How Hitler’s Flatulence Helped End WWII

After the Second World War, a common joke was that Adolf Hitler was the best general the Allies ever had. His string of disastrous decisions, from halting his forces around Dunkirk, delaying his invasion of Russia, and refusing to pull the 6th Army out of Stalingrad, handed the advantage to his enemies time and time again – to the point that Operation Foxley, a 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler at his home in the Bavarian Alps, was cancelled for fear the Fuhrer would be replaced by a more competent leader.  But while Hitler’s military judgement was shaky from the start, it grew significantly worse as the war dragged on and the Fuhrer’s mental and physical health sharply declined. In April 1945, while Hitler was holed up in his Berlin Fuhrerbunker as the Red Army closed in on the city, SS doctor Ernst-Günther Schenck remembered being shocked at the leader’s condition, describing him as a “living corpse, a dead soul.”

 “His spine was hunched, his shoulder blades protruded from his bent back, and he collapsed his shoulders like a turtle.… I was looking into the eye of death.”

 Shuffling and stumbling around like a man far older than his 56 years, his hands trembling so violently he could no longer write his own name, and his mood swinging wildly between wild euphoria and unstoppable rage, the once vigorous leader of Nazi Germany had become a mental and physical wreck, a mere shell of his former self whose irrational decisions likely helped end the Second World War far earlier than it otherwise would have. But what caused this dramatic collapse? For decades historians and medical professionals have proposed a variety of candidates for Hitler’s particular ailments, from Parkinson’s to tertiary neurosyphilis, but there may be another, even stranger explanation, and it all has to do with Adolf Hitler being extremely gassy.

The Third Reich, as fanatically driven by ideology as it was, was always a mess of contradictions. Though Nazi ideology lionized the blonde, blue-eyed Aryan, few top Nazis – including Heinrich Himmler, Martin Bormann, Herman Göring, Josef Göbels, and Hitler himself remotely resembled this ideal. Even the infamous SS, the organization most obsessed with racial purity, eventually recruited entire legions of Muslims from the Balkans and Hindus and Sikhs from India into its ranks. But perhaps the most surprising contradiction of all was that Hitler’s personal doctor, Theodor Morell, the man with arguably the greatest and most intimate access to the Fuhrer, was half-Jewish. Born in 1886, the balding, overweight Morell served as a ship’s doctor and Army physician during WWI before establishing a general practice on Berlin’s fashionable Kurfürstendamm street. There he amassed a clientele of mainly wealthy high-society patients whose mostly non-existent ailments responded well to flattery, homeopathy, and a variety of elaborate quack cures Morell concocted himself. Hitler met Morell by chance at a Christmas party in 1936, and while the doctor repelled the Fuhrer’s inner circle with his poor hygiene, repulsive body odour, and unpleasant demeanour, Hitler took an instant liking to him as he promised to cure one of the leader’s most long-standing and embarrassing health complaints.

Hitler had suffered from digestive issues his entire life, alternating between crippling bouts of stomach cramps, diarrhea, constipation, and uncontrollable flatulence that often forced him to leave official functions in a hurry. For a leader obsessed with image and expected to attend countless such functions and deliver speeches in public, it was a serious problem. These issues prompted Hitler to become a vegetarian in the early 1930s, eliminating meat, milk, butter, and other rich foods from his diet in favour of vegetables and whole grains. But while this diet likely reduced the odour of Hitler’s flatulence, the increased fibre intake only made the problem worse, eventually leading Hitler, who did not trust doctors, to seek out Dr. Morell’s assistance.

At first, Morell prescribed the Fuhrer a medication called Mutaflor, a precursor to modern probiotics. Said to be made from the excrement of “Bulgarian peasants of the most vigorous stock,” the pills claimed to replace the “bad” gut bacteria of city living with the “good” bacteria of hard-working, clean-living country folk. While these pills seem tailor-made for Hitler’s troubles, Morell owned stock in the company and prescribed them to all his patients whether they had intestinal complaints or not. To accompany this treatment, Morell also prescribed Hitler two of Dr. Koester’s Anti-Gas Pills with every meal. At first Hitler’s flatulence did seem to become more intermittent, prompting the jubilant Fuhrer to exclaim:

“Nobody has ever before told me so clearly and precisely what is wrong with me. His method of cure is so logical that I have the greatest confidence in him. I shall follow his prescription to the letter.”  

