as an increasingly withdrawn and delusional Hitler attempted to control the battlefield from his field headquarters, far from the action.
The man responsible for keeping Hitler in good health, isolation, and on an increasingly elaborate and insane drug cocktail, was the aforementioned Theodor Morell. Morell began his involvement in the Nazi party after someone spray-painted “Jew” on the outside of his office. Though he wasn’t a Jew, he saw the writing on the wall and joined the Nazi party.
“You joined, you flourished—that was a lesson Morell would never forget, right until the end,” Ohler writes.
He parlayed his skill with injections into a post as Hitler’s personal doctor, with all the benefits and drawbacks that that entailed. A vain man in the extreme, Morell designed his own uniform, including an “SS” rune that he was forced to remove when the actual SS pointed out that he wasn’t one of them. Morell began by injecting Hitler with a preparation called Mutaflor to combat Hitler’s supposed bacterial infection; a close personal relationship quickly developed.
Though Morell never injected Hitler with Pervitin, he upped his doses of “vitamins” and other drugs until he stumbled upon Eukodal, a painkiller and cough suppressant with Oxycodone for an active ingredient.
“Eukodal is like a combination of junk and Cocaine,” William Burroughs, drug user extraordinaire, said once. “Trust the Germans to concoct some really evil shit.”
Ohler suspects that the doctor couldn’t see Hitler’s lower arms because of the deep scratches Braun left.
In 1943, Hitler was introduced to Eukodal and quickly became dependent on multiple daily injections of the drug. He became dependent on Morell’s constant presence by his side at all hours of the day or night. Morell, Ohler writes, was indispensable to the Nazi war effort as it began to falter and fail.
Morell himself became extremely successful, producing the bar candy Vitamultin in huge quantities and marketing it to German troops and civilians alike. He also cornered the market on Eukodal, buying huge quantities so Patient A would never run out.
During his research, Ohler tells me that he even found love letters to Morell. He doesn’t know who sent them; just that it wasn’t Leni Riefenstahl or Eva Braun. Braun, Hitler’s longtime mistress, is at the center of an amusing anecdote between Morell and Hitler. After spending a night with Braun, Hitler wouldn’t allow Morell to see his lower arms for injections. Ohler suspects that the doctor couldn’t see Hitler’s lower arms because of the deep scratches Braun left.
“If they’re really serious, it’s a bit weird actually,” Ohler says. “So would that mean that he’s like a masochist or…?”
What about handcuffs? I suggest.
Ohler lights up and tells me about a visit to the Berghof, a Hitler home that’s now a hotel. He was about to check out when the hotelier invited him and his traveling companion, an Israeli writer he was dating, to stay another night—in a structure designed by Nazi architect Albert Speer.
“We stayed in the guest room and there were handcuffs on the bed. I’m thinking that these could have been the very ones that created these marks.” He smiles.
If all that sounds novelistic, it’s for good reason. Ohler has written three other novels and initially planned to turn this book into a novel after his friend, the Berlin DJ Alexander Krämer, told him “the Nazis took loads of drugs.” He decided that Hitler and Morell’s relationship was already strange enough—he had nothing to add. But he does have most of the next book written. It’s about a young man who moves from the country and finds himself closely tied to the production of Pervitin.
As our time comes to a close, Ohler starts to fiddle with his phone. He’s trying to arrange pickup, either by a woman he knows in town or by his media escort. “Do you know Tito’s?” he asks me. He wants to meet Henry Hopper, Dennis’ son, for dinner.
On the way out, he tells me that it’s funny that he’s being interviewed for Playboy.
“There is a filmmaker that wants to convince me to give him the rights,” Ohler says. “He said, ‘I’m going to take you to my friend’s house for dinner. She’s an ex-Playmate.’ Is that what you call these women? A playmate? That was kind of the Hollywood approach. She was great, she was really funny. She was a very good cook but I thought that was so L.A. He was kind of trying to impress me, and he says, ‘She knows so many people.’ It was fun, good humor, but it was very strange also. I took a photo of her, which I posted on my Instagram. She looks amazing in that photo. The director said, ‘She is so photogenic, it’s incredible.’ She really is.”
And then, just like that, he has to go. He gets in his car and I in mine and we both drive off into the Los Angeles afternoon.