Love between German and Pole survives Iron Curtain

MIESZKOWICE, Poland – For five decades, she kept his picture in her wallet — a black-and-white snapshot of a handsome young Polish man with brooding eyes.

The unlikely love story of Elvira Profe and Fortunat Mackiewicz began in the chaotic aftermath of World War II, as Poland's borders were redrawn by the victorious Allies and millions of Germans were expelled.

It blossomed even as their people seethed with mutual hate and endured some of the past century's most tortured upheavals, and survived the Cold War that drove them apart. Now, in this 70th year since World War II broke out, and 20th year since the Cold War ended, they are married in a love affair that has triumphed against all odds.

In January 1946, Profe was one of the few Germans left in this town that became part of Poland after the Nazi defeat. She was sickly and malnourished from a nearly a year spent in a Soviet forced-labor camp in Siberia. Mackiewicz had resettled here after the swath of eastern Poland where he lived was handed to the Soviets.

When they met, it was hardly love at first sight.

The once privileged daughter of a factory owner was by then a stick figure weighing just 33 kilograms 75 pounds. Her back was damaged by heavy labor and, at age 20, she was already sprouting gray hairs.

She had returned home from Siberia to the town she knew as Baerwalde and which now had a Polish name, Mieszkowice, and her family was having to beg for bread and milk. One day, at her family's bidding, she knocked on Mackiewicz's door. His family was kind to her; they had heard her parents never mistreated Poles.

When Mackiewicz, then 25, first saw her his first emotion was enormous pity.

"She was just a toothpick," he recalled recently, holding up a single finger.

The first time he kissed her, it was on the forehead, a gesture of compassion.

Their love took its time. She would spend entire days with his family, helping to milk their cows and carry hay. He would walk her home. "We were friends first. Friendship, great friendship, trust. And then in the end — love," Mackiewicz said.

If their romance developed slowly, it was about to come to an abrupt end. And it was their decision to marry that tore them apart.

When Mackiewicz went to the town hall seeking permission to wed, the authorities reacted with horror. Her father was not just a German, he was a German capitalist — a double sin in the eyes of the Polish communist bureaucracy.

They ordered Profe's family to leave town.

As Elvira and Fortunat — whom she affectionately calls Fortek — said their goodbyes in front of her father's factory, they exchanged photographs.

He kept hers for several years until he married another woman in 1960 and gave the photo to his father for safekeeping.

She kept his in her wallet — and never forgot him. And never married. She devoted her energies to helping run a new family factory in Germany and later working with handicapped children in Berlin.

Associated Press writer Marta Kucharska contributed to this report.

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