Jaipur: Nazi Germany seemed an epitome of an (extreme) ideology-driven regime stressing the objective of fostering pure and healthy living based on its concept of an idealised past, and touted its achievements as based on nationalistic fervour and discipline. But do these explain all its "achievements" and the (initial) prowess of its armed forces?
Or did the extraordinary discoveries of German chemists from the 19th century onwards have a role?
To quite a significant extent, says German journalist, writer and screenwriter Norman Ohler, author of "Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany" (2017).
He also contends that several wartime decisions of the otherwise vegetarian, non-drinking, non-smoking and animal-loving Adolf Hitler could be traced to his drug usage.
"German chemists synthesised morphine in 1805... one scientist (Felix Hoffmann) developed aspirin and heroin in a lab within one week at the end of the 19th century and (pharma firm) Bayer promoted the latter for all kinds of ailments," Ohler told IANS.
While Germany fast became the world leader in synthesised drugs, their use really took off after its defeat in World War 1, and, in the Weimar Republic, drug use was widespread among other declining moral values and was not stigmatised, he said.
But while the Nazis, after coming to power, launched a major anti-smoking campaign, and a strict anti-drug policy, a product that they seemed to have no problem with was one sold under the brand name "Pervitin", said Ohler, who was here for the Jaipur Literature Festival 2018.
This was what we today know as methamphetamine or "crystal meth", he added.
Developed in Germany in 1887 (and then independently in Japan), it hit a high in the 1930s where it helped in the creation of the "modern performance-driven society that was then, like today", he said. As he says in his book, this manufactured and enthusiastically marketed drug by a Berlin company was used by "workers on conveyor belts, furniture packers, firemen, barbers, night watchmen, train and lorry drivers and even housewives" to fight off depression and fatigue.
"Hitler did not like women working and preferred them to stay at home. They were also encouraged to use Pervitin to manage household chores and there were special chocolates containing it," Ohler told IANS.
It also powered German soldiers in World War II's initial days, especially in the "blitzkreig", but led to all sorts of health consequences and was later withdrawn, he said.
Ohler, who spent five years researching the book, says he became interested in Pervitin after a friend found some tablets in his house, tried them and discovered they had not lost their potency after over six decades.
In his book, he also traces the shocking reliance of Hitler on drugs, and how this affected his decision-making during the war. He says there was a conception of Hitler as a "health saint" and "an orderly man who who did wrong things", but his book aims to provide a "more accurate biography".
Hitler's drug dependence was the doing of Munich doctor Theodor Morell, who began as a "feel good" physician, well-known for his "miracle shots", much in demand among clients like actresses anxious ahead of a key performance. However, Morell, who began by giving vitamin shots to the Fuhrer, soon began to inject more noxious substances like narcotics and animal hormones.
Ohler cites two instances when a "drugged" Hitler influenced the outcome of the conflict. "The first was in 1943, when a despondent (Italian dictator Benito) Mussolini wanted out of the war, but Hitler spoke on and on for three hours and convinced him to stay in.
"The second was in 1944, when he was prescribed cocaine following the August assassination attempt, and on a high, conceived the Ardennes counter-offensive (The Battle of the Bulge), drawing troops from the Russian front for the purpose," he said.
But Ohler stresses that drugs should not be held responsible for making Hitler evil or developing his murderous racist doctrines, which were formulated in the 1920s after Germany's defeat in World War 1.
And not only Hitler or Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering, who was prescribed morphine after a bullet injury and became an addict, but other senior Nazis like Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and Hitler's favourite architect Albert Speer also used drugs.
"The only ones who did not were (Hitler's key aide) Martin Bormann and (SS chief) Heinrich Himmler, who did yoga exercises for two hours daily," said Ohler. (IANS)