He learned in the tropics that medicine must be injected into the veins

Thursday, May 23rd, 2019

One thread of Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich — which, again, is on sale for just $2.99 on Kindle — describes how Blitzkrieg was made possible by Pervitin, or methamphetamine. Another thread explores Hitler’s own drug use under the “care” of his personal doctor, Dr. Theodor Morell, who gave up his own practice for the opportunities offered by becoming a trusted crony.

Morell had built his practice on cutting-edge treatments, like vitamin injections:

For male patients he might include some testosterone with an anabolic effect for muscle building and potency, for women an extract of nightshade as an energy supplement and for hypnotically beautiful eyes.

He first joined the Nazi party for protection. He was swarthy and thus under suspicion. Then he got the call to help the party by handling a delicate problem for the Official Reich Photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann:

Hoffmann, who owned the copyright for important photographs of the dictator, published large numbers of picture books called things like Hitler as No One Knows Him or A Nation Honors Its Führer and sold them by the millions. There was also another, more personal reason that linked the two men: Hitler’s lover, Eva Braun, had previously worked as an assistant for Hoffmann, who had introduced the two in his Munich photographic shop in 1929.

That led to a meal with the Führer:

His only chance of acceptance lay in his injections, so he pricked up his ears when Hitler, in the course of the evening, talked almost in passing about severe stomach and intestinal pains that had been tormenting him for years. Morell hastily mentioned an unusual treatment that might prove successful. Hitler looked at him quizzically — and invited Morell and his wife to further consultations at the Berghof, his mountain retreat in the Obersalzberg near Berchtesgaden.


That was, he claimed, due to the bad treatment given to him by his previous doctors, who couldn’t come up with anything but starving him. Then if there happened to be an abundant dinner on the program, which was often the case, he immediately suffered from unspeakable bloating and itchy eczema on both legs, so that he had to walk with bandages around his feet and couldn’t wear boots.

Morell immediately thought he recognized the cause of Hitler’s complaints and diagnosed abnormal bacterial flora, causing poor digestion. He recommended the preparation Mutaflor, developed by his friend the Freiburg doctor and bacteriologist Professor Alfred Nissle: a strain of bacteria that had originally been taken from the intestinal flora of a non-commissioned officer who had, unlike many of his comrades, survived the war in the Balkans without stomach problems. The bacteria are kept in capsules, alive, and they take root in the intestine, flourish, and replace all the other strains that might lead to illnesses.

That opened the door to more treatments:

The dictator always hated being touched by other people and refused treatment from doctors if they inquired too invasively into the causes of his ailments.


For Hitler it made sense: “Morell wants to give me a big iodine injection as well as a heart, liver, chalk and vitamin injection. He learned in the tropics that medicine must be injected into the veins.”


The glucose, administered intravenously, gave the brain a blast of energy after twenty seconds, while the combined vitamins allowed Hitler to address his troops or the people wearing a thin Brownshirt uniform even on cold days without showing signs of physical weakness.

Morell was rewarded:

The elegant villa, surrounded by a hand-forged iron fence, at 24–26 Inselstrasse, wasn’t a complete gift: the Morells had to buy it themselves, for 338,000 reichsmarks, although they did receive an interest-free loan of 200,000 reichsmarks from Hitler that was later converted into a fee for treatment.

Morell had to employ domestic servants and a gardener, and his basic expenses soared, even though he wasn’t automatically earning more.

Dr. Morell was even directly, if rather oddly, involved in the defeat of Czechoslovakia:

On the night of March 15, 1939, the Czech president, Emil Hácha, in poor health, attended a more or less compulsory state visit to the new Reich Chancellery. When he refused to sign a paper that the Germans laid in front of him, a de facto capitulation of his troops to the Wehrmacht, he suffered a heart attack and could no longer be spoken to. Hitler urgently summoned Morell, who hurried along with his case and his syringes and injected the unconscious foreign guest with such a stimulating medication that Hácha rose again within seconds, as if from the dead. He signed the piece of paper that sealed the temporary end of his state. The very next morning Hitler invaded Prague without a fight.

Dr. Morell didn’t quite fit in:

It didn’t do him any good that he had himself made a fantasy uniform based on his own designs, with gold rods of Asclepius on its light grey and green collar, so that he didn’t have to go walking around in plain clothes anymore. His ridiculous outfit only earned him mockery from the generals. When he added an SS buckle to his black belt, objections were raised immediately because he wasn’t a member of the SS, and he had to get rid of it. He then, rather helplessly, chose a gold buckle that looked like something out of an operetta. He was envious of his rival, Hitler’s surgeon, who had a proper Wehrmacht rank.

