Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family – Part 16

Papa Lending a Helping Hand

Places Walter Panknin Mentioned in his Notes

The following night Jepson invited Captain Panknin to sleep at his place. For the first time in weeks, Papa had a good night’s rest. Refreshed from a deep sleep, having recharged his internal batteries, he set out to go to the police HQ to receive further instructions. He had barely walked a few steps when Leipzig came under a sudden and unexpected aerial attack. The bombs were already falling when the sirens belatedly began their alarming howling in the city. An incendiary bomb plunged into a neighbour’s house, which almost immediately burst into flames. Papa helped the poor inhabitants with salvaging valuables from the burning inferno. His clothes singed by the fire and exhausted from the hard work, he arrived at the HQ, where to his greatest surprise, he was presented with yet another marching order, this time to Dresden-Hellerau. He had hardly received his provision for this eastern journey when the order was replaced by yet another, which sent him back to the latest hotspot at the western front near Weimar, where the Americans had launched a major offensive under General George Patton.

On April 8, shortly after midnight, he arrived by train at Weimar, where he went straight to the police HQ. By 06:15, he was climbing with a small troop under his command onto an army truck, which took him straight to the provisional front line near Erfurt. From there, they marched to Schmira amidst a barrage of shellfire and attacks from the air. Upon arrival, Papa looked in amazement at the bewildering array of the hastily set up feeble defence measures, most peculiar-looking anti-tank obstacles, and highly questionable battle preparations. It was dead quiet; the shellfire had suddenly ceased. Was it the calm before the storm? In the ominous stillness of impending doom, Papa found time in a nearby inn to write a letter to Mutti and family, which he passed on to a female communication aid to deliver it if at all possible to his wife in nearby Gotha. All day long, he could hear the droning of enemy planes over Erfurt. After a restful sleep in the basement of the police HQ, he felt his confidence returning, especially regarding Mutti and the children. He began to contemplate the best strategy to survive during the remaining few weeks of the war.  In anybody’s reasonable mind, the fighting should stop. However, the regime-loyal fanatics were bent on dragging the German people into even greater misery than they had already suffered so far. Should he stay at the frontline and count on becoming a POW of the American forces? Or should he follow the marching order to Dresden, which was most likely already occupied by the Red Army and try his luck as a POW of the Soviet forces? As a higher ranking police officer, not quite fitting into the overall scheme of an increasingly chaotic defence plan, he had, in contrast to the common soldier, at least some freedom to move.

Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family – Part 12

Fate or Coincidence?

But more important was the second reason for letting me dwell on the dark side of the postwar Yugoslav history. When Germany was losing the war on all fronts, Papa had been granted leave because of his twins’ birth. He would have most certainly died if not on the atonement marches, then most certainly later, executed as an officer of the much-hated German army.

Mutti Panknin with the Twins Walter and Gertrud

When Papa told me his survival story on one of our walks in the lush Gruga Park near Velbert in July 1968, I could not help but notice the similarity between the miraculous escape from death between Biene’s Papa and our family. Was it a coincidence? I remember well my thoughts on the strange circumstances under which Biene and I met at Lake Baldenay and how, against all odds, our relationship developed into a lifelong union. Some may claim that everything in life is coincidental. But as for me, I take comfort in the way God, through our faith, provides the means to go beyond a fatalistic attitude and offers deep spiritual meaning to life even in the midst of death.

Proud Papa Panknin

The twins Walter and Biene were already more than two months old when Papa was finally able to hold them in his arms. When looking at the photograph of the proud father looking down on his precious brood, I had a rare glimpse of true happiness at the sight of new life that transcends all human tragedy. Despite the spectre of death and destruction at the front lines and the constant bombing raids, Papa, for that short moment in time, seemed far removed from the ravages of war and the worries of an uncertain future. His smile reflected a genuine picture of paternal pride, which prompted him to muster his inner resources in the battle of survival during the final stages of WW2, no longer just for himself but more importantly for his wife and children. The one-week leave and his visit at Gotha with Mutti, his two babies, Grandma Gertrud from Berlin and his adopted daughter Elsbeth came to an end much too soon.

Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family – Part 11

A Gruesome History Lesson

No Photos Here – Let The Words Suffice

In response to the wartime atrocities committed by the Nazis, the partisans stilled their thirst for revenge first on members of the Waffen-SS. According to a report, on Pentecost Sunday, 450 soldiers were shot near Reichenberg, their arms tied together with telegraph wire in groups of six, all shot in the back. At the capture of Krusevac, 2,000 soldiers of the “Prinz Eugen” division were murdered. In Reichenegg, the partisans forced POWs into a bunker and dynamited it. When the stench became too intense, survivors had to cover the bunker with dirt. At Susegrad, partisans undressed 90 soldiers and chased them into the Sava River. Whenever possible the inmates buried the dead and marked the graves with stones or wooden crosses. In 1948, after the last POWs had left the provisional camps, locals dispersed the rocks, gathered the crosses and burned them.
Most of these former regular Wehrmacht troops perished in postwar Yugoslavia in three stages. As already mentioned above, during the first stage more than 7,000 captured German troops died in Communist-organized “atonement marches” stretching 1200 km from the southern border of Austria to the northern border of Greece. During the second phase, in late summer 1945, many German soldiers in captivity were summarily executed or thrown alive into large karst pits along the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. In the third stage, 1945-1955, an additional 50,000 perished as forced labourers due to malnutrition and exhaustion.
The total number of German losses in Yugoslav captivity after the end of the war including ethnic “Danube German” civilians and soldiers, and “Reich” Germans, may therefore be conservatively estimated at 120,000 killed, starved, worked to death, or missing. One may wonder why I would go to such length to describe the gruesome details of past events in an area of seemingly minor importance to us. There are two reasons. Firstly, I noticed so many similarities in the brutal treatment of the German civilian populations in East Prussia and Pomerania, where my parents and grandparents had their roots, and Yugoslavia, where Biene’s Papa spent most of the war years. I found it appalling that so little can be found in today’s historical literature about these events.

