Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family – Part 19

Arrival at the Rheinwiesen Camp

 Soon an army truck pulled up at the house to pick up the prisoners. The order was to move them farther to the west. After all, the war wasn’t over yet.  The prisoners had to be as far away from the battlefield as possible. The Germans had built the concrete superhighways, the so-called Reichsautobahns, to carry troops and supplies under the motto ‘The wheels must roll for victory.’ Now they ironically assisted the enemy in bringing in war materiel even faster while moving the POWs away from the front. Together with thousands of other POWs, their final destination was Bad Kreuznach, a picturesque town west of the River Rhine. But the camp near the city was anything but romantic. Sheer horror seized Papa when he saw a giant empty field surrounded by a high barbed-wire fence. It did not even remotely look like a camp. There were no buildings for shelter against the cold and the rain. Soon it began to dawn on him that the cramped quarters at the confiscated house in Hersfeld were luxury accommodation by comparison to this desolate place without tents or barracks.

Papa Panknin wrote his POW experiences on cigarette paper. The example above is one of the over 60 papers I found among his belongings. Only after scanning and magnifying them I was able to read his notes. How he was able to write on these tiny pieces of paper with a pencil is a mystery.

Like cattle, the guards drove them onto this field of muck and clay. There they left them without any provisions for shelter during the night. Before nightfall, the American camp officers organized the new arrivals into companies and then ordered them to build primitive hovels out of clay. They were somewhat like the sandcastles that tourists would make on the beaches of the Baltic Sea. Fortunately, although the nights were uncomfortably cold in late April and early May, the bright sunshine and fair weather contributed a lot to make life quite pleasant for the POWs. Some were sunning themselves, while others played games to while away the time. It didn’t take Papa, a passionate Skat player, very long to find partners for the most popular card game in Germany.

11 comments

  1. Pure Glory · 30 Days Ago

    Papa Panknin survived and made the best of his situation and must have had someone in past generations or currently praying for him.. Recording his thoughts on cigarette papers with pencil that you were able to read years later with modern technology is amazing. So much better to be in the open with sunshine than in filthy barracks and torture.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Stella, oh, Stella · 30 Days Ago

    I could imagine that some died of pneumonia during that time.
    Writing the papers gave him a purpose, and those little notes are part of the history of the second world war.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Peter Klopp · 30 Days Ago

      Many died in these POW camps ill equipped to take of over a million German soldiers at the end WW2.

      Like

  3. Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family – Part 19

    On Thursday, August 26, 2021, The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project wrote:

    > Peter Klopp posted: ” Arrival at the Rheinwiesen Camp Soon an army truck > pulled up at the house to pick up the prisoners. The order was to move them > farther to the west. After all, the war wasn’t over yet. The prisoners had > to be as far away from the battlefiel” >

    Like

  4. Amy · 30 Days Ago

    I hope he found some comfort there.

    Like

  5. Ann Coleman · 26 Days Ago

    It’s amazing what people can do to make the best of very bad circumstances.

    Like

  6. Steve Schwartzman · 25 Days Ago

    Wow, a cigarette-paper diary seems unique. It reminds me of how the young Brontë sisters created tiny books:
    https://www.npr.org/2011/11/23/142619460/small-book-big-story-bronte-manuscript-discovered

    Liked by 1 person

    • Peter Klopp · 25 Days Ago

      Thanks for the link! I wonder what Opa’s war notes would be worth if my father-in-law had been an illustrious novel writer.

      Like

  7. Ankur Mithal · 14 Days Ago

    I read somewhere that humans are extremely adaptable. If per capita GDP of a nation has increased 9 times in the last 100 years, that becomes a given and they try to figure out how to increase it 18 times in the next hundred. If it reduces 9 times then that becomes the starting point. It is not an excuse or explanation for inhuman conditions. I am sure I wouldn’t want to trade places with him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Peter Klopp · 12 Days Ago

      We are lucky not to face the same kind of ordeal that the POWs endured at the end of WW2.

      Liked by 1 person

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