Dr. Morell had to find a way to use his position to make money, so he started making Vitamultin bars — first for the Führer, then for the people under him:

For the senior officers of the Wehrmacht and important members of the staff he made a brand stamped “SRK” — Sonderanfertigung Reichskanzlei (“special product for the Reich Chancellery”) — wrapped not in gold but in silver. Soon the senior officers were fighting over the moderately tasty sweets, which were ostentatiously consumed at military briefings. Morell wrote contentedly from the Führer’s headquarters to his wife: “Vitamultin is proving a great success here. All the gentlemen are very appreciative of it, and recommend it to their families at home.”


At a personal discussion with Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, Morell touted the usefulness of Vitamultin in Scandinavia: it was demonstrably clear that an increased intake of vitamin C improved night vision, and up there it was often dark.

After the war U.S. agents got very little out of Morell:

He is communicative, often gets lost in meaningless trivia when making his statements, and tries to replace the very obvious gaps in his memory with fictions, which often leads to contradictory information…. At different times the patient’s psyche shows a completely different picture…. In the case of Professor Morell this is plainly a mild form of exogenous psychosis, caused by the fact of his imprisonment. This in no way limits his accountability. On the other hand, his credibility should not be viewed as complete because of the presence of memory gaps which he attempts to bridge with fictions.

Dr. Morell clearly kept busy throughout the war, treating “Patient A”:

From August 1941 until April 1945 the doctor treated his patient on a more or less daily basis. There are accounts for 885 of these 1,349 days. Medications were recorded 1,100 times, as well as almost 800 injections, about one per recorded day. Every now and again the needles themselves are cleanly stuck on to the notes, as if to give an outward appearance of transparency and conscientious documentation. Morell was afraid of the Gestapo; he knew that personal physicians have always lived dangerously.


This time vitamins and glucose didn’t work as they had done before. Nervously and with excessive haste Morell prepared a mixture of Vitamultin and calcium, and combined it with the steroid glyconorm, a hormone preparation that he had manufactured himself, which consisted of extract of cardiac muscle, adrenal cortex, and the liver and pancreas of pigs and other farm animals.


To combat the stinging pains caused by the mishap Hitler was given twenty drops of dolantin, an opioid whose effects are similar to those of morphine. But the dysentery-like diarrhea persisted.


This soon included such diverse substances as Tonophosphan, a metabolic stimulant made by the company Hoechst, chiefly used nowadays in veterinary medicine; the hormone-rich and immune-system-boosting body-building supplement Homoseran, a by-product of uterine blood;23 the sexual hormone Testoviron to combat declining libido and vitality; and Orchikrin, a derivative of bulls’ testicles, which is supposed to be a cure for depression. Another substance used was called Prostakrinum and was made from seminal vesicles and the prostates of young bulls.


Morell proudly described the unusual pit stop: “Train stopped mid-journey for glucose i.v. then Tonophosphan forte and Vitamultin Calcium i.m. to the Führer. All done in eight minutes.”


The injections increasingly determined the course of the day: over time the Führer’s medical mixture was enriched by over eighty different, and often unconventional, hormone preparations, steroids, quack remedies, and balms.


This polytoxicomania, which developed in the second half of 1941, sounds bizarre, even for an age in which steroid and hormone research could not begin to guess the effects of the complex interactions of these highly potent substances on the human constitution. Hitler understood less than anyone what was going on in his body.


A week later Patient A asked his personal physician for advice. Göring had told him he took a medication called Cardiazol when he felt weak and dizzy. Hitler wanted to know “whether that would also be good for him, the Führer, if he felt a bit funny at important occasions.” But Morell refused: for him, Cardiazol, a circulatory stimulant for which it is difficult to give precise dosages, and which also raises the blood pressure and can easily lead to seizures, was too risky for Hitler, who now had heart problems. But the doctor had understood the message: his boss was asking for stronger remedies to help calm his nerves over the intensifying crisis in Stalingrad. Morell would soon rise to the challenge.


For the second quarter of 1943, in the bottom right corner of file card “Pat. A,” a substance is listed and underlined several times: Eukodal. A drug manufactured by Merck in Darmstadt, it came on to the market as a painkiller and cough medicine in 1917, and was so popular in the 1920s that the word “Eukodalism” was coined. Its extremely potent active ingredient is an opioid called oxycodone, synthesized from the raw material of opium.


