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:
- 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,
- 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,
- Entitlement to a Pension as a former officer or at least granting a meagre old age pension,
- 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.
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 …