Scent of a Führer
Hitler wanted to control the world. But he couldn't even control his flatulence.
Guests at the Berghof, Hitler’s private chalet in the Bavarian Alps, must have endured some unpleasant odors in the otherwise healthful mountain air.
It may sound like a Woody Allen scenario, but medical historians are unanimous that Adolf was the victim of uncontrollable flatulence. Spasmodic stomach cramps, constipation and diarrhea, possibly the result of nervous tension, had been Hitler’s curse since childhood and only grew more severe as he aged. As a stressed-out dictator, the agonizing digestive attacks would occur after most meals: Albert Speer recalled that the Führer, ashen-faced, would leap up from the dinner table and disappear to his room.
This was an embarrassing problem for a ruthless leader of the Third Reich. With uncharacteristic concern for his fellow human beings, Hitler had first tried to cure himself when he was a rising politician in 1929 by poring over medical manuals, coming to the conclusion that a largely veg diet would calm his turbulent digestion as well as make his farts less offensive to the nose. A rabid hypochondriac, he would also examine his own feces on a regular basis and administer himself camomile enemas. Hitler decided to swear off meat completely in 1931, when his niece (and presumed romantic interest) Geli Raubel committed suicide: When presented with a plate of breakfast ham the next morning, he pushed it away muttering, “It’s like eating a corpse.” From that squeamish moment on, great piles of vegetables, raw or pulped into a baby mulch, were Hitler’s daily staple. (All cooked foods, he decided, were carcinogenic). He showed a particular fondness, culinary historians assure us, for oatmeal with linseed oil, cauliflower, cottage cheese, boiled apples, artichoke hearts and asparagus tips in white sauce. Strangely, Hitler was unfazed by the fact that this high-fiber diet was having the opposite effect on his digestion than what he had intended: His private physician, Dr. Theo Morell, recorded in his diary that after Hitler downed a typical vegetable platter, “constipation and colossal flatulence occurred on a scale I have seldom encountered before.”
Hitler’s stomach problems may even have played their part in his losing the war, thanks to this shadowy figure of Dr. Morell, an incompetent quack who took over Hitler’s medical care in 1937. The pair had met at a Christmas gathering in the Berghof, the bucolic mountain retreat decorated with Bavarian knick-knacks and edelweiss, the year before. Morrell was an unpleasant figure even by Nazi standards – grossly obese, with frog-like features, sulfurous B.O. and venomous halitosis. But when he cured a painful case of eczema on Hitler’s legs and provided temporary relief for his stomach cramps, the Führer was won over. To the irritation of other Nazi doctors, Hitler then proceeded to swallow any of Morell’s advice, no matter how harebrained, for the next eight years.
For example, to combat recurrences of the volcanic stomach problems, Morell plied him with a remedy called “Dr. Köster’s Anti-gas pills,” which contained significant amounts of strychnine – and Hitler often took as many as 16 of the little black pills a day. The sallow skin, glaucous eyes and attention lapses noted by observers later in the war are consistent with strychnine poisoning; another ingredient in the pills, antropine, causes mood wings from euphoria to violent anger. Even more peculiar were the injections of amphetamines that Morell administered every morning before breakfast from 1941, which may have exacerbated the erratic behavior, inflexibility, paranoia and indecision that Hitler began to display increasingly as the war ground on. And there was a barrage of other supplements -- vitamins, testosterone, liver extracts, laxatives, sedatives, glucose and opiates, all intended to combat the dictator’s real or imagined ailments. After the war, U.S. intelligence officers discovered that Morell was pumping Hitler with 28 different drugs, including eye-drops that contained 10 percent cocaine (up to 10 treatment a day), a concoction made from human placenta and “potency pills” made from ground bull’s testicles. But despite the barrage of medicines, Morell’s diaries (which were recovered from Germany and are kept in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.) make clear that the bouts of “agonizing flatulence” remained a regular occurrence.
A relatively healthy man when he met Morell, Hitler degenerated quickly towards the end of the war until he was a physical wreck. Hitler’s arms were so riddled with hypodermic marks that even the normally passive Eva Braun complained to her mother about Morell as “the injection quack.” When Hitler came down with jaundice in 1944, three Nazi doctors tried to have Morell fired. But the Führer remained fiercely loyal – or just as likely, addicted to his chemical cocktails – and dismissed the trio of troublemakers instead. Morell stayed with Hitler in the Bunker almost until the bitter end, as his patient began to fall apart completely (and a tremor in his left hand became uncontrollable, a probable symptom of advancing Parkinson’s disease). On April 20, 1945, days before the Russians took Berlin, Hitler suddenly refused Morell’s hypodermic, ordered him to strip off his uniform and leave. Desperately ill himself, Morell was soon captured by the U.S. Army and kept in prison for two years of interrogations, but was never charged with war crimes. He was hospitalized immediately after his release and died in 1948.
If he had not been so cravenly devoted to Hitler, a hero-worship he expressed over and again to U.S. interrogators, one might have thought Morell a spy. It was a suspicion that had occurred to other Nazis, especially during the 1944 jaundice attack. Heinrich Himmler interrogated Morell’s assistant Richard Weber in Berlin’s Gestapo Headquarters about whether the doctor was deliberately poisoning the Führer with his treatments. “Out of the question,” Weber replied. “Morell’s too big a coward for that.” • 24 October 2007
SOURCES/FURTHER READING: Gordon, Bertram, “Fascism, the Neo-Right and Gastronomy: A Case in the Theory of the Social Engineering of Taste,” Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery (1987); Heston, Leonard and Renate, The Medical Casebook of Adolf Hitler: His Illnesses, Doctors and Drugs, (New York, 2000); Irving, David, The Secret Diaries of Hitler’s Doctor, (London, 1983); Waite, Robert G.L., The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler, New York, 1993.
Tony Perrottet's new book, Napoleon's Privates: 2,500 Years of History Unzipped, is a literary version of a Cabinet of Curiosities (HarperCollins, July, 2008; napoleonsprivates.com). He is also the author of Pagan Holiday: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists and The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games.