Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Wednesday’s Photo

Besides the Christmas tree with the symbolic meaning of hope through its evergreen quality, many other things are associated with the German Christmas tradition. One of them is the nutcracker that is often found under the tree. Another costum is the use of real wax candles to illuminate the tree and its ornaments. Perhaps a little less known is the ‘smoker’, das Räuchermännchen that usually resides on the festive table. Inside, you find a cone-shaped piece of incense. When lit, it burns and emits its aroma for about 15 minutes. During this time, it sends smoke through its open mouth. For a special effect, I attached the smoker to our Christmas tree and took a picture of the Räuchermännchen. The smoke went straight up. So I confess that I cheated a little with my photo editor and made the rising smoke curl for you. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my blogging friends! I will resume my blogging activity, God willing, in the second week of 2023. Best wishes and blessings to you all.

Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family Ch6 Part 6

Success in the long Battle for Justice

Eventually, Walter Panknin’s persistence paid off. Acting on a friend’s advice, he directed his request for justice to the governing president of the West German State of North Rhine Westphalia. In his 3-page letter, he logically and respectfully outlined his family’s dire financial situation. Reading his correspondence, I was surprised that he could directly address by letter the state president. When people wish to present their concerns to the upper authorities, they have to use the proper channels set up for them. Apparently, Papa’s letter went to the right place and got the ball rolling. However, another five years passed within the notoriously slow mill of the German bureaucracy. After many more letters, documents, and court hearings, all his key requests were finally granted. In 1962, promoted to the rank of a major in retirement, he could collect the pension payments that he was entitled to. He had his refugee status fully recognized and could move into a modest but modern apartment in the City of Velbert near Essen.

Family Panknin – All Smiles after the Successful Court Battle

We should not think that Papa’s struggle was an isolated case. In a previous publication, telling the story of my Mother’s family, I reported that my uncle Lieutenant-General Gerhard Kegler was sentenced to death by a Nazi military tribunal for disobeying Himmler’s order to defend an eastern town and for leading his poorly equipped and exhausted division to the relative safety of the eastern front. Shortly before the execution was to take place, the death sentence was put on hold. My uncle was degraded to the rank of a private and sent to fight the Soviets near Frankfurt, Oder. Severely wounded, he was shipped by train to a military hospital in Schleswig-Holstein, where the surgeons amputated his left arm to save his life from a virulent infection. As a POW, he survived the war and was reunited with his wife and family in 1947. But when he applied for a pension, the authorities, under the influence of old Nazi lawyers, tried to reject his application because he had been demoted to the rank of a common soldier. There was such a public outcry over this form of injustice made public in all major newspapers that the president of the German Republic stepped in and exonerated my uncle and granted him the full pension as required by law.

Natural Splendour of the Arrow Lakes

Wednesday’s Photo

A Selfie in a Christmas Ornament

On the weekend, my wife and I went into the snowy and chilly outdoors and located a beautiful fir tree under the power lines. Fortunately, the snow was not too deep to walk the 50 metres from the road. With a small hand saw, I had the tree cut in no time while Biene cheered me on. Yesterday, I brought the Christmas tree into our living room and decorated it with ornaments and lights. Later on, when the day was fading into darkness, I took a few pictures. One photo shows a shiny ornament, where later on to my great surprise. I discovered myself in its reflection.

Walter Panknin (1898 -1977) and His Family Ch7 Part 5

The Judiciary That Sentenced 50,000 People to Death

Walter Panknin’s Fight for Justice – Part 2

I chose the title from the West German News Magazine as the heading for this post. It confirms what my father-in-law had described in a letter to a friend. The title reveals a dark chapter in the judicial system of postwar West Germany. The article, as quoted in the previous post and continued here, is an eye-opener for the legal battles Herr and Frau Panknin had to fight in their struggle for justice.

