Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family Ch5 Part 8

Failed Attempt to Escape

Biene contributed this post.

My brother and I were three years old when my mom made the first attempt to escape with us to the West. Fences, ditches and surveillance towers did not yet fortify the newly established borders between the divided Germanys. Heavily armed border guards patrolled the unmarked dividing line between the East and the West. My mom planned to cross the densely forested border at a remote village with my sister and us two. Once safely across, my sister would take us by train to relatives in the West while my mother would return home to escape with my Dad via Berlin to the West to rejoin us later. At that time, the East German regime had not yet built the wall, and it was still possible to escape from the eastern part of the city to the West by the subway system, which still joined the two parts of Berlin.

Early Border between East and West – Infants Reaching out across a FencePhoto: DW

The memories of that night are etched in my memory forever. My mom and my sister struggled to push our twin stroller over a rugged forest path at the approach of the night. When the going was getting too rough, my mother allowed us to walk a short distance ahead of them. My brother and I didn’t like being cooped up in the stroller for too long. We started to run and chase each other around a bend of the narrow path when a gigantic figure with a gun stepped out of the dense bush and blocked our way. We all stood motionless for a long moment until my mother and sister came around the path.  My sister started to scream with fright, but my mother stayed calm. She tried to explain that we had lost our way, but she could not fool the guard. He told my mother that he would walk the other way pretending he never met us, on condition that she immediately returned to the village. If she refused to comply, he would have to shoot, as were his strict orders. If he showed mercy, his own life was at stake. He did show some pity by giving my mother directions to a house nearby. There we would find the porch door unlocked and spend the night under a roof.  “There will be shooting tonight,” were his last words. 

East German Border Guard with Dog Photo: DW

Once again, we experienced the unexpected mercy of an enemy soldier. We spent the night huddled in the corner of a spacious porch. My sister broke down, crying hysterically. We had never heard her cry before, and it scared us more than the sounds of shots fired in the distance. Part of my sister’s breakdown was that she experienced the first stages of pregnancy still unknown to her.A few months later, she married her long-time boyfriend, and soon after, our first nephew was born. Thus, my brother and I became uncle and aunt at the tender age of four.

15 thoughts on “Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family Ch5 Part 8

  1. They were so lucky that that soldier was alone. Later on they were always two and two, so that they wouldn’t dare to be mercyful. They had to be afraid that their colleague would either report or shoot them. It was a horrible time. I had family in Berlin and this wall with its “Todesstreifen”, the area with the landmines and the snipers on the towers was an installation not worthy of any human being. The people in East Germany came from one totalitarian regime directly into another. Biene and her family must have had a guardian angel that night. Thank God!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ja Biene,Ihr habt trotz des riesigen Schreckens wirklich noch Glück gehabt in dieser Nacht. Wie Stella schon schrieb , mussten später immer zwei Soldaten patroullieren ,damit der Schiessbeehl nicht missachtet werden konnte,ansonsten drohten den Soldaten schwere Strafen. Es war menschenverachtend.
    Dass Ihr diesen Schrecken ein Leben lang nicht vergessen konntet, ist verständlich und unendlich traurig…

    Liked by 2 people

  3. They say fortune favours the brave. When someone complains about not getting his preference of food on a journey or the road being bumpy, it seems so small and meaningless when you put it in perspective against a mother pushing a twin stroller in the dead of night through dense jungle and each moment fearing either a bullet or capture.


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