Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and his Family – Part 2

Papa and the Horrors Of World War I

The Arnold Panknin Family: Gertrud, Toni, Rudi, Walter (standing) and Arnold Panknin

Like my parents, Papa had his family roots in the Eastern provinces of Germany, which are now part of Poland. After WWI, when as part of the Treaty of Versailles, West Prussia was incorporated into Poland’s newly re-established state, the Panknin family members resettled and resided in and around Berlin. Walter Panknin was born to Arnold and Gertrud Panknin (née Weber) on May 26th, 1898, in Kalthof near Marienburg (Malbork in Polish), former West Prussia. He had two younger siblings, his brother Rudi and sister Toni. During the early war years, probably inspired by the great naval battles between the British and German Imperial fleets, Papa and Rudi devised a naval battle game, not unlike the war game that I had created during my teenage years. The game board, of course, has long been lost. But the notebook, with its meticulously drawn pictures of Walter and Rudi’s fleets with the neat description of the ships’ tonnage and type in beautiful gothic handwriting, has survived a century-long journey. After WWII, Papa maintained with brother and sister and his old penpal Kampmann an extensive correspondence. I was able to glean a wealth of information, as they referred in their letters to the turbulent times before and during the war.

Page from Papa’s Notebook 1915

When Papa turned eighteen in 1916, the year after his father had passed away, he fought on the Western Front for Germany’s honour and glory. Likewise, in an unparalleled patriotic fervour, young men on the British and French side were willing to die in a senseless and gory war. Papa escaped death on numerous occasions. And when the war that was supposed to end all wars was finally over, he emerged physically unscathed from the horrific slaughterhouse of the killing fields in the West. But Papa had to bear for the rest of his life a heavy psychological burden. For he witnessed the maiming and killing of comrades, the endless shelling, and the miserable life in the trenches. The inglorious forced march back to Germany and the pain of the awareness that it had all been in vain must have affected him deeply.

Walter Panknin 1917

By the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, the German army was reduced to 100,000 men. Thus, there was no future in a military career for Papa, even though he had advanced to a lieutenant’s rank while fighting on the western front. In his search to find meaningful employment, he went into a training program, which at its successful completion allowed him to seek employment as a qualified dental technician. In 1922 he moved to the small town of Gassen (Polish Jasien today), West Prussia, and until 1927 worked in a dental lab facility.

17 comments

  1. Stella, oh, Stella · April 9

    18 is a very young age to be fighting in a war. All those young men on all sides must have been scarred for life. I have in vain tried to understand, how this war that was started in Austria came to involve most of Europe. It does not make sense to me at all.
    I was once able to write Gothic, we actually learned at school. I can still read it, printed.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Peter Klopp · April 11

      My father born in 1900 was drafted in 1918. He was lucky since the war ended shortly afterwards.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. kopfundgestalt · April 9

    Wenn man realisiert, dass alles “nonsense ” war, all das elend und das sterben , dann bleibt einem oft nichts anderes übrig, das zu integrieren und sich irgendwann wieder missbrauchen zu lassen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Peter Klopp · April 11

      Dass sich die Menschheit immer bekriegen muss, um ihre Differenzen zu begleichen, ist eine Schande.

      Liked by 1 person

      • kopfundgestalt · April 11

        Das ist eine interessante Frage wer Zettelt kriege an? Wer beeinflusst ein Volk dahingehend , dass es den bewaffneten Konflikt will.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Peter Klopp · April 11

        Diejenigen, die mit Waffen handeln und mit den Mordwaffen Profit machen, sind gleich an erster Stelle.

        Liked by 1 person

      • kopfundgestalt · April 12

        Sicherlich.
        Auch je abgehobener eine Institution , um so selbstverständlicher verfügt sie über die Massen.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Amy · April 10

    It is hard to imagine seeing what he experienced in the war. Your post made me think of Erich Remarque’s unforgettable book, All Quiet on the Western Front.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ann Coleman · April 10

    I can’t even imagine how hard it must have been to fight in that war. Even those who survived physically were scarred emotionally. He was a brave man for sure!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Peter Klopp · April 11

      It is sad that humankind cannot settle their differences without resorting to war. Thank you for your compassionate comment, Ann!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Steve Schwartzman · April 13

    As long as people are greedy, eager for power to control others, there will be wars. Such, I’m afraid, is human nature.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ankur Mithal · April 18

    But man will never learn 😦 And old statesmen and politicians will continue to send 18-year olds to die on the promise of highly questionable glory.

    Liked by 1 person

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