Struggle for Justice
Biene described in vivid detail her mother’s exhausting trips by public transportation and on foot to the government offices in the bigger cities. With unwavering determination, she bypassed the lower-ranked officials. She gained access to the ministers of justice and social services, an incredible feat that only people familiar with the German bureaucracy can understand. In those days, there was no phone service for the general public, no emails, and no Internet search engines that we in the twenty-first century take for granted. With her tenacity and unshakeable resolve, she managed to open doors, scout for invaluable information and find assistance in the fight to recognize their refugee status and Papa Panknin’s pension claim.
To fully understand their situation, we need to go back to 1957. The Panknin family, like so many refugees from the Soviet-controlled eastern part of Germany (GDR – German Democratic Republic), lived in extreme poverty. My father-in-law, former captain of the police force and later commander of an army unit in former Yugoslavia, provided with his meagre income the cost of food and shelter for the family of four. He worked as a dental technician in a lab in a nearby city. What his wife had accomplished by blazing a trail and opening doors to influential politicians, Walter Panknin complemented her efforts by resorting to his powerful writing skills. Reading his elaborate correspondence with the movers and shakers of the government ministries of the West German province of Rhineland-Westphalia, I gained great insight into their struggle for justice. What really impressed me was how the couple worked together as a team. I also learned that despite the glitz and glamour of the economic boom (Wirtschaftswunder), there was something rotten in Germany.