The Nazi Patient

Adolf Hitler never had much luck with his doctors (not that being a hypochondriac helped).

And he certainly had his share of medical issues.  Along with lingering problems from his World War I injuries (including posttraumatic stress), he also suffered from uncontrollable flatulence. Ever since childhood, the Fuhrer experienced spasmodic stomach cramps, diarrhea, and constipation although medical historians seem divided on whether this was due to physical causes or lifelong stress.  200px-Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-S33882%2C_Adolf_Hitler_retouched[1] Whatever the reason, dining with Hitler was often an uncomfortable situation for his supporters due to the digestive attacks that happened after most meals.  Although no one dared comment whenever Hitler jumped up from the table and rushed to his room, his medical issues definitely grew worse over time.  While trying to cure himself by going over medical manuals (including embracing a vegetarian diet where possible), being a rabid hypochondriac left Adolf Hitler acutely self-conscious about his health.  Not only did he examine his stool with elaborate care, but he also experimented with various fad remedies.   Along with camomile enemas (don't ask), he also swore off meat completely after 1931 and only ate heaping plates of vegetables which were carefully prepared for him.  He also refused all cooked foods (which he considered to be cancer-inducing) and only ate a high-fibre diet.  For Adolf Hitler, a daily regimen often involved oatmeal with linseed oil, cauliflower, asparagus tips, and artichoke hearts .  This vegetarian fare did little to cure his digestive problems but der Fuhrer refused to consider anything else.  His mistrust of most medical doctors seemed to stem from the audacity of some of them to suggest that many of his problems were psychosomatic and that his self-diagnosis and treatment were at the root of his problems.

But his health issues only got worse after meeting Dr. Theodor Morell...

Born and raised in a small village in the upper Hesse,  Morell trained as a gynecologist and obstetrician and became a licensed physician in 1913.  Despite his thorough grounding in conventional medicine, he developed a reputation for favouring unconventional medical treatments in his Berlin medical practice.  Which he made various claims to an academic career, including studying under legendary bacteriologist, Elie Metchnikoff and teaching in different universities, the actual historical evidence for his acadamic career seems suspect.  Not that this stopped Morell from labelling himself as a professor at times, or owning shares in several pharmaceutical companies.   220px-Morell[1]Theodor Morell's unlikely rise to prominence only began when he met Adolf Hitler during a party at the Berghof near Berchtesgarden in the Bavarian Alps.   It still isn't clear why Hitler decided to make Morell his personal physician. 

While historians have speculated that he may have treated Hitler for his recurring syphilis, the official story seems to be that Hitler was won over after Morell helped cure a painful case of eczema on his legs and provided temporary relief for his stomach cramps.   The other Nazi doctors had little respect for Morell (aside from his fondness for quack cures, he was also grossly obese with a body odour problem) but, from 1937 onward, Dr. Theodor Morell had complete control over the Fuhrer's medical care.   Although Hitler had another doctor previously, Dr. Karl Brandt, it was Theodor Morell whose medical opinion he relied on (infuriating Brandt and the other doctors).

And it was some care.  While Theodor Morell was probably not a complete quack, the medical treatment that he provided to Adolf Hitler seems bizarre, to put it mildly.   Morell was a firm believer in polypharmacy - treatment with multiple medications  (and the fact that the good doctor owned shares in many of the drug companies likely influenced his medication choices).    He also preferred to administer drugs by injection rather than oral doses.  To deal with the Fuhrer's stomach problems,  Morell chose not to send his star patient for a thorough gastronintestinal examination (despite Germany having some of the best internists in the world).  Instead, he prescribed a generous dose of "Dr. Koester's Anti-Gas Pills" for Hitler's stomach problems.   The Fuhrer took as many as sixteen of these pills a day, which was probably a bad idea since they contained dangerous levels of strychnine and atropine.   Even in small doses, both ingredients are deadly poisons and likely contributed to many of the adverse symptoms Hitler displayed during the last years of World War II (including glazed eyes, sallow skin, attention problems, and mood swings).  

