Two Articles

If there is one historical topic that fascinates people it is Hitler, the Nazis, and World War II. I’ve heard the History Channel referred to as the World War II channel; when I lived in London I remember seeing a lot of WW2 documentaries on the BBC. Apparently it is everyone’s default history A-level too. Go to the Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million and you’ll see a large number of books for sale on various aspects of WW2 – and invariably any book on Germany is going to be a book about the Third Reich.

Evil is fascinating in itself, of course, and the fact that we helped defeat it is flattering. I’m not immune to the appeal of this but of course it is rather unfair to reduce Germany to the Nazizeit, and there are many other historical events worthy of our attention.

Having said that, I repost two interesting recent articles from the National Post about minor aspects of Hitler’s regime, one about Hitler’s amphetamine use, and another about a murdered Canadian journalist.

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High Hitler? The Nazi leader was secretly addicted to crystal meth, says new documentary

WASHINGTON — Adolf Hitler is remembered as many things: a genocidal warmonger, a hateful ideologue, a failed art student. But the phrase “drug addict” is usually not high among the list of epithets.

A documentary, to be aired this weekend by Britain’s Channel 4, digs into the Führer’s “hidden drug habit.” Based on details in a 47-page American military dossier compiled during the war, Hitler was taking a cocktail of 74 different drugs, including a form of what is now commonly known as crystal meth. He also took “barbiturate tranquilizers, morphine, bulls’ semen,” according to reports.

The revelations aren’t exactly new. Methamphetamines, which were pioneered in Germany at the end of the 19th century, were used by various armies during World War II as stimulants to aid fatigued soldiers. The drug was popularly consumed in Germany as Pervitin, a pill Hitler took among his various medications.

As a young soldier in the Wehrmacht, Heinrich Böll — who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972 — wrote forlorn, bleak letters home. “Perhaps you could obtain some more Pervitin so that I can have a backup supply?” he requested in a 1940 letter, cited by German publication Der Spiegel.

Hitler was apparently prescribed these drugs by Theodor Morell, an unconventional doctor who examined Hitler daily beginning in 1936. The American dossier drew upon Morell’s personal letters.

The Nazi leader was supposedly injected with extracts from bull’s testicles to boost his libido — the Führer needed to cut a virile figure in public and, as reports suggest, keep up with Eva Braun, his much younger consort. Other medicines were aimed at combating a host of Hitler’s maladies, ranging from stomach cramps to symptoms related to a potential bipolar disorder.

He was apparently under the influence of methamphetamine when he held his last meeting with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in July 1943 — a reportedly tense, one-sided affair with Hitler lecturing his counterpart, whose hold on power was about to unravel.

The Daily Mail offers some more detail on the new revelations:

The dossier also debunks one of the most enduring legends about the Fuhrer – the claim that he lost a testicle when he was injured at the Battle of the Somme. Morale-boosting ditty “Hitler has only got one ball” was popular during the Second World War and his admirer Unity Mitford suggested he “lacked something in the manly department.”

But the American records, which feature in a Channel 4 documentary, show the dictator was not monorchid (the medical term for being born with one testicle). They also shoot down claims that Hitler was a predatory homosexual who massacred 150 supporters to hide his secret.

Hitler’s own addictions shouldn’t obscure the vast scale drugs like methamphetamine were consumed by both sides in World War II. Millions of tablets of various narcotics were issued as stimulants to soldiers. The nickname for Pervitin in Germany was Panzerschokolade, or “tank chocolate.”

“Two tablets taken once eliminate the need to sleep for three to eight hours, and two doses of two tablets each are normally effective for 24 hours,” advised the Nazi military command, in a communique released in 1942. The German invasions of Poland and France, says Der Spiegel, were driven by soldiers hooked on meth and copious amounts of alcohol.

The drug’s ill effects were less known, including insomnia, hallucinations, erratic behavior and a dulling of brain functions over time. The trope of the “zombie” Nazi soldier is a popular one in science fiction — and, as these reports all reveal, that may not just be because of the evils carried out by Hitler’s murderous regime.

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The mysterious death of Lukin Johnston: Vancouver reporter interviewed Hitler in 1933, then disappeared

Province reporter turned foreign correspondent Lukin Johnston had just scored the biggest coup of his career — a one-on-one interview with newly appointed German chancellor Adolf Hitler.

