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When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain: History's Unknown Chapters
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When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain: History's Unknown Chapters

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by Giles Milton

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Obscure and addictive true tales from history told by one of our most entertaining historians, Giles Milton

The first installment in Giles Milton's outrageously entertaining series, History's Unknown Chapters: colorful and accessible, intelligent and illuminating, Milton shows his customary historical flair as he delves into the little-known stories


Obscure and addictive true tales from history told by one of our most entertaining historians, Giles Milton

The first installment in Giles Milton's outrageously entertaining series, History's Unknown Chapters: colorful and accessible, intelligent and illuminating, Milton shows his customary historical flair as he delves into the little-known stories from the past.

There's the cook aboard the Titanic, who pickled himself with whiskey and survived in the icy seas where most everyone else died. There's the man who survived the atomic bomb in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And there's many, many more.

Covering everything from adventure, war, murder and slavery to espionage, including the stories of the female Robinson Crusoe, Hitler's final hours, Japan's deadly balloon bomb and the emperor of the United States, these tales deserve to be told.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“If you get a kick out of odd historical trivia like that, you’ll devour “When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain,” the first installment in Giles Milton’s new “History’s Unknown Chapters” series. Packed with 50 stories your social studies teacher probably skipped, the book sports a wandering eye and witty voice that make for diverting winter reading.”—The Washington Post

"A list of insurance claims taken out on pets drowned with the Titanic. A legend detailing the various forms of Chinese castrati. A detailed description—by the oh-so-fittingly named Sir Hamon L’Estrange—of a dodo a mere quarter century before the bird’s extinction. These moments are the winking epigraphs of grinning Death, gleaned from Giles Milton’s history of the bizarre, the obfuscated and the macabre. And what a history it is!"—Paste Magazine

"50 brief but detailed stories, from the hilarious to the absurd."—The Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Fans of history, trivia, and Miilton's previous works will delight in this collection of lesser-known historical stories."—Library Journal (starred review)

"Stranger than fiction? Possibly, but life always seems to create more bizarre people and unforeseen happenings than most writers will ever imagine."—CounterPunch

“[An] easily digestible mix of humor, trivia, and solid research….Dozens of seemingly too-good-to-be-true tales…There are plenty of fabulously dramatic adventures here…Milton’s entertaining collection is sure to leave readers waiting for the next volume in the series."—Publishers Weekly

“Milton has assembled an easily digestible compendium of historical oddities about the famous and infamous.”—Kirkus Reviews