It is more than likely, however, that this improvement was merely the product of the placebo effect, for Hitler’s bouts of intestinal distress tended to coincide with periods of high stress. Nonetheless, Morell had gained Hitler’s confidence and became a valued member of his inner circle. But while Morell’s medical interventions were initially limited to diet tips and gut pills, he soon began prescribing the Fuhrer a dizzying array of enzymes, animal extracts, hormones, painkillers, sedatives, and stimulants along with secret injections of his own concoction which he vaguely described as containing “vitamins.” By 1941, Hitler was taking 63 different pills containing 92 different drugs at a rate of 150 pills per week. While Hitler’s inner circle grew increasingly suspicious of Morell’s quackery, Hitler continued to swear by him, the Doctor travelling with the Fuhrer everywhere he went – even as far as the Wolf’s Lair, his forward headquarters in East Prussia. Meanwhile, Morell’s high position in the Nazi establishment allowed him to acquire pharmaceutical companies in conquered territories to mass-produce his various health tonics, netting him millions.

Yet Morell’s intense drug regimen did little to improve Hitler’s overall health, and as the Fuhrer continued to suffer from bouts of intestinal distress, irritability, insomnia and fatigue, Morell was forced to alternate between medications such as morphine and laxatives or stimulants and sedatives to keep his symptoms on an even keel.

Among the first to suspect that Morell’s drug cocktails, if not directly responsible for Hitler’s ills, were at least making them worse, was Dr. Erwin Giesing, who decided to actually examine the contents of the doctor’s favourite anti-gas pills. What he discovered shocked him: the active ingredients on the tin included strychnine, commonly used in rat poison, and atropine, another toxin used as a heart medication. While Morell had only prescribed two pills per meal, Hitler ate them like candy, taking as many as six at a time. Was it possible that Hitler was being slowly poisoned by his gut pills? When informed of the pills’ contents, Hitler was unfazed, explaining:

“I myself always thought they were just charcoal tablets for soaking up my intestinal gases, and I always felt rather pleasant after taking them.”

And despite Dr. Giesing’s dire warnings about the other drugs Morell was prescribing him, Hitler refused to listen, dismissing Giesing for daring to contradict his favourite physician. In any case, an analysis of the pills revealed levels of strychnine and atropine too low to have any serious effect, so while the pills might not have been helping Hitler, they probably weren’t hurting him either. Morell’s daily “vitamin” injections, however, were a different matter entirely.

By 1941, Hitler was receiving an injection in bed every morning as part of his daily routine. While Morell always maintained that his cocktails contained nothing but glucose and vitamins, Hitler’s reaction to them tells a very different story. Within minutes, the injections would transform the Fuhrer from exhausted and groggy to alert, euphoric and chatty – a state that lasted for several hours afterward. This effect is consistent not with glucose, but amphetamines. Amphetamine use was common in Nazi Germany, with German troops being issued a type of oral methamphetamine called Pervitin to increase alertness and stamina and reduce combat fatigue. It is believed that Pervitin was a a key factor in allowing German forces to steamroller across France in only six weeks in the summer of 1940. However, it is now known that amphetamines are highly addictive, and as the war ground on and Germany’s situation deteriorated Hitler required larger and more frequent doses to overcome his body’s tolerance to the drug. By 1944 Hitler was receiving two injections a day of 16cc each – a 700-fold increase from when he first started. And with this increasing dependence came the classic symptoms of amphetamine abuse: insomnia, loss of appetite, euphoria, irritability, paranoia, impulsiveness, and wild mood swings – all of which severely affected his ability to make rational decisions in a time of crisis. In the final months of the war this rigid, stubborn thinking led Hitler to issue endless futile “no retreat” orders that resulted in hundreds of thousands of German troops being needlessly killed or captured. At the battle of Stalingrad alone, 800,000 troops were killed and 90,000 marched off to captivity, where all but 6000 perished.

