Exclusion and Extinction - the Fight against Narcotics in the Third Reich

By Mach, Holger | Journal of Drug Issues, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Exclusion and Extinction - the Fight against Narcotics in the Third Reich


Mach, Holger, Journal of Drug Issues


Social exclusion - currently defined as an undesired phenomenon that governments and societies at large are supposed to be battling against - used to be held in high regard during the fascist reign in Germany. This article shows how stigmatization and exclusion policies towards drug dealers and users during the Third Reich prepared the policy of extermination and anticipated the anti-drug discourse in contemporary Germany.

EXCLUSION OR INCLUSION?

The objectives and agendas of a political ideology based on and fostering social exclusion is hardly imaginable anymore. So-called racist outrages are now being scandalized everywhere (from Indonesia to Manchester), mainly because of their deviation from the ideal of equality. Respecting other religious faiths is generally part of that ideal, and many sexual behaviors once considered deviant are now commonly accepted - except for pedophilia. It is clear that the limits of legitimate social expression are not nearly as narrow as they once were. Actual exclusions have become relatively rare and are difficult to explain and legitimize when they occur.

This was entirely different under the National Socialist (NS) regime in which nationalist-racist discourse and the exclusion of"alien" and "racially inferior" Volk1 was a revered state obligation. Casual use of narcotics was then considered a vice detrimental to the Volk. Gradually, new terms and an increasingly negative morality were attached to narcotics users. This development did not have any precursors before Fascism, but after it the new general attitude persisted and even grew.

THE INITIAL SITUATION BEFORE THE NAZI TAKEOVER

Following what can be referred to as a "wave" of morphine and cocaine use in the 1920s, the situation returned to normal in Germany. Furthermore, in December 1929 the new Opium Law went into effect, the first legislation to threaten serious sanctions against users in the form of imprisonment of up to three years. Although there was some rise in drug convictions after the Nazi takeover, the actual crime statistics show only a small number of cases (for 1936, only 122 cases) (Ellinger, 1974, p. 27; Scheerer, 1982, p. 64). One explanation that has been offered for this apparent diminution in use was that it had become more difficult to obtain illicit substances, particularly because it had been declared punishable for medical doctors to prescribe narcotics without adequate justification. Following the passage of the new law, users increasingly switched to barbiturates or codeine medications, as these did not require prescriptions. Users also could look for equivalent substances that were not yet controlled.2

In this manner, the NS government was able to first focus its attention on alcohol and tobacco. At the time, it was estimated that there were 8,000 narcotics users in Germany, half of whom were assumed to be living in Berlin. These numbers paled when compared with a national figure of 300,000 alcoholics (Thomas, 1938, p. 102). By the order of the Reichsgesundheitsamt (health ministry), narcotics and other addictions were to be avoided as subjects of public discussion.' Even the scientific media only reported these numbers in order not to convey the "wrong picture."

Toward the end of the 1930s, the use of illicit drugs was probably largely restricted to members of the medical professions who had special access to such substances. The use prevalence among doctors for that time period is estimated to have been 109 out of 10,000 (Flaig, 1935, p. 626).4

NS IDEOLOGY

The fight against narcotics was legitimized by Section 21 of the NS party program: "Enhancement of Public Health." The NS health authority strongly advocated prevention campaigns "for a sane and abstinent life." In addition, they proposed educational and prohibition campaigns against alcohol and tobacco use and for the advocated elimination of advertising for these substances. …

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