As his Canadian readers digested the veteran scribe’s impressions of the Nazi leader in November 1933, the 46-year-old Johnston was heading back to his London offices on an overnight steamer from Holland across the English Channel.

Colin Castle goes through some of his archived material on Rufus Lukin Johnston, a former Vancouver Province and Southam correspondent who interviewed Hitler in 1933.

He never made it. Johnston was nowhere to be found when the ship docked at the British port of Harwich. To this day, his B.C. family is convinced that someone pushed Johnston into the Channel, while news accounts at the time speculated that the correspondent was “giddy or tired” and simply fell.

“Highly unlikely,” said Colin Castle, author of a new biography of Johnston. “He was a very experienced ship traveller. He was never seasick.”

Castle, whose wife Val is Johnston’s granddaughter, said his best theory “is that he was pushed, I’m afraid.”

The new book, titled Rufus for the childhood nickname that stuck with Johnston as an adult, follows the British-born Johnston to Canada as a teen, where he crossed the country working jobs ranging from farming to banking before landing at The Province in 1910 as a 23-year-old rookie reporter.

He learned journalism quickly, reporting from all over B.C., his journalistic rise interrupted by First World War service as a Canadian Army officer.

Clipping of an article by Lukin Johnston, the Southam newspaper chain correspondent who interviewed Hitler in 1933.

Johnston came back to the paper after the war, wrote several books on his travels in Europe and B.C., and eventually became the Southam newspaper chain’s correspondent in London.

Castle’s book hits its dramatic high point recounting Johnston’s reporting in Europe starting just before the Nazis took power. In 1932, Johnston headed to Munich where he at first couldn’t get an interview with Nazi leader Hitler.

Johnston filed his first impressions of the Nazis’ Munich party headquarters in a Province story that year: “They raised the right hand and said ‘Heil Hitler’ … the whole atmosphere of the place seemed to me like that just before the curtain goes up on an amateur theatrical show.”

But by the following year the Nazis were solidly in power, and Johnston realized these men weren’t just comic actors.

“Rufus couldn’t believe that all this militarism that was going on in Germany meant nothing,” said Castle, a retired history teacher in West Kelowna. “Hitler would say it was just a way of providing discipline. Rufus didn’t buy that and it comes through in his articles.”

Johnston visited a German camp holding 1,600 political dissidents, where he talked to a jailed social democrat.

“It was suggested to me that whatever I wrote must be submitted to the authorities for the correction of any ‘misunderstandings.’ I could only refuse the suggestion point blank,” Johnston wrote in one dispatch. He added: “Such visitors as myself are only shown the best side of such places.”

In a story published in The Province 10 days before the Nov. 12 German election in 1933, Johnston wrote: “Never in history has propaganda been mobilized on such a vast scale or with such crushing efficiency to bend the will of a nation … opposition parties have ceased to exist, and the watchful eyes of the storm troopers will check voters in thousands of small electoral districts.”

All of which was the backdrop to Johnston’s big scoop on Nov. 15, 1933 — a half-hour interview with Hitler in the chancellor’s Berlin office.

“He’d shaken Hitler’s hand, he’d been relatively cordial,” Castle said. “He’d asked him some pretty tough questions.”

As Johnston left Hitler’s office, then-Gestapo head Hermann Goering was waiting in the anteroom.

“Goering leaned toward Rufus and said in English, ‘You’re damned lucky to get out,’” Castle said, adding that Johnston related that encounter afterwards to fellow foreign correspondents at a favourite Berlin bar.

“Rufus was a little bit upset because of the aggression, Goering’s attitude.”

Also around that time, another foreign correspondent had been accused by the Germans of being a spy — ominous times for foreign journalists.

“I don’t think Rufus was worried (after the encounter with Goering), but he wasn’t happy about it.”

Rufus Johnston’s last journal entry before his 1933 disappearance, two days after his interview with Hitler.

Johnston headed back to England, his work on the continent done for the moment. His disappearance from the ship came two days after the Hitler interview.

“I suspect it was one of Goering’s minions,” Castle said. Goering had founded and at the time was in charge of the Gestapo, the German secret police. “No way was Rufus going to fall off a ship.”