Library Journal
★ 11/15/2015
A man on the RMS Titanic got so drunk that he survived the terrible cold of the North Atlantic water until he was pulled onto a lifeboat. Agatha Christie disappeared for 11 days in 1926 and was found in a hotel under the name of her husband's mistress. These are just two of the fascinating accounts Milton (Russian Roulette; White Gold) shares in this wonderfully diverse collection. There are a total of 25 short tales, categorized into headings such as "I Never Knew That About Hitler" and "Ladies in Disguise." Each story is told in a narrative style that makes the reader feel the chill of Mount Everest, the fear in the trenches of two World Wars, and the hideousness of human cannibalism in the face of extreme starvation. Some of the stories will be more familiar but many more have been almost forgotten. For example, there is the odd death of Alfred Loewenstein, who fell out of his plane over the English Channel—or was he thrown out? VERDICT Fans of history, trivia, and Milton's previous works will delight in this collection of lesser-known historical stories.—Jason L. Steagall, Gateway Technical Coll. Lib., Elkhorn, WI
Kirkus Reviews
Hitler's love child and other shocking speculations. In the mode of Ripley's Believe It or Not, Milton (Russian Roulette: How British Spies Thwarted Lenin's Plot for Global Revolution, 2014, etc.) has assembled an easily digestible compendium of historical oddities about the famous and infamous, including Hitler and Lenin, Agatha Christie (who went missing, inexplicably, for 11 days in 1926), Charles Lindbergh, and a 19th-century eccentric who proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. As he romps through the past, the author introduces a physician who plied Hitler with "an extraordinary cocktail of drugs, many of which are these days classed as dangerous, addictive, and illegal"; a pair of lovers who had a hard time poisoning the woman's husband; a shipwrecked party who resorted to cannibalism; and a "prolific murderess" of infants. Some vignettes highlight bizarre coincidences: a man who survived the bombing of Hiroshima fled to Nagasaki, only to experience yet another "blinding white flash." In 1945, Pastor Archie Mitchell and his pregnant wife took five schoolchildren on a picnic in southern Oregon. Suddenly, there was an explosion—a new Japanese weapon, a balloon bomb, killed everyone except Mitchell. In 1960, serving as a missionary in Vietnam, he was captured by the Viet Cong, never to be seen again. Some episodes, such as Hitler's last days, the Lindbergh baby's kidnapping, Adolf Eichmann's capture, and a Japanese soldier's insistent fighting of World War II until 1974, may be familiar to history buffs. Less known is the story of Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic social worker, who smuggled Jewish babies out of Poland; Ota Benga, an African pygmy, who, in 1906, was caged with monkeys at the Bronx Zoo; and South African Sarah Baartman, forced to exhibit herself as the "Hottentot Venus." A few chapters will elicit a response of "so what?" But there's enough adventure, gore, and mystery to make this volume mostly entertaining.
Publishers Weekly
With an easily digestible mix of humor, trivia, and solid research, Milton (Nathaniel’s Nutmeg) introduces a new series focused on examining bizarre and oft-forgotten historical episodes. He highlights dozens of seemingly too-good-to-be-true tales, including those of Charles Joughin, a baker who survived the sinking of the Titanic by drinking an enormous amount of whiskey (some say two bottles); Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic social worker who smuggled some 2,500 Jewish children to safety during WWII; and Dutch seaman Volkert Evertszoon, who along, with his shipwrecked compatriots, is likely responsible for the extinction of the dodo bird. Readers will likely be surprised to find out that some apocryphal-sounding stories—such as that of the Japanese soldier who continued to fight WWII decades after it had ended—are true, and Milton provides sources for those interested in pursuing matters further. Though some of these stories have been told many times (the infamous escape from Alcatraz, the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, the use of the Navajo language to foil Nazi code breakers, and the daring capture of Adolf Eichmann), there are plenty of fabulously dramatic adventures here that are less well known. Milton’s entertaining collection is sure to leave readers waiting for the next volume in the series. (Jan.)

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When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain

History's Unknown Chapters

By Giles Milton


Copyright © 2016 Giles Milton
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-07878-0


Hitler's English Girlfriend

Unity Mitford was a plain-looking woman with bad teeth and a plump belly. But she had never been troubled by her strange looks and knew that she was more likely to catch the man of her dreams by speaking her mind rather than flaunting her body.

In the summer of 1934, she travelled to Munich in the hope of meeting her idol, Adolf Hitler. Although he was Führer of Germany, it was relatively easy to see him in public since he was accustomed to eating at the same cafes and restaurants each day.

When Unity learned that he often had lunch at the Osteria Bavaria, she began eating there as well. She did everything she could to catch his attention. Yet ten months were to pass before Hitler finally invited the persistent English girl to his table. The two of them chatted for half an hour and quickly realized they were soulmates.

'It was the most wonderful and beautiful [day] of my life,' wrote Unity to her father. 'I am so happy that I wouldn't mind a bit, dying. I'd suppose I am the luckiest girl in the world. For me he is the greatest man of all time.'

Her feelings were reciprocated. Hitler was particularly intrigued by Unity's middle name, Valkyrie. And he was fascinated to learn that her grandfather had translated the anti-Semitic works of Houston Stewart Chamberlain, one of his favourite authors.

Hitler began to see more and more of his fair-haired English companion, much to the annoyance of his 'official' girlfriend, Eva Braun. 'She is known as the Valkyrie and looks the part, including her legs,' wrote Braun scornfully in her diary. 'I, the mistress of the greatest man in Germany and the whole world, I sit here waiting while the sun mocks me through the window panes.'

Unity was now introduced to members of Hitler's inner circle. She got along particularly well with the thuggish Julius Streicher, publisher of the vitriolic anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer.