“Now the halls of justice were even staffed with judges who had once served on the Nazis’ People’s Court (Volksgerichtshof), which was set up in 1934 to handle “political offenses” and became notorious for the frequency, arbitrariness and severity of its punishments. Nevertheless, the civilian courts handling the de-Nazification process merely classified them as “hangers-on.” In 1953, at least 72 percent of judges on the Federal Supreme Court, Germany’s highest court for criminal and civil law, had former Nazi connections. The number increased to 79 percent by 1956 and, in the criminal division, it was at 80 percent by 1962.”

Now we understand the anger and frustration my in-laws experienced for more than five years. Poor Papa Panknin, having demonstrated and documented through his actions before and during WW2 his anti-fascist position, encountered, in an ironic twist of fate, one humiliating rejection of his applications after another. The former Nazi judges were back, making ideologically motivated decisions. In Papa’s correspondence, I found names such as Franz Schlegelberger – Minister of Justice (1941 and 1942), Hans Globke (he participated in drafting the Nuremberg race laws), and Theodor Oberländer – as an academic laying the foundation of the Final Solution. Many were found guilty in the Nuremberg trials, and some were sentenced to life imprisonment, then released after a few years, going into judiciary service or early retirement with a pension six times higher than the average worker in the Federal republic.

Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family Ch7 Part 4

Walter Panknin’s Fight for Justice Part 1

Bit by bit, in an all-out power grab, the Nazis were taking control of the various institutions, such as the justice system, local and regional police forces, the banks, as well as the army, navy and air force. In a letter to the Minister of Interior Affairs in 1959, Walter Panknin wrote that membership in the NSDAP was mandatory for every police department in Germany. At a time when even foreign ministries initially recognized the legitimacy of the Nazi government, Papa Panknin was forced to join the party in 1934. However, he resisted joining the SS that all the higher-ranked officers were expected to become part of. Despite a barrage of threats and chicaneries, he steadfastly refused to become part of the infamous SS or to quit the Lutheran Church of Germany. Most officers in the armed and police forces had incredible advancements waiting for them, climbing up the rank ladder at a great speed, especially after the start of WW2. My father-in-law never moved any higher than his actual rank of captain during the entire war years. He had to take a punitive transfer to a battalion stationed in Croatia, which turned out as a blessing in disguise. (see chapter 3).

Herr Panknin described, while dealing with the federal and provincial government departments, his battles in army-like terms, his quest for justice. He fought a paper war on many fronts:  

  1. His right to fair and equal treatment as a former officer of the regular armed forces compared with officers of the former members of the SS of the same rank,
  2. Recognition of his refugee status C, which was denied because, as an anti-fascist, he had no reason to leave the Soviet-controlled Zone of East Germany as he was told,
  3. Entitlement to a Pension as a former officer or at least granting a meagre old age pension, 
  4. Compensation for the well-documented bicycle accident in the early 1930s (somewhat like the BC Workmen’s Compensation Board), which he was eligible to receive and did not get.
Papa Panknin

The reason why Papa Panknin and his family had so much trouble  finding justice in West Germany as a refugee from the former German Democratic Republic can be found in an article published by the German News Magazine ‘Der Spiegel.’

“Roughly 80 percent of the judges and prosecutors who had served Hitler’s regime of terror until May 8 were soon dispensing justice once again — but this time in the young Federal Republic. “Perhaps there is truly evidence,” wrote Nazi expert Jörg Friedrich, “that a constitutional state can stand on a judicial mass grave.”

In the misery of the postwar era, lawyers were urgently needed. Although the crime rate skyrocketed in the era of black markets and refugees, there was a shortage of judges to hear cases. To make up for the deficiencies, the occupiers of the western zones appointed judges who had retired before 1933, or they hired lawyers untainted with Nazi connections. Starting in October 1945, the British practiced the so-called “piggyback procedure” in the recently established judicial administration: For each judge without a Nazi past, one judge with former Nazi connections could be appointed. But, by the summer of 1946, even this restriction had been dropped.

To be continued …