Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family – Part 17

Life is More Important than a Clean Shirt

On Monday, April 9, Captain Panknin received yet another marching order. German troops were retreating to Weimar, where he was supposed to report for duty. After hearing that the trains were no longer running in the area, he debated whether he should walk there or try to get somehow to Erfurt. He decided to go to the latter, where he received a decent meal and accommodation at the local police station. He complained in his diary that he had not taken a bath for several weeks. Also, the dirty clothes on his body began to bother him. But when he heard that Schmira was under attack by enemy shellfire and was burning, he realized that he had been lucky again and that life was more important than the temporary inconveniences caused by lack of hygiene and cleanliness.

Front Lines April 1945

The following night Opa wrote another letter to Mutti in the relative security of the HQ. At 23 hours, he had just stretched out on his bed when enemy shells exploded in closest proximity to the building, where Opa was trying to find some rest. He quickly rushed down the stairs to the basement that served as a bomb shelter. Many people from the neighbourhood were packing the already overcrowded facilities. Opa had to sleep in the hallway. But it was not a night of good sleep, as stragglers were stumbling over his cot. During these fitful moments of sleeplessness, he was debating in his mind whether he should attempt to walk to Weimar the very next morning. For all train services into and out of Erfurt had been discontinued. An inner voice advised him to stay put and wait with the other police force members until the end of these crazy chaotic conditions. I heard the desperate silent cry of despair while reading the question in his notes, “When will finally somebody come and take us prisoners?”

American Army at Erfurt April 12, 1945 – Photo: erfurt.de


At last American soldiers appeared at the basement door. An army captain was calling him and his bedraggled troop to come out of the basement. Earlier other German soldiers had put on civilian clothes. There was one among them who had some command of the English language. When the Gi’s stormed the building, he cried out with a pleading voice, “Don’t shoot. I am not a German Hitler soldier!” These were the final moments when around eight o’clock in the morning of April 12, 1945, Opa became a POW of the US forces in Thuringia.

14 comments

  1. Amy · August 13

    I hope he was treated well as a POW.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Peter Klopp · August 13

      There have terrible moments in his POW time as you will find out in later posts. But the silver lining was that he was being released relatively early to return to his family.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Amy · August 14

        At least there’s a happy ending. War truly is awful.

        Like

  2. Stella, oh, Stella · August 13

    I hope he did not suffer so much in an American prison camp. I was told that people hoped to be taken prisoner by Americans. The French, English and Russians were really hostile towards the Germans, understandingly so.

    I heard that the Russian prison camps were the worst. That’s where my grandfather ended up in; he was a male nurse and with the military hospital convoy at the eastern front near Leningrad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Peter Klopp · August 13

      Nach erster guter Behandlung landete er mit Millionen anderen POWs in den berüchtigten Rheinwiesen Lagern. Mehr davon in einigen Posts, die noch kommen.

      Like

  3. Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family – Part 17. We have a Walter in our maternal family.

    On Friday, August 13, 2021, The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project wrote:

    > Peter Klopp posted: ” Life is More Important than a Clean Shirt On Monday, > April 9, Captain Panknin received yet another marching order. German troops > were retreating to Weimar, where he was supposed to report for duty. After > hearing that the trains were no longer running ” >

    Like

  4. Ankur Mithal · August 13

    Each time I read an edition of this story, I think about the triviality of some of the worries which we have in our safe, secure lives today. In the big scheme, most of them are meaningless.

    Like

  5. Labby · August 14

    Hallo Peter, das ist wirklich wieder ein sehr interessanter Bericht. Ich weiß von meinen Großeltern, dass die auch damals die Amerikaner sehnlichst erwartet hatten. Da hieß es “bloß nicht den Russen in die Hände fallen” egal ob die Briten, Amerikaner oder Franzosen kommen. Schön das alles gut ausgegangen ist. Liebe Grüße Wolfgang

    Liked by 1 person

    • Peter Klopp · August 16

      Wie du sehen wirst, war auch die amerikanische Gefangenschaft kein Erholungsurlaub.

      Like

  6. Ann Coleman · August 14

    Your stories have a way of making the horrors and uncertainties of war so very real, even after all these years. I can’t begin to imagine how hard this must have been for those who actually lived through it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Peter Klopp · August 16

      Similar turmail and terror can be found all over the world today. Our world leaders have not learned the lessons of the past. Too sad!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Anonymous · August 16

    Dankeschön sehr lehrreich macht mir freude es zu lesen

    Like

  8. Steve Schwartzman · August 16

    This is timely, now that the Afghan army has surrendered to the Taliban.

    Like

    • Peter Klopp · August 16

      So true! What will be the fate of those who are going to be left behind???

      Like

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