When Unity delivered a particularly racist diatribe against the Jews, Streicher asked if he could print it in his paper. Unity was flattered. 'The English have no notion of the Jewish danger,' began her article. 'Our worst Jews work only behind the scenes. We think with joy of the day when we will be able to say England for the English! Out with the Jews! Heil Hitler!' She ended her text with the words: 'Please publish my name in full, I want everyone to know I am a Jew hater.'

Hitler was so pleased with what Unity had written that he awarded her a golden swastika badge as well as a private box at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

She now became one of the Führer's intimates, visiting him on numerous occasions and constantly expressing her admiration for him. He was no less smitten with her: in 1938, he even offered her an apartment in Munich. Unity had high hopes of replacing Eva Braun in his affections.

By now, her behaviour had aroused the suspicions of the British Secret Service. The head of MI5, Guy Liddell, was particularly alarmed by her closeness to Hitler. He felt that her friendship with him warranted her being put on trial for high treason.

Unity refused to leave Germany, even after Britain's declaration of war on 3 September 1939. Yet she was deeply depressed by what had happened, not least because of the implications it had for her relationship with Hitler.

She took herself to the English Garden in Munich, held to her head the pearl-handled pistol that had been given to her by Hitler and pulled the trigger.

She was badly wounded but, amazingly, survived. Hospitalized in Munich (the bills were paid by Hitler), she was eventually moved to Switzerland. When she had partially recovered, her sister, Deborah, flew to Bern in order to take her home to England.

'We were not prepared for what we found: the person lying in bed was desperately ill. She had lost two stone (28 pounds), was all huge eyes and matted hair, untouched since the bullet went through her skull.'

What happened next remains shrouded in mystery. According to the official account, she was taken to the family home at Swinbrook, Oxfordshire. She learned to walk but never made a full recovery. She eventually died in 1948 as a result of meningitis caused by the bullet in her brain.

But there is also a more intriguing story about her return to England. There are rumours, never confirmed, that she was taken to a private maternity hospital in Oxford. Here, in absolute secrecy, she gave birth to Hitler's love child.

The woman who made the claim, Val Hann, is the niece of the hospital's former manager, Betty Norton. Betty had told the story to her sister, who in turn passed it on to Val.

If true, it would mean that Hitler's child is quite possibly still alive and living somewhere in England.

But the facts will never be known for certain: Betty Norton died long ago and the maternity hospital neglected to register the babies who were born during the war.


Hitler's American Nephew

He kept his identity a secret until his dying day. None of his neighbours in Patchogue, Long Island, had any idea that William Stuart Houston was actually born William Hitler. Nor did they know that his uncle had been the Führer of Nazi Germany.

It was not until long after William's death in 1987 that the truth about his identity was made public. But several unanswered questions remain, questions that his sons, three of whom are still alive and living in America, have been unable to answer.

William's story begins in Edwardian Liverpool. Adolf Hitler's half brother, Alois, had moved to the city in 1911. He married his Irish-born lover, Bridgit Dowling, and before long she was pregnant. When baby William was born, the neighbours called him 'Paddy' Hitler.

Alois abandoned his wife and son in 1914 and returned Germany. An entire decade was to pass before he renewed contact with Bridgit. When he did so, he asked her to allow William to travel to Germany.

William made a brief trip to see his father in 1929 and then returned four years later for a much longer stay. By now, he was hoping to profit from his uncle's position as Chancellor of Germany.

Hitler initially got him a temporary job in a bank. Some time later, he wangled him employment in an automobile factory, a job that William disliked intensely. He repeatedly begged his uncle for a better job, but Hitler refused to help his nephew any further. Indeed, William eventually found himself suspended from his work on Hitler's orders. He was accused of trying to sell cars for his own profit.

William continued to see Hitler occasionally, but Adolf was no longer the friendly uncle of old. 'I shall never forget the last time he sent for me,' wrote William. 'He was in a brutal temper when I arrived. Walking back and forth, brandishing his horsehide whip ... he shouted insults at my head as if he were delivering a political oration. His vengeful brutality on that day made me fear for my physical safety.'

William realized it was time to leave Germany. In February 1939, he sailed for the United States.

As war began, William began a lecture tour of the USA, denouncing his Führer-uncle for his extravagant lifestyle. 'Far from scorning lavish display,' he told his audiences, 'he has surrounded himself with luxury more extravagant than any Kaiser ever enjoyed. To decorate his new chancellery in Berlin, every museum in Germany was plundered for priceless carpets, tapestries, paintings.'

