Born and raised in Kalthof, West Prussia, steeped in the traditional work ethics of his time, Walter Panknin perceived his employment as a police officer as a contract between the state and the individual. The state offers the individual a permanent position with an income commensurate with his rank and the prospect of a pension providing security and a comfortable living for retirement. In return, the individual faithfully and honourably delivers a service to his country.
In 1915, barely seventeen years old, Papa volunteered and served as a soldier in the Great War. When the German army was reduced to 100,000 men in 1919, he embarked on a career in the police force in North Rhine-Westphalia. His leadership qualities were soon recognized, and he moved quickly up the ranks, becoming a leader of a police detachment in a small town near Dortmund during the turbulent time of the Weimar Republic. One day, while riding his bike to work, he took a spill and fell to the ground. Unfortunately, as he landed on the cobblestone street, his service pistol went off and sent a bullet through his abdomen. At the hospital, the surgeon discovered that the shot had destroyed his left kidney. So Papa had to spend the rest of his life with only one kidney.
The night before the Nazis seized power in 1933, rowdy Brownshirts (SA stormtroopers) terrorized the townspeople with their unruly behaviour in the streets. Walter Panknin, responsible for law and order, sent out the police force and had the troublemakers arrested. The very next day, a call came from the Nazi headquarters, demanding his immediate resignation. His career as a police officer would have ended if some influential friends had not put in a good word for him. That was his first brush with the new dictatorial regime.
We are now into the third week of snow and ice. In the past, the snow would melt away in a few days, even if it had fallen in enormous proportions. The thought that it is not going away one more time before Christmas makes me shiver. But my wife and I still walk over the now deserted golf course. In my desire to find some colour in the grey landscape, I found a little red in the mountain ash trees and berries that our feathered friends left behind. Rose hips also kept their red coats on, and the snow, as much as we hate it, improved the tonal quality of the pictures I am taking. I hope you will like the selection of our photo journey to the golf course.
Biene described in vivid detail her mother’s exhausting trips by public transportation and on foot to the government offices in the bigger cities. With unwavering determination, she bypassed the lower-ranked officials. She gained access to the ministers of justice and social services, an incredible feat that only people familiar with the German bureaucracy can understand. In those days, there was no phone service for the general public, no emails, and no Internet search engines that we in the twenty-first century take for granted. With her tenacity and unshakeable resolve, she managed to open doors, scout for invaluable information and find assistance in the fight to recognize their refugee status and Papa Panknin’s pension claim.
To fully understand their situation, we need to go back to 1957. The Panknin family, like so many refugees from the Soviet-controlled eastern part of Germany (GDR – German Democratic Republic), lived in extreme poverty. My father-in-law, former captain of the police force and later commander of an army unit in former Yugoslavia, provided with his meagre income the cost of food and shelter for the family of four. He worked as a dental technician in a lab in a nearby city. What his wife had accomplished by blazing a trail and opening doors to influential politicians, Walter Panknin complemented her efforts by resorting to his powerful writing skills. Reading his elaborate correspondence with the movers and shakers of the government ministries of the West German province of Rhineland-Westphalia, I gained great insight into their struggle for justice. What really impressed me was how the couple worked together as a team. I also learned that despite the glitz and glamour of the economic boom (Wirtschaftswunder), there was something rotten in Germany.
Less than four weeks ago we swam in the Whatshan Lake and enjoyed a balmy 20 degrees C warm enough for a picnic in a multi-coloured fall setting. Walking now in sub-zero temperatures with a stiff wind blowing from the northeast makes us feel as if the warm spell happened sometime in the distant past. The first snow has fallen and will mostly stay unless there is some relief coming from the relatively mild Pacific Ocean. Below are a few impressions from a recent walk on the deserted Fauquier Golf Course. Enjoy.
Biene wrote the preceding chapters based on a wealth of experiences from 1945 to the early 1960s. The story begins with her father’s return from the Bad Kreuznach POW camp to his family and home in Gotha. It ends with a vivid description of life as a refugee family in the so-called ‘Golden West.’ In loving memory, she sees her mother as a pillar of strength. She did not hesitate to jeopardize her health and well-being in the fight for justice for her husband and children. Biene depicts Papa Panknin’s stern appearance without the usual negativity often found in a father-daughter relationship. She briefly mentions her squabbles with her twin brother Walter. For example, the abusive ‘burrowing’ of her dolls and toys and often wrecking them bothered her. In retrospect, she preferred to dwell on the joys and emotional support she received from her friends while entering her teenage years.
Modest Beginning in the ‘Golden West’ – Christmas 1958
The task at hand of writing about the rest of the story will be a challenging one for me. In contrast to Biene, I did not have personal experiences with my parents-in-law. Indeed, I only had the pleasure of meeting them three years after our wedding in Canada. However, what enables me to throw detailed light on Papa and Mutti’s life is their love and passion for expressing themselves through their immense correspondence with friends and relatives. They meticulously sorted and preserved their work in well-organized, dated folders and binders.
Papa Panknin suffered from nervous tics in his facial muscles and hands dating back to WW1 shell shocks. Therefore, he used an old typewriter for his letters to government officials, friends, and relatives. Typing had the advantage of producing carbon copies for his records, for which I am very grateful, making my job as a family chronicler much easier. My writing will be drier for the most part and less colourful than Gertrud’s autobiographical notes. However, I hope that many excerpts from his correspondence, especially those dealing with family events, will be noticed even in translation. So without further ado, let the extraordinary story of the Walter Panknin family continue.
Life in the Kootenays is regulated by the ferry schedule. Last week, driving over the Monashee pass, we had 15 extra minutes. So we decided to stop at Lost Lake, which is located some 1200 m above sea level. Great was our surprise when we spotted four trumpeter swans that apparently made a short stop-over at this tiny mountain lake on their journey south to their winter quarters. They seem to be papa and mama swan with the two youngsters they had raised in the Yukon during the summer months. We had never seen these graceful birds in the wild.