Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family – Part 18

Papa’s First Experiences as a POW

As a US sergeant was marching a miserable lot of captured German soldiers to the railway station, a drunk Red Army man attempted to strike them with the butt of his rifle but refrained when ordered by the GI to back off. However, great was their horror, when shortly afterwards they saw an American soldier from under a bridge aim his gun at them apparently for the fun of target practice. Papa heard distinctly the click of the trigger followed by the soldier’s derisive laughter, clearly displaying his pleasure of having struck terror into the hearts of the hapless bunch of captives. After a tiring march, they finally arrived at a provisional POW gathering station, where they spent a cold night in the open-air facility. Their treatment was good. Papa felt great relief knowing that, at least for him and fellow prisoners, the war was finally over. He was also becoming optimistic about the near future after hearing the officer in charge of the camp say that they would be treated fairly in keeping with international law and the Geneva Convention.

American HQ near Erfurt April 12 1945

After another cold night without shelter, they received, considering they were POWs, a royal breakfast. It consisted of seized German army provisions such as pumpernickel, canned meat and even chocolate once intended as rations for the Air Force. Thus, strengthened by the high-calorie intake, they went on a four-hour march, bringing them to a stadium. They had permission to salvage wood from the dilapidated buildings to make a fire for cooking and to build primitive shelters for protection against the cold and the rain. During the next couple of days, they were being moved frequently from one place to another until they arrived by army truck at a camp at Kirchheim near the city of Bad Hersfeld.

Modern Bad Hersfeld – Photo Credit: Tripadvisor

When Papa had identified himself based on the official documents that he had always carried with him and thus convinced his captors that he was indeed a high-ranking officer, he was immediately given at least for now preferential treatment. He found some relatively comfortable sleeping quarters in the attic of a house confiscated and occupied by the American forces. When Papa arrived, eight other German officers had to share the room. By evening eight more POWs were added to their lot, making things so tight that Papa had to lie down under the table for a good night’s sleep. There was plenty of food. In his notes, Papa marvelled how quickly one could forget past ordeals if one only has some decent food in one’s stomach. The following day, he enjoyed taking in a sumptuous breakfast with delicious items he had not consumed for the last couple of weeks. He felt refreshed, and a new sense of optimism filled his entire being. Some of the items on the breakfast menu were cake and coffee, tea and lemon. Feeling liberated from the ideological shackles, most officers present, even those, who had once strong leanings to the Nazi regime before, displayed a very noticeable shift in their outward behaviour. Less than twenty-four hours after their arrival, they no longer saluted each other with ‘Heil Hitler’ but were quite content to greet one another with a simple ‘Good morning.’

11 Replies to “Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family – Part 18”

  1. It almost seems ironic that high ranking officers in the enemy army would be treated better than the rank and file. In any event I am glad that your father-in-law felt he was well treated.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is unfair that officers who had a better life than the common soldiers during the battles were also treated less harshly in most cases when they became POWs. But soon Walter Panknin had to endure the same horrible things in the huge prison camps set up on the western side of the River Rhine. More to come …

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The like is for his survival! So it seems like not all Americans treated the prisoners according to the Geneva Convention. The loser in a war is always a punching ball, but the last world war was devastating for all parts involved. As every war, really.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I find it amusing to read about the quick change in ideological moorings. Reminds me of my own experiences while working for large corporations where one must profess allegiance to the prevailing school of thought, or face consequences. Of course, much less consequential than in the case of war. Perhaps ‘self preservation’ is mankind’s go-to philosophy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ein einfaches “Guten Morgen” genügt doch auch.
    Solche Entbehrungen machen gerade wieder Leute durch, die nicht rechtzeitig von den Verantwortlichen abgezogen wurden und nun um ihr Leben bangen müssen..

    Liked by 1 person

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