A U.S. Secret Service report written after the war and all eyewitness accounts confirm that Hitler was hyped up at his meeting with Mussolini in the Villa Gaggia near Feltre in the Veneto. The Führer talked for three hours without a break in a dull voice to his beleaguered fellow dictator, who didn’t get a single opportunity to speak but just sat impatiently with his legs crossed on the edge of a chair too big for him, frantically gripping one knee.


Hitler’s closest colleagues, like the members of his High Command, who were not au fait with these drug fixes, often reacted with incomprehension and disbelief to their Führer’s unrealistic optimism. Did Hitler know something they didn’t? Did he have some kind of miracle weapon up his sleeve that could turn the war around? In fact it was the immediate high of the injections that allowed Hitler to feel like a world ruler and gave him a sense of the strength and unshakable confidence that he needed to make everyone else keep the faith in spite of all the desperate reports coming from every front. A typical Morell entry from this period: “12.30 p.m.: because of talk to the General Staff (c. 105 generals) injection as before.”


On his birthday Patient A’s personal physician injected him with a cocktail of “x,” Vitamultin forte, camphor, and the plant-based coronary prophylactic Strophanthin,117 followed the next morning by an injection of Prostrophanta, a concoction for heart conditions made by Morell’s company, Hamma. There were also intravenous injections of glucose, more Vitamultin, and, as the cherry on the cake, a homemade preparation of parasite liver, whose intramuscular injection would immediately brand a medical practitioner today as a quack, and possibly put him behind bars.

When Hitler was almost assassinated, he hardly noticed the damage the bomb blast had done to him. He was then treated by a specialist:

But Hitler wasn’t bothered. His two burst eardrums were bleeding, but even that didn’t trouble him, and he impressed everyone with his apparent courage.


In reality Hitler had been more severely affected than it at first appeared. He had lost his hearing almost entirely and he began to have severe pains in his arms and legs as the effects of “x” abated in the evening. Blood was still flowing uninterruptedly from both ears.


Examining Hitler’s burst eardrums, Giesing found a marked sickle-shaped tear in the right ear and a smaller injury in the left. When treating the sensitive tissue with acid, he admired Hitler’s extraordinary impassivity. He felt no pain any more, Patient A boasted. And, in any case, pain only existed to make people harder. Giesing couldn’t have guessed that perhaps he didn’t feel the pain because he had been given drugs by his personal physician shortly beforehand.


But Giesing didn’t come to his Führer empty-handed either. His favorite remedy for treating pains in the ear, nose, and throat area was cocaine, the very substance the Nazis abhorred as a “Jewish degeneration drug.” This choice is not as unusual as it might seem as not many alternatives for local anesthesia were available at the time, and cocaine was stocked as a medicine in every pharmacy. If we can believe Giesing, the only source in this case, between July 22 and October 7, 1944, on seventy-five days, he administered the substance over fifty times in the form of nose and throat dabs, a highly effective surface application.


According to Giesing’s report he claimed that “on cocaine he felt considerably lighter and carefree, and that he could also think more clearly.” The doctor explained to him that the psychotropic wave was the “medicinal effect on the swollen nasal mucous membrane, and that it was now easier to breathe through the nose. The effect usually lasted between four and six hours. He might have a slight cocaine sniff afterward, but it would stop after a short time.”


“It’s a good thing you’re here, doctor. This cocaine is wonderful, and I’m glad that you’ve found the right remedy. Free me from these headaches again for a while.”


“Please don’t turn me into a cocaine addict,” he said to his new favorite doctor, to which Giesing replied, reassuringly, “A real cocaine addict snorts dry cocaine.”


Giesing obeyed and administered the drug, this time in such a dose that Hitler is believed to have lost consciousness and for a short time there is supposed to have been a danger of respiratory paralysis. If the account given by Giesing is accurate, then the self-described abstainer almost died of an overdose.


In late September 1944, in the pale light of the bunker, the ear doctor, Giesing, noted an unusual coloration in Hitler’s face and suspected jaundice. The same day, on the dinner table there was a plate holding “apple compote with glucose and green grapes” and a box of “Dr. Koester’s anti-gas pills,” a rather obscure product. Giesing was perplexed when he discovered that its pharmacological components included atropine, derived from belladonna or other nightshade plants, and strychnine, a highly toxic alkaloid of nux vomica, which paralyzes the neurons of the spinal column and is also used as rat poison.