When America joined the war, William wrote to President Roosevelt asking for permission to join the US Army. The letter was sent to the FBI, who cleared him for service. According to one paper, his recruiting officer said: 'Glad to see you Hitler. My name's Hess.'

At the war's end, William set up a medical laboratory that analysed blood samples for hospitals. As the Nuremberg Trials got under way, he tried to make a complete break with his Hitler past. He changed his name to William Stuart Houston and settled with his wife in Long Island. They would eventually have four sons, three of whom remain alive to this day.

William died in 1987 and was buried in anonymity in the same grave as his mother. And there the story might have ended, were it not for an American journalist named David Gardner who began investigating the Hitler family. He eventually stumbled across the strange story of William Hitler, and discovered that members of the Hitler clan were alive and well and living in America.

The family insist that William hated Hitler until his dying day and they proudly point to his unblemished war record, fighting against Nazi Germany.

Yet two enigmas remain. Why did William Hitler chose as his new name Stuart Houston, one that is strikingly close to the name of Adolf Hitler's favourite anti-Semitic author, Houston Stewart Chamberlain?

And why did William give his eldest son, Alexander, the middle name Adolf?


When Hitler Took Cocaine

The injections began shortly after breakfast. As soon as Adolf Hitler had finished his bowl of oatmeal and linseed oil he would summon his personal physician, Theodor Morell.

The doctor would roll up his patient's sleeve in order to inject an extraordinary cocktail of drugs, many of which are these days classed as dangerous, addictive and illegal.

Every day for more than nine years, Dr Morell administered amphetamines, barbiturates and opiates in such quantities that he became known as the Reichsmaster of Injections. Some in Hitler's inner circle wondered if he wasn't trying to kill the Führer.

But Theodor Morell was far too devoted to Hitler to murder him. A grossly obese quack doctor with acrid halitosis and appalling body odour, he had first met the Führer at a party at the Berghof.

Hitler had long suffered from ill health, including stomach cramps, diarrhoea and such chronic flatulence than he had to leave the table after each meal in order to expel vast quantities of wind.

His condition was aggravated by his unconventional diet. He had forsaken meat in 1931 after comparing eating ham to eating a human corpse. Henceforth, he ate large quantities of watery vegetables, pureed or mashed to a pulp. Dr Morell watched the Führer eat one such meal and then studied the consequences. 'Constipations and colossal flatulence occurred on a scale I have seldom encountered before,' he wrote. He assured Hitler he had miracle drugs that could cure all of his problems.

He began by administering little black tablets called Dr Küster's Anti-Gas pills. Hitler took sixteen a day, apparently unaware that they contained quantities of strychnine. Although they alleviated his wind – temporarily – they almost certainly triggered the attention lapses and sallow skin that were to mark his final years.

Morell next prescribed a type of hydrolysed E. coli bacteria called Mutaflor, which seemed to further stabilize the Führer's bowel problems. Indeed Hitler was so pleased with the doctor's work that he invited him to join the inner circle of Nazi elite. Henceforth, Morell was never far from his side.

Along with his stomach cramps, Hitler also suffered from morning grogginess. To alleviate this, Morell injected him with a watery fluid that he concocted from a powder kept in gold-foil packets. He never revealed the active ingredient in this medicine, called Vitamultin, but it worked wonders on every occasion it was administered. Within a few minutes, Hitler would arise from his couch invigorated and full of energy.

Ernst-Günther Schenck, an SS doctor, grew suspicious of Dr Morell's miracle cures and managed to acquire one of the packets. When tested in a laboratory, it was found to be amphetamine.

Hitler was untroubled by what he was given, just so long as the drugs worked. It was not long before he became so dependent on Morell's 'cures' that he placed all his health problems entirely in the doctor's hands, with disastrous long-term consequences. He directed the invasion of Soviet Russia while being pumped with as many as eighty different drugs, including testosterone, opiates, sedatives and laxatives. According to the doctor's medical notebooks, he also administered barbiturates, morphine, bull semen and probiotics.