Additional information on the treatment of other ethnic groups in Yugoslavia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bleiburg_repatriations

Ernst Klopp (1900 – 1964) and his Family – Part 40

Epilogue

At the time of Father’s sudden and unexpected passing, death had given me in quick succession several reminders of our transitory life here on earth. In the fall of 1963, I was serving in the signal corps of the German Nato Forces in Bavaria. On November 22 at the Maxhof army barracks, I listened to the American Forces Network (AFN Munich). The DJ suddenly interrupted the Country and Western music and, after a short pause, announced that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas. Later that night, AFN reported that he had died of his gunshot wounds. I was shocked by the news of this tragedy, as I had taken a liking to this great man for his courage to force the Soviet Union to remove their missiles out of Cuba. I liked the way he had publicly committed himself to the security of West Berlin. His famous statement, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner,’ will remain with me for as long as I live. Then, in January, our staff sergeant Wohl had a fatal accident when his VW beetle collided with a public transit bus on an icy hillside road in Feldafing. Three comrades and I accepted the sad task of becoming his pallbearers. I will never forget the widow’s heart-rending sobbing in the front pew when the officiating priest addressed her with a few consoling words. A couple of weeks later, almost if death intended to remind me again of its presence, I lent sixty marks to a friend so he could buy a train ticket to attend his grandmother’s funeral.

Then, on February 26, an order came for me to see the captain for an important message. A little puzzled and worried about this unusual event, I went to the captain’s office. After I sat down, he informed me with genuine regret that my father had died of a massive heart attack on the night of February 25. The officer granted me a five-day compassionate leave, effective immediately. Numbed by this horrific message, I could not respond with a single word. The captain, deliberately ignoring military protocol, shook hands with me and spoke kind words of condolences. 

Only a small number of family members, aunt Meta and Anna, Erna’s relatives and friends attended the funeral in Michelbach. I wrote and dedicated a poem in German to my dad, my best friend and helper. The poem ended with a line in Latin:

Viventium, non mortuorum misereor.

I feel sorry for the living, not the dead.

If Father were still living today, he would proudly look at his many descendants: five children, eleven grandchildren and many great-grandchildren. Perhaps one day, some of them will be interested in the fascinating story of their wonderful grandfather and great-grandfather Ernst Klopp. I hope that they will read it and get to know the roots of the Klopp branch of their family.

This book is available free of charge. If interested, leave a message in your comment.

My next project will be writing about my father-in-law, Walter Panknin, and his family.

Natural Splendour of the Arrow Lakes

Wednesday’s Photos

Time-Lapse Video

The month of February granted us an unusual amount of sunshine. This video was shot from our favourite Taite Creek campground south of Fauquier. I placed my Canon camcorder on the beach and pointed it east onto the nearby mountains where interesting cloud formations attracted my attention. While my wife and I were walking along the beach, the camera recorded the mountain scene for about 25 minutes. At home, I accelerated the video over 1000 times with my editor and produced this 40 sec video. Enjoy.

Ernst Klopp (1900 – 1964) Part 19

Flight from the Red Army

The German management of Gutfelde under my father’s administration abruptly ended on the 12th and 13th of January 1945 with the family’s flight from the advancing Red Army. A few hours before, the attack began, which turned out to be the most massive offensive ever-recorded in international military history. Under the command of Marshal Schukow and Konjew the Soviet army groups conquered Warthegau and advanced within days all the way to Sagan, Silesia. Panic and chaos spread among the defending forces and the civilian population. The flight with as little baggage as possible succeeded in the direction of Landsberg in spite of bitter cold temperatures and icy, snowed-over roads, which were hopelessly overcrowded with people, horses and wagons.

There was an agreement between the NS leader (Ortsgruppenleiter) in Seebrück (Rogowo) and the German farmers including all administrators of the region to join together in order to escape in one single trek. My father found out that the party leaders and NS officials had secretively taken off to safety on their own. He became quite enraged over this lack of leadership on the part of the very people who through courage and fearless guidance were supposed to set an example. While the lonely three trek wagons (Klopp, Kegler, and Dwinger) were slowly heading west, my father on a fast one-horse buggy was racing from farm to farm to warn stragglers of the impending danger and say good-bye to his Polish friends.

Photo Credit: Planet Wissen

The trek managed to get as far as Arnswalde (Choszczno), Pomerania, where the family found temporary shelter in the forestry Kühnemühle. As the place appeared safe at least for the time being, Father decided to stay there longer than warranted by the critical circumstances created by the Soviet armies advancing westwards at lightning speed. Precious time was being wasted with useless discussions and playing Doppelkopf. Perhaps a trace of unfounded hope that the enemy on the eastern front could still be thrown back through a heroic effort by the German troops lingered at the back of everybody’s mind and caused them to dawdle. Suddenly in early February Red Army soldiers arrived at the forestry and took Father as prisoner of war although he was no combatant and assigned him to hard labor in the Soviet Union. In a forced march he returned to Posen (Poznan), to the very region whence he had escaped. Then the Russians shipped him by train to the Donbas area, where somewhere between Charkow and Rostow on the River Don he had to work in the coal mines.