Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family – Part 20

Coping with Rain, Mud, and Hunger

Suddenly, the weather changed from one day to the next and brought rain and more for the next seven days. Temperatures plunged to near freezing at night, while water soon filled their clay huts and made it impossible to sleep on the ground. Poor Papa Panknin tried to sleep while standing on one leg for a couple of minutes, then switching to the other. Once, he succeeded in catching a few winks, only to wake up in horror discovering to his utter dismay that he had plunged face down into the mud. He summarized his dismal experiences as triple torture of standing, starving and freezing. From the highest-ranking officer down to the common soldier, every POW had to endure the cold nights and the rainy days. The weather made no distinction. It fooled the prisoners by raising their hopes when short periods of clear skies promised a sunny, dry day, only to revert to more rain during the day.

One of the many overcrowded POW camps: The Rhinewiesen Camps, where Papa landed in April 1945

In the first week of May, the sun did not show its face for five long days. Papa was constantly scanning the sky for a sign of change in the weather. His long gaze created the hope that if he looked hard enough, he would perhaps discover a patch of blue on the murky horizon. Indeed, Papa thought he had found a definite shift from gray to blue. When he proudly announced his comrades the changes he had observed in the clouds, they all laughed at him. Like a desert traveller fancying an oasis, where there is none, so Papa had fallen victim to the mirage that had formed in his desperate mind. Perhaps hot, nutritious meals would have helped a little to provide some strength and warmth. Alas, the thin soups were getting lighter and often arrived cold at their swampy mud hole.

The posts on Walter Panknin are based on the notes he had written on tiny cigarette paper before and during his POW time. How he could write his experiences on such miniscule paper will be perhaps be forever a mystery.

During one night, Papa tried to find some rest for his tired feet by sitting on a water container, but completely exhausted fell two times asleep and into the muck. Unkempt and unshaven, covered in filth, he felt more like an animal than a human being. There was strife and petty spats over tiny morsels of food. There was no wood to make a fire, not even for roasting the few potatoes that had been made available for the hungry men. Papa built a primitive grating tool out of a tin can, into which he had punched some twenty holes. Now he could shred a potato into a porridge-like pulp, which he ate raw to get some badly needed nutrients, minerals and vitamins into his belly.

11 comments

  1. Stella, oh, Stella · 22 Days Ago

    A real hell hole! It is a miracle that he survived the freezing and hunger, and even saved his diary in all the rain and mud. On the photo they are stacked like sardines, the ideal condition for diseases like cholera, thyphus and others. What humans do to humans is the worst …

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Missionarysights · 22 Days Ago

    lighter skies and cool temps.

    On Friday, September 3, 2021, The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project wrote:

    > Peter Klopp posted: ” Coping with Rain, Mud, and Hunger Suddenly, the > weather changed from one day to the next and brought rain and more for the > next seven days. Temperatures plunged to near freezing at night, while > water soon filled their clay huts and made it impossible ” >

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Amy · 21 Days Ago

    They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that photograph certainly does the job. But your words add to the horror of what he endured.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. kopfundgestalt · 21 Days Ago

    Das sind Erinnerungen, kaum vorstellbar.
    Seit jeher hat man Menschen so zusammengepfercht, immer und überall.
    Deine wenigen Zeilen hier, Peter, geben einen starken Eindruck dieser Tage wieder. Und auch von den Reibereien unter den Gefangenen, die keine Ausnahme darstellen in solchen Verhältnissen.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Peter Klopp · 18 Days Ago

      In einem Post in ein paar Wochen beschreibt mein Schwiegervater, wie die Kriegsgefangenen von ihren eigenen Kameraden schikaniert wurden.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Ann Coleman · 19 Days Ago

    I’ve never understood how people can be so cruel to each other.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Steve Schwartzman · 18 Days Ago

    How terrible. Still, we know that it came out all right for him in the end.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ankur Mithal · 14 Days Ago

    Shocking conditions. His notes on cigarette paper somehow remind me of the Anne Frank diaries.

    Liked by 1 person

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