Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family Ch6 Part 1

Memories of the Aurich Refugee Camp 1953/54

Biene wrote this post.

Happy to be reunited with our beloved parents, we had to say goodbye to our new friends in Dortmund. Our parents told us that we would not go back home to Gotha for a long, long time until the two separated Germanys would be reunited again. First, we would have to live in a refugee camp for some time until we would hopefully find a new home in the Rhineland region where my mother was born.  After the destruction caused by the war and the rapid immigration of refugees from the East, housing was in short supply.   There was a construction frenzy all over West Germany to keep up with the urgent demand for housing.  People had to live in temporary shelters often for an extended period.

We were assigned to live in a refugee camp in Lower Saxony.  Abandoned military barracks were converted into a refugy camp in Sandhorst, a small community close to Aurich, a quaint small town. This camp could house thousands of refugees. The buildings looked bright and clean.  Lots of green spaces surrounded them.  Meadows and lush pastures stretched to the endless horizon on this flat landscape. We were assigned to a room with six bunk beds.  Three other families shared the room with us. A door led to another room about the same size as our dormitory.  Occupants of that adjacent room shared our entry to the hallway.  Thus there was much traffic through our room, and there was little privacy. We were told that we should avoid close contact with the people in the neighbouring room because they had a very contagious disease. I noticed that my mother looked quite shocked when she heard that. However, my brother and I were very excited about the prospect of sleeping on the upper bunk beds.

After we stored our small suitcases under our beds, the camp attendant led us to a big hall lined with multiple long racks of clothing of all sizes.  American charities and other organizations donated them, and people from all over the world. We were invited to pick some clothing we needed and liked.  That was exciting for me because I had never had the opportunity to choose a dress on my own.  I had always worn hand-me-downs sent from my mom’s distant relatives. I picked a dress, which the attending lady told us was donated by a family from South Africa. I loved the dress and imagined a girl like me having worn it in a faraway place. The kind lady invited us to pose in our newly chosen clothes for a photo out on the lawn in the mild spring air. We all looked happy in this rare family picture, the first in the “Golden West.”

12 Replies to “Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family Ch6 Part 1”

  1. Life in a refugee camp cannot have been easy, sharing with so many people. But you, Biene, seem to be always focussing on the positive aspects even in dire situations, which is not only very sympathetic, but also gives you a more fulfilled life. It is a gift!

    Liked by 1 person

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