Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family – Chapter 5 Part 2

Papa is Coming Home

Any part written in the first person singular has been contributed by my wife Gertrud (Biene) née Panknin

Great was Elisabeth’s joy when her husband suddenly and unexpectedly arrived at their home at Gotha. Papa could finally embrace his beloved wife, hug his stepdaughter Elsbeth, and hold the baby twins Walter and Gertrud in his arms. He had not seen them for over half a year.

Mutti Panknin with One of her twins

Unfortunately, several flies in the proverbial ointment all too quickly disturbed the family bliss. The house owner had covered up his illegal black market dealings by having a high-ranking police force officer renting the ground-floor apartment in his house. As many essential items were getting scarce during the war, he used Captain Panknin’s status to deflect suspicion from his shady activities. Now that the war was over, the landlord found him no longer useful and tried to get rid of his tenants. Perhaps he knew some well-to-do people able to pay a much higher rent. With so many destroyed cities, Germany experienced one of the worst housing crises in history.

Oma Panknin with her Twin Grandchildren

Being without a job and having no regular income turned out to be a more significant problem. Papa got by for a while, trading in the plum brandy for things they were lacking. Indeed, his foresight and the effort of collecting and bringing home the liquid gold are remarkable.

Natural Splendour of the Arrow Lakes

Wednesday’s Photos

Panorama Video of the Arrow Lake

I took about 10 photos of the Arrow Lake with the camera in the vertical position and 16:9 format. Then I stitched them together to transform them into a huge panorama image, cut it in half and processed the two pieces in my video editor. Enjoy the beauty of our lake captured on November 2, 2021.

Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family – Chapter 5 Part 1

Mutti Panknin and her Three Children

Any part written in the first person singular has been contributed by my wife Gertrud (Biene) née Panknin

The American forces under General George Patton had advanced with lightning speed into Thuringia in April 1945. There, along with thousands of other German officers and soldiers, Walter Panknin became a POW. If the German high command had placed him at the Western front a month earlier, he would have enjoyed spending his captivity in the United States. Life, food and treatment would have been generally good for a German POW. 

The Twins Walter and Gertrud Panknin

In the late summer or early fall, the notorious Rhine Meadows POW camps were shutting down. The western Allied Forces began shipping the POWs to their designated regions of occupied Germany. If you were a soldier with a permanent address in the Soviet-occupied zone, then there they would ship you. By now, the Americans had handed over Papa’s home province Thuringia to the Soviet administration. They had withdrawn their troops to the American Zone in Bavaria and Hesse. Before they left, food was already scarce. However, life was tolerable even in the bombed-out cities if you were among the lucky people who still had a roof over your head.

Mutti Panknin and Her Children Walter, Elsbeth and Gertrud

Papa’s wife Elisabeth recalled a heart-warming event in the spring of 1945, which she passed onto to her daughter Gertrud. An Afro-American G.I . regularly came by the house in Gotha. There she had been living with her family since the early 1930s. At first, Mutti was terrified and believed he was threatening her when he was wildly pointing as if wielding a gun at something at her doorstep. He kept shouting, “Milk for the babies!” Finally, she realized what the kind-hearted soldier intended to tell her when she saw the bottle of milk at her doorstep. Mama Panknin kept this miraculous story in her heart for the rest of her life.

A Visit to the Vancouver Museum of Anthropology

Section of the Provincial Native Cultural Heritage

This week my wife and I travelled to the coast to visit our children and grandchildren. In Vancouver, we paid a visit to the Museum of Anthropology. There you will find many sections displaying the cultural heritage of the indigenous peoples of the world. For the little time we had, we focused on the local cultures of the West Coast Nations of Canada. Here is a small sample of their art and craftsmanship. Enjoy.

Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and his Family – Part 27

Light at the End of the Tunnel

The soups were getting thinner. The German cooks were stretching the available food supplies to the very limit of human existence. If only the poor prisoners had received a little bit of fat, they would not have lost so much weight. Papa humbly praised the administration when he received an additional allotment of a quarter litre of fresh water. Indeed, a man needs very little food and drink to survive. He was even making a written promise that reads like a solemn oath. ”If I should ever be able to return home, I will be content with even the most basic meal,” and then adds with a full measure of doubt, “thus we think now. But how will it be, once we are free and live a life marked by waste and abundance?”
If you managed to get a job as a kitchen aid in this climate of hunger, your comrades considered you the luckiest person in the world. For your survival, at least as far as food was concerned, had been secured. While helping with the preparation and distribution of the most primitive meals, you always had a chance to stuff a slice of bread or a cooked potato into your mouth. No wonder kitchen service was one of the most sought-after occupations in the entire camp. But it appeared from reading his notes that Papa had no such luck.

In contrast to Papa’s ordeal, these German POWs were lucky to have been captured by the US Army before April 1945. They were shipped to the United States to work on farms. In most cases they were treated fairly according to the provisions of the Geneva Conventions. Many liked it so much they did not want to return home after the war.

One day, when morale was low and hopes were down, there came an unexpected order from the prison guards, “All POWs from Zone II assemble at the sundial.” For the longest time, the captured German soldiers appeared to have been a wholly forgotten bunch. They were the ones that had their homes in the Soviet-occupied part of East Germany. Finally, the camp authorities told them that they could soon return home to their families. Many, including Papa, refused to believe, being well aware of the many times they had been lied to and misled by false promises. But when the guards asked them to line up to receive all their confiscated personal belongings, they put up their hopes again. After Papa had gotten back all his money down to the last penny, he too was convinced that finally, after all these horrible ordeals, his release from the camp would be close at hand. They even received a new name. They were now officially called the ‘reprocessed.’
It is challenging for me to determine the exact time of Papa’s release from the POW camp. However, it is safe to assume that he belonged to the lucky ones. His notes written on minuscule cigarette paper ended abruptly with no reference provided to the date of his release from the POW camp. According to reliable sources, the Western nations had allowed most prisoners to go home by the end of 1948. So Papa was lucky to return home to his family in Gotha no later than late summer or early fall of 1945.

End of Chapter IV

Natural Splendour of the Arrow Lakes

Wednesday’s Photos

Early Autumnal Impressions

The arrival of fall in the Arrow Lakes region of BC is little behind schedule this year. Yes, the maple and poplar trees show their spectacular colours, but the larches are holding back as if they are not yet ready to face the long winter. Also, we did not have any real night frost yet in our area, which is sometimes – tongue in cheek – referred to as the banana belt of the Kootenays. A good hard frost always sets the spectacular colour wheel of autumn splendour in motion. Here are a few photos giving you a glimpse of fall at the Arrow Lakes. Enjoy.