The most surprising drug that Dr Morell prescribed to the Führer was cocaine. This was occasionally used for medical ailments in 1930s Germany, but always in extremely low dosages and at a concentration of less than one per cent. Morell began administering cocaine to the Führer by means of eye-drops. Aware that Hitler expected to feel better after taking his drugs, he put ten times the amount of cocaine into the drops. Such a concentrated dose may well have triggered the psychotic behaviour that Hitler was to experience in his later years.

The Führer found cocaine extremely efficacious. According to a cache of medical documents that came to light in America in 2012 (including a forty-seven-page report written by Morell and other doctors who attended the Führer), Hitler soon began to 'crave' the drug. It was a clear sign that he was developing a serious addiction. As well as the eye-drops, he now began to snort powdered cocaine 'to clear his sinuses and soothe his throat'.

Cocaine may have induced a feeling of well-being but it did nothing to boost the Führer's lack of sexual drive. To overcome this embarrassing condition, Morell began giving him virility injections. These contained extracts from the prostate glands of young bulls. Morell also prescribed a medicine called Testoviron, a medication derived from testosterone. Hitler would have himself injected before spending the night with Eva Braun.

The long-term effect of taking such drugs, particularly amphetamines, led to increasingly erratic behaviour. The most visible manifestation of this came at a meeting between Hitler and Mussolini in northern Italy. As Hitler tried to persuade his Italian counterpart not to change sides in the war, he became wildly hysterical. According to Third Reich historian Richard Evans: 'We can be pretty sure Morell gave some tablets to Hitler when he went to see Mussolini ... [he was] completely hyper in every way, talking, gabbling, clearly on speed.'

As the war drew to a close, Hitler was in very poor health. Dependent on drugs, his arms were so punctured with hypodermic marks that Eva Braun accused Morell of being an 'injection quack'. He had turned Hitler into an addict. Yet the doctor continued to hero-worship his beloved Führer and remained with him in his Berlin bunker until almost the end.

Dr Morell was captured by the Americans soon after the fall of the Third Reich and interrogated for more than two years. One of the officers who questioned him was disgusted by his lack of personal hygiene.

Morell was never charged with war crimes and he died of a stroke in 1948, shortly after his release from prison. He left behind a cache of medical notebooks that reveal the extraordinary drug addiction of his favourite patient.

It is ironic that the man charged with restoring Hitler to good health probably did more than anyone else to contribute to his decline.


A Corpse on Everest

The corpse was frozen and bleached by the sun. It lay face down in the snow, fully extended and pointing uphill. The upper body was welded to the scree with ice. The arms, still muscular, were outstretched above the head.

Mountaineer George Mallory had last been sighted on 8 June 1924, when he and Andrew Irvine went missing while attempting to become the first men to reach the summit of Everest. Whether or not they achieved this goal has been the subject of intense speculation for ninety years.

In the spring of 1999, an American named Eric Simonson set up the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition. Five experienced mountaineers were sent high onto Everest with the aim of finding the bodies of one or both climbers.

They had a few clues to help them in their search. In 1975, a Chinese climber named Wang Hung-bao had stumbled across 'an English dead' at 26,570 feet (8,100 metres). Wang reported the find to his climbing partner shortly before being swept away by an avalanche. The precise location of the 'English dead' was never fixed.

Eric Simonson's five-strong team of experienced mountaineers were undeterred. Conrad Anker, Dave Hahn, Jake Norton, Andy Politz, and Tap Richards were determined to succeed, even though the odds were stacked against them.

Their search was concentrated on a wide snow-terrace the size of twelve football pitches. Tilted at a crazy angle, the terrace lay above 26,000 feet. The men knew that if they lost their balance, the thirty degree slope would carry them down a 7,000-foot drop to the Rongbuk Glacier.


Excerpted from When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain by Giles Milton. Copyright © 2016 Giles Milton. Excerpted by permission of Picador.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Giles Milton is a writer and journalist. He has contributed articles to most of the British national newspapers as well as many foreign publications, and specializes in the history of travel and exploration. In the course of his researches, he has traveled extensively in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas. He has written several books of nonfiction, including the bestselling Nathaniel's Nutmeg, and has been translated into fifteen languages worldwide. He is the author of the novel Edward Trencom's Nose.

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