Between 1939 and 1945 the Second World War enveloped the globe in conflict. The Allied powers (United States, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, France, etc) were determined to stop the Axis powers ( Germany, Japan and Italy) from taking over areas in the Pacific and the continent of Europe. The European front was led by Adolf Hitler and the German troops. Hitler and his German troops spread through Europe, invading countries and implementing their policies of terror and discrimination. In an event later to be called The Holocaust, Member’s of Hitler’s Nazi Party, systematically deported Jews and other minorities to concentration camps, and work camps. All in all, an estimated 11 million people died in the Holocaust.
The Third Reich tried to control the use of alcohol in the German civilian population. They singled out alcoholics as defective, they were sometimes sterilized, or in some cases they were sent to concentration camps if they could not change their habits (Barrows, Room 321-322). As for their troops, the Nazi’s mandated sobriety. (Barrows,Room 330). However, in Christopher Browning’s book “Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland” we see that drinking was commonplace during the round-up of Jews. Browning goes into great detail about events surrounding Police Battalion 101’s role in the killing and deportation of Jewish people in Poland. Browning describes how alcohol was made available for those involved in shooting the Jews. The nightly bouts of drinking were used as a way to combat the sadness and shame of having spent the day killing. These were ordinary men, who were not accustomed to killing, and they in turn, turned to drinking in order to deal with their own reality. A non-drinking policeman stated:
“Most of the other comrades drank so much solely because of the many shootings of Jews, for such a life was quite intolerable sober.”(Browning, 82)
A group of Latvian, Ukrainian, and Lithuanian volunteers (collectively called Hilfswillige, or Hiwis) also took part in the killings. The Hiwis, “not just liquored up after the event but drank from the start and did most of the shooting” for the day (Browning,85). The German troops had to duck to avoid being hit by Hiwi bullets, who were so drunk they weren’t shooting straight (Browning,93). Alcohol “reduces inhibition and increases impulsivity”(“Short Term Effects of Drinking”). It can heighten emotions, making thinking and cognition difficult and make memory poor (“Short Term Effects of Drinking”). The use of alcohol in this situation could have allowed for the troops to become accustomed to killing more quickly. The commanders could have made important decisions under the influence of alcohol, they could have been more impulsive and emotional. The consumption of alcohol in this case could have affected the outcome of the shootings.
Alcohol was not the only substance used by troops of the Third Reich. The use of methamphetamines is alleged to have been widespread in certain areas of the force. Methamphetamines were first synthesized in Germany in 1937, they were commercially sold in 1938 (Defalque,Wright). First released under the name “Pervitin”, they became a controlled substance in 1941 (Defalque,Wright). During the war, they were given to officers, and commanders, in order to be given to the troops. The armed forces was said to have supplied around “35 million tablets between April and June 1940.”(Neumann,Eberle 95) They were used to prevent fatigue.
Methamphetamines do help to increase wakefulness and decreased fatigue. However they also have dangerous side effects. Including: depression, dependency,psychosis, mood disturbances, violent behavior, and changes in brain structure and function. (National Institute of Drug Abuse) Leonardo Conti served as the Reich’s Health Leader discouraged the use of Pervitin. Especially after some soldiers started to show the effects like addiction, depression, and in some cases; heart failure (The Nazi Death).
While Pervitin’s short term effects may have helped increase the military’s productivity and wakefulness, the long term effects are startling and could of impacted the soldiers significantly. The soldiers could have been more agitated or on-edge from going long hours without rest, the use of Pervitin could have made them more trigger-happy or affected their judgement. It is difficult to speculate the depth and width of the effects of methamphetamines on the war front.