Heavy amphetamine use also took a toll on Hitler’s body, with historians attributing his tremors and extreme weakness in his final days to a series of strokes or heart attacks – an extremely unlikely occurrence for a healthy 56-year-old. Given his terrible physical condition, it is likely that had he not killed himself on April 30, 1945, Hitler would have died of another stroke or heart attack shortly thereafter.

Theodor Morell remained at Hitler’s side almost to the very end, spending the last days of the war holed up in the Fuhrerbunker along with the rest of the Nazi high command. But on April 21, 1945, Morell approached the Fuhrer with one of his daily injections only for Hitler to angrily fire him on the spot. While the rest of his inner circle had planned to flee to the Bavarian alps, Hitler refused, insisting on remaining in his capital city and committing suicide before the Russians took over. Consequently, he grew paranoid that his subordinates – especially Morell – would conspire to drug him and spirit him away. The dismissal came as a relief to Morell, who boarded an evacuation flight along with other Nazi officials and successfully managed flee the city. He was captured by American forces in July, but after it was determined he had committed no war crimes he was released. Hitler’s eccentric, incompetent personal doctor lived on for another three years, finally dying of a stroke in May 1948.

Wars and battles are never lost or won by a single factor, but seemingly small factors can have outsized effects. While it is likely Nazi Germany’s plans of European conquest were doomed from the start, the effects of Dr. Theodor Morell’s injections on the Fuhrer’s mental and physical health lead to a chain of increasingly poor decisions that ultimately hastened its demise. And all because Adolf Hitler farted like a horse.

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Bonus Fact

 While the Nazis were perfectly happy to pump their soldiers and even their beloved Fuhrer full of meth and cocaine, there was one stimulating substance that they did not tolerate: caffeine. Strange as it may seem, the Third Reich was one of the first large-scale adopters of the relatively new invention of decaffeinated coffee, whose consumption was promoted as official government policy. Nazi doctrine called for citizens to adopt a healthy, natural lifestyle in order to produce a stronger, more virile Aryan race, encouraging them to exercise regularly and avoid alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. And decaf coffee was the ideal tool with which to promote these ideals.

The first decaffeination process was developed 30 years earlier by Ludwig Roselius, who discovered that a shipment of coffee beans which had become soaked in seawater had somehow been stripped of its caffeine. After patenting the process in 1905, Roselius founded his own company, Kaffee HAG, which sold decaffeinated coffee under the brand name Sanka, short for the French “Sans-Caféine.” 

 While Sanka sold well throughout the 1910s and 1920s, it wasn’t until the rise of the Nazis that its popularity truly took off, the product being promoted in official propaganda and served in large quantities at Nazi rallies, festivals, and other government-sponsored events. But not all of this success was strictly due to government involvement. Despite their best efforts, Nazi attempts to reduce smoking and alcohol consumption were unsuccessful, and it is likely that Sanka’s popularity was due more to its status as a luxury product than its supposed health benefits. And if the irony of the Nazis shunning coffee while embracing meth wasn’t enough, Roselius’ decaffeination process left behind traces of Benzene, a far more toxic substance than caffeine even in small quantities.

Whatever the reasons for its popularity, after the war Sanka and other brands of decaf coffee became worldwide bestsellers, taking their place alongside Fanta as an unexpectedly long-lived culinary legacy of the Third Reich.

Expand for References

Nambi, Karthick, The Man Who Drugged Hitler – Dr. Theodor Morell, Medium, https://medium.com/lessons-from-history/the-man-who-drugged-hitler-dr-theodor-morell-2375fb8bb5ff

 How Hitler’s Flatulence May Have Helped End WWII Earlier Than it Otherwise Would Have, Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader, July 18, 2016, http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2016/07/hitlers-flatulance/

 

Sedacca, Matthew, Why the Nazi Party Loved Decaf Coffee, Atlas Obscura, November 15, 2017, https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/decaf-coffee-nazi-party

 

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