Along with the pills though, Dr. Morell also began giving his patient daily injections of methamphetamine.   It is hard to say when Dr. Morrell first introduced Adolf Hitler to this new medication (or whose idea it was) but the daily injections apparently began by late 1941 or early 1942.  This was in addition to the other medications, including methamphetamine pills that Hitler took by mouth.  Hitler's arms eventually became riddled with injection marks and even Eva Braun grew to despise Morell and referred to him as "that injection quack" as she was talking to her mother.   She also dismissed his office as being a "pig sty" and refused to allow him to give her any more medical care.   By 1942 however, even Hitler's staunchest supporters were noticing that their leader was becoming increasingly bizarre with signs of distrust, irritability, loss of control, and poor decision-making - all signs of methamphetamine addiction.   These symptoms continued right up to the end of the war and Adolf Hitler's suicide on April 30, 1945.  

After their leader developed jaundice in 1944, three other doctors (including Karl Brandt) tried to have Morell fired but Hitler adamantly opposed them.  Whether this was through loyalty to Morell or his own amphetamine addiction is an open question.    Suspicious of the jaundice attack, Heinrich Himmler even went so far as to question Morell's assistant, Richard Weber, over whether the doctor was deliberately poisoning their leader, Weber replied that it was "out of the question.  Morell's too big of a coward for that".  While Hitler's mental deterioration during the last months of his life has been extensively written about and attributed to mental illness and the corrupting influence of absolute power, a more recent book has suggested that the treatment received from Dr. Morell may have played an important role in his downfall.  

As for Theodor Morell, his own downfall was rapid enough.  On April 22, 1945,  a week before his suicide, Adolf Hitler dismissed Morell from his Fuhrenbunker in Berlin and told him that he no longer needed medical care.   In poor health himself, Morell left a large supply of medicine in the bunker for Hitler's needs and managed to catch one of the last German flights out of the city.  He quickly fell into Allied hands however and spent the next two years in an internment camp on the site of the former Buchenwald concentration camp.   While the interrogators were repelled by Morell's lack of personal hygiene (his body odour was as bad as ever), they managed to collect complete details of the astonishing treatment that he provided Hitler.  In addition to the amphetamine injections, Hitler also took more than twenty-eight other kinds of medication including vitamins, testosterone, opiates, liver extracts, laxatives, and sedatives.  That also included some more innovative remedies including cocaine eyedrops (Hitler had ten of these a day), human placenta compounds, and "potency pills" made from ground bull's testicles.  According to Theodor Morell's diaries (now in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.), Hitler still suffered from daily flatulence despite the bizarre range of medications Morell offered.   If Morell hadn't been such an obvious Nazi toady, the Allies might well have pinned him with a medal for his role in Hitler's defeat.   As it was, he was released after two years of internment without ever being charged.   He died on March 26, 1948 of stroke-related problems.

It's easy to dismiss Dr. Theodor Morell as a total quack who was only propelled to the ranks of power because he was willing to provide his star patient with the medical care that more ethical doctors wouldn't.  Still, many of those same "ethical doctors" (including Karl Brandt) were later prosecuted for a range of war crimes involving human medical experimentation and other Nazi extermination policies.  Since there was no evidence that Morell was involved in the same way that other Nazi medical doctors were, he was never charged.  Presumably, Morell wasn't considered competent enough to participate in mass murder.

 If so, being a quack had its advantages

 

           

Related Stories

  • The Great New York Starvation Challenge
  • The Evolution of Charlotte Bach
  • The Phantom Cannibal (Part Two of Two)
 

 
disclaimer

The information provided on the PsyWeb.com is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her health professional. This information is solely for informational and educational purposes. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Neither the owners or employees of PsyWeb.com nor the author(s) of site content take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading this site. Always speak with your primary health care provider before engaging in any form of self treatment. Please see our Legal Statement for further information.

PsyWeb Poll

Are you currently taking or have you ever been prescribed anti-depressants?
Yes
50%
No
50%
Total votes: 3979