Medicating a Madman A Sober Look at Hitler's Health


Part 2: Rat Poison and 'Hitler Speed'

Hitler's digestion problems even prompted him to become a vegetarian: Contrary to what the Nazi propaganda machine would have one believe, it wasn't because Germany's dictator was an animal lover. Likewise, he took such massive amounts of a drug to combat flatulence that some of his other physicians even speculated that he was being poisoned. The drug contained small amounts of the nerve agent strychnine, which had long been used as a rat poison.

Moreover, when Hitler exhibited symptoms of jaundice in the fall of 1944, a heated debate erupted among his physicians, fueled, no doubt, by a desire to curry favor. Some even accused their colleague Morell of having poisoned Hitler. But the dictator stood by his personal physician, dismissing Morell's detractors as "fools" and even having two of them transferred elsewhere.

Was Hitler an Addict?

Today, almost six and a half decades after Hitler's death, Eberle and Neumann have attempted to solve the mystery of whether Morell's treatment of Hitler was, in fact, improper. By analyzing the composition and dosage of the drug Morell administered to Hitler, they've ruled out the possibility of poisoning. They conclude that Morell was probably correct in diagnosing Hitler's hepatitis as having been triggered by blockage around his gall bladder.

Such findings might indicate that Morell was actually a competent physician rather than the "quack" or "Rasputin" he has been accused of being. However, this conclusion seems to be contradicted by the fact that Morell hardly dared to deny Hitler any of his wishes and supplied him with large numbers of pills, including the stimulant Pervitin. Such behavior triggered accusations that Morell got Hitler hooked on drugs -- not implausible given the fact that several members of the Nazi elite were also drug addicts. Likewise, German soldiers fighting on the front consumed large quantities of Pervitin, and the drug was even added to chocolates. Nowadays, the substance is an ingredient in the popular drug crystal meth, which is also known by the telltale nickname "Hitler speed."

Still, Morell's notes only contain a single reference to his having administered Pervitin to Hitler. Some would like to believe that the complicated abbreviations in Morell's notes or his descriptions of other, harmless concoctions are merely covers for a medication containing the addictive drug. But Eberle and Neumann are highly skeptical: "There is no indication that Hitler was only able to conduct his daily briefings because he was taking Pervitin." They also note that there is little evidence that Hitler had a cocaine habit, as some have suspected.

Bitten by a Goat?

Eberle and Neumann also attempt to debunk other myths by pointing out just how thin and contradictory the source material is and raising questions based on medical analysis. One story, for example, speculates that Hitler's fits of rage and megalomania were merely the result of an untreated case of meningitis. Likewise, Eberle and Neumann were unable to find any evidence that Hitler was missing a testicle or that his penis was deformed after allegedly being bitten by a goat in his younger days.

They also dismiss as "absurd" the theory of historian Bernhard Horstmann, who posits that Hitler's personality was drastically altered in 1918 during a session of hypnosis therapy because the therapist failed to wake him up from a trance. As a lance corporal in World War I, Hitler was temporarily blinded after a mustard-gas attack. He went on to receive hypnosis therapy in a military hospital in the northeastern German town of Pasewalk.

Conspiracy theorists reading Eberle and Neumann's book will likely be disappointed by the authors' findings about Hitler's supposed illnesses. In the end, they conclude that Hitler had Parkinson's disease and that his declining health was obvious in the final months leading up to his suicide in April 1945. Nevertheless, they write, "at no time did Hitler suffer from pathological delusions." In fact, they conclude that the despot was always aware of his actions: "He was fully responsible."

Strange Advice

Regardless of their findings, Hitler's decisions did remain impulsive, inexplicable and contemptuous of human life to the very end. Eventually, even Hitler's "dear Doctor" Morell must have realized this. Even after Germany's defenses had fallen apart on all fronts and the war was already lost, Hitler's personal physician stoically attended to his patient's blood pressure, stomach cramps and digestive problems in Hitler's bunker in Berlin. Ultimately, Hitler thanked Morell in his own way. On April 21, 1945, he dismissed his loyal physician from the bunker and sent him on his way with a strange piece of advice: He told Morell to return to his practice on Kurfürstendamm.

Meanwhile, just outside his bunker, the last remnants of Germany's military were battling the Red Army as it fought its way into central Berlin, the capital of the Third Reich.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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