The side-effects of these anti-gas pills at too high a dose seemed to correspond to Hitler’s symptoms. Atropine initially has a stimulating effect on the central nervous system, then a paralyzing one, and a state of cheerfulness arises, with a lively flow of ideas, loquacity, and visual and auditory hallucinations, as well as delirium, which can mutate into violence and raving. Strychnine in turn is held responsible for increased light-sensitivity and even fear of light, as well as for states of flaccidity.156 For Giesing the case seemed clear: “Hitler constantly demonstrated a state of euphoria that could not be explained by anything, and I am certain his heightened mood when making decisions after major political or military defeats can be largely explained in this way.”


  1. Graham says:

    That was certainly interesting. Hitler’s health and Morell’s interventions certainly come up in many general accounts, but I don’t recall ever reading that much.

    Whenever I encounter medical practices from the Victorian era, interwar, or even early postwar, I always marvel at the stuff we now think of as innovative and the stuff that is arrant quackery. Everybody hopped up on goofballs, often with no apparent need or reason is one thing. Love of alternative therapies is another. [In Britain the Profumo scandal was facilitated by the easy access of a "society osteopath" to the high elites. He paid the hardest price for the scandal in some ways.] Odd remedies for pain, still another.

    And yet, that thing about the bacteria pills, gross as it sounds, sounds like either a genuine innovation or at least a thought on the path to the right direction. The idea of varying gut flora is right up there in modern medical treatment for stomach complaints.

    I just never can tell. It took our society years to accept that most ulcers were caused by bacterial infection, and those guys were long seen as quacks. Totally right. Everybody just blamed it on stress or maybe, with more reason, three martini lunches.

  2. Paul from Canada says:

    I had heard a lot of this before, but HO-LY-SHIT! I knew Morell was a quack, but he is even worse than I knew!

    Hitler was also a terrible patient, the kind that thinks he know better than his doctor, and did a bunch of self medication, like drinking Ballistol for his stomach complaints.

    On the other hand, a lot of quackery has some basis in reality. Graham mentions the bacteria pills, and yet today, fecal transplants are an effective treatment for C-Dificile (the only really effective one), and I saw a recent article about a possible like between the gut biome and Parkinson’s. I can well see why gut bacteria from an individual who seemed immune to intestinal complaints would be a viable treatment for same.

    A lot of the weird hormonal treatments of the ’20s and ’30s (as mentioned in the book), still have at least some basis in science. Testosterone is still testosterone, synthetic, natural from human sources, or from slaughtered cattle. The problem was lack of proper research and double blind studies.

    There is also the rather strange thing known colloquially as “corpse medicine”. It started in the 17th and 18th century, with various preparations devised by apothecaries.

    Medicine back then was quite primitive, and drugs more so. A treatment for gunshot wounds, for example, was the blood of a dog that had been shot. A piece of skull from an epileptic ground up and added to wine and a few other things was considered the sovereign remedy for various mental illnesses, a recipe reputed to have been devised by King Charles himself. (not sure which one, I or II). Powdered mummy (literally, crushed bits of an Egyptian mummy), were considered very effective for a wide variety of complaints.

    In the same way a Pervitin and other dangerous drugs could be had over the counter well into the 1950′s. so too could preparations containing cadaver pituitary gland and similar such gruesome and likely medically useless ingredients.

    I’m not sure we are any better off today, given the amount or quackery you can find at your local health food store, Homeopathy is the least of it!

    I recall reading that herbal folk remedies often had a sound pharmacological basis, but that it was often hidden under other ingredients. An attempt was made in South Africa to study the various herbal potions of the local “Sangomas” (which-doctors).

    It was surmised that much of it was potentially good, but the attempts failed because of professional jealousy.

    The herbal basis of the treatment might be simple and correct (this plant alkaloid had this effect and so on), but if it became widely known that a tea made of plant “A” cured “B” then anyone could brew it and put the Sangoma out of business. Thus, a bunch of useless, or potentially harmful ingredients had to be added to disguise the effective agent.

    Also, primitive or uneducated people believe in cause and effect. Medicine must be strong tasting and have side effects to be effective. (Patrick O’Brian goes into some detail about this in his Aubrey-Matturin books). So laxatives and strong tasting and often toxic ingredients are also added.

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