January 1942: 500 Wehrmacht soldiers found themselves surrounded by the Red Army on the Eastern Front. Suffering in temperatures of –22 Fahrenheit, marching through snowdrifts that at times reached waist high, soldiers began to lie down in the snow to die. Six hours into their escape they claimed they could go no further. Commanders made the decision to dispense Pervitin among the men. The unit doctor later wrote: “After half an hour, the men began spontaneously reporting that they felt better. They began marching in orderly fashion again, their spirits improved, and they became more alert.”

As Germany retook the world stage throughout the 1930’s they knew they needed to be not only stronger and faster than their enemies, but vastly more innovative. Conventional thought in science and tactics would be completely overhauled in order to stay one step ahead of their rivals, up to and including pharmacology.

Pervitin was developed and first brought to market by Berlin-based Temmler pharmaceutical company in 1938 as a multivitamin and it quickly became a top seller among the German population. Pervitin gained the reputation of triggering a heightened state of alertness. The drug increased self confidence, concentration and the willingness to take risks, while reducing the need for sleep as well as sensitivity to pain, hunger and thirst. Pervitin was brought to the attention of Otto Ranke, director of the Institute for General and Defense Physiology at Berlin’s Academy of Military Medicine, and in 1939 he conducted tests on 90 university students. Assessing that the drug had a place in Germany’s arsenal it was first distributed amongst military drivers in the invasion of Poland and then en mass amongst the troops on the front. In four short months between April and July of 1940, 35 million tablets simply labeled “stimulant” were shipped to the front lines.

“Every medical officer must be aware that Pervitin is a highly differentiated and powerful stimulant, a tool that enables him, at any time, to actively and effectively help certain individuals within his range of influence achieve above-average performance." – Kriegsmarine memorandum

Not surprisingly those little packets of pills became very popular amongst the troops, as they had with the civilian population earlier. Heinrich Boell winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature wrote to his family no less than three times throughout 1940 begging them for extra supplies of the drug:

"Perhaps you could get me some more Pervitin so that I can have a backup supply?"

“It’s tough out here, and I hope you’ll understand if I’m only able to write to you once every two to four days soon. Today I’m writing you mainly to ask for some Pervitin …; Love, Hein."

"If at all possible, please send me some more Pervitin."

Pervitin was not simply a “wonder vitamin” however, but three milligrams of pure methamphetamine. This a substance now widely known to be extremely addictive, as well as carrying the side effects of unpredictability, violence, delusions and paranoia amongst heavy and long term users. In fact, when one thinks of the horrific abuses on the killing fields of Eastern Front through the early years of the war methamphetamine abuse seems to make all kinds of sense.

Adolf Hitler himself, though famously abstemious with regards to alcohol, meat and tobacco, is widely thought to have been injected several times a day with Pervitin  by his personal physician Theodor Morell. The Parkinson’s like shaking that escalated with alarming fashion in the last days of the war, as well as his mental instability and explosive temper seem highly consistent with heavy methamphetamine use.

Dope as ever is a game of diminishing returns and by the last days of the war Pervitin was simply not cutting it. A call for a new “wonder pill” was sent out. In the northern German seaport of Kiel, on March 16, 1944, then Vice-Admiral Hellmuth Heye, who later became a member of parliament with the conservative Christian Democratic party and head of the German parliament’s defense committee, requested a drug "that can keep soldiers ready for battle when they are asked to continue fighting beyond a period considered normal, while at the same time boosting their self-esteem."

This call was answered by Gerhard Orzechowski of Kiel pharmaceuticals who unveiled D-IX: a pill which contained five milligrams of cocaine, three milligrams of methamphetamine, and five milligrams of Eukodal. Eukodal a synthetic opiod akin to heroin, was made famous in Naked Lunch as the shit William Burroughs was shooting several times a day while he stared at his shoe for a year in Tangier. While I’m sure D-IX carried with it a righteous high, it was not enough to deliver the Reich from the inevitable.

%s1 / %s2

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  1. Airtight Garage
    Posted November 30, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Man, I love this blog.

  2. Cocksure
    Posted December 14, 2011 at 4:22 am | Permalink

    Nothing gets me going in the morning like big fat D-IX

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