Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family – Part 6

Running Afoul with the Nazi Regime

While these were happy times for the Panknin family, storm clouds gathered over Germany’s political landscape when the Nazis took control of the government in 1933. Two incidents had an immediate disturbing impact on Papa and his family. During election times, at rallies, and on numerous other occasions, the stormtroopers of the SA, whose methods of violent intimidation played a key role in Hitler’s rise to power, carried out physical attacks on political opponents, Jews, communists and trade unionists. 

Police Officer Walter Panknin 1927

On the night when Hitler seized power, roughneck elements of this vast paramilitary organization overpowered practically every local government in the country.  In the small town Kamen near Dortmund, where Papa had been in charge of maintaining law and order for almost ten years, his police staff captured and arrested an unruly mob of some twenty SA men. On the next day, the newspapers, already under the control of the Nazi regime, requested the immediate dismissal of First Lieutenant Walter Panknin. Although he managed to keep his position, his refusal to go with the flow of the political current caused him much grief in the months and years to come. He based all his actions on following the law and his conscience. Rather than blindly following the ideology of a political party, he took a common-sense approach within the jurisdiction entrusted to him by his country. 

Hike in the Spessart Forests 1934

Even more severely affecting his professional advancement in the police force and ultimately safety for him and the family was the second incident. In their drive for complete control over the lives of German citizens, the Nazi authorities stripped the court system of its independent status, which had so far guaranteed a fair trial to all citizens no matter what crime they had committed. Equally sinister was the forced subordination of the arm of the law, the police force, into the new political system. All officers of the security forces were automatically and without exception registered as members of the NSDAP (National Socialist Party). They also asked Papa to leave the church, which he steadfastly refused despite threats of punitive actions and reprisals. Worse, all leaders of the various police departments were under pressure to join the infamous SS organization. When Papa declined, he knew that he would become suspect as someone not following the party line. He was fully aware that his refusal to join would appear to make him an opponent to the Nazi regime further down the road. Walter Panknin had to put up with constant harassment and ridicule by the party-liners. But fortunately, he had some influential colleagues who knew him as a friend and capable officer. They must have put in a word on his behalf. Papa spoke very little about his troubles in the privacy of their apartment. With great determination, he managed to maintain the feeling of peace and security, at least within the walls of their home. 

Daughter Elsbeth Panknin in their Home in Gotha 1936

19 thoughts on “Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family – Part 6

  1. I see dark clouds brewing … it was dangerous to do what Walter did, a truly brave and honourable man. There weren’t too many of his kind. People were also afraid for their families and not only themselves though, the concept of Sippenhaft was really apt to make people act against their conscience.

    The Nazis even went after the social democrats, which all the family members on my mother’s side belonged to. They all lost their jobs and did not get a new one as long as the war lasted. But they were drawn as soldiers and were expected to give their lives for their country, no, not for their country, for the regime.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a brave and conscientious man he must have been to withstand all that pressure. You must be so proud and should be. He sounds exceptional in so many ways.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It takes a strong man to obey God and one’s conscience rather than the popular regime. What a heritage of Biene to have a father of principles. In the long run, his persistence in doing what was right paid great dividends.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s gratifying to hear that Walter Panknin based all his actions on following the law and his conscience rather than blindly following the ideology of a political party. I’ve had to start taking a stand in the United States due to the rapid rise of illiberal forces in the United States.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I sometimes wonder about the lives and motivations of the ardent supporters of the Nazi regime. Most books and accounts I have read take the Nazi supporters as a given, without going into their early lives and motivations. I dont mean Hitler and Goebbels and other top leaders, but the common supporters. On the other hand, these books talk in great detail about the personal lives of those who did not support the regime and them being singled out and ‘handled.’ Any suggestions on books on the subject will be helpful, Peter!


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