Love survives Iron Curtain

MIESZKOWICE, Poland (AP) - October 4, 2009 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.

Then the currents of history that had separated them offered a chance to recapture the past.

On Nov. 10, 1989, the morning after the Berlin Wall started coming down, Profe heard the news on her car radio and the impulse to trace her lost love came to her right away.

"I had carried his photograph for 50 years so that thought was automatic," she said.

"As soon as the wall fell, I thought, 'now I can go home."'

On a visit to Poland in the early 1990s, the manager of her father's former factory mistakenly told her that Mackiewicz had died. But she eventually found a cousin of his who said he lived in Mlynary, a town in northern Poland where he had been running a repair shop for farm equipment.

She wrote to him. He wrote back. And they agreed to meet. In 1995 they were reunited in the parking lot of a Polish train station - and immediately reconnected across the decades.

"We were five meters apart and he said 'Elvira?' I said 'Fortek?' We flung our arms around each other's necks and it was if those 50 years just melted away, as if the 50 years just didn't exist," said Profe.

By then he was 75, and she was 70.

Today they are married, sharing a tidy, white home they built for themselves in the town where they first met. The inside walls are paneled with wood to look like her childhood home that no longer exists.

"Love will last until the end of your life, if that love is real," Mackiewicz said during an interview at their home.

Sitting at a table in a dining nook, Mackiewicz, now 89, broke into tears recalling his pity for the girl from an enemy country that had killed millions of his compatriots, who had knocked on his door asking for food.

Profe, 83, who had stepped away to get coffee, rushed over and caressed his cheek.

Their love speaks in other small gestures: they hold hands as they walk through their yard, she places her hand softly on his knee during a drive to her family's old factory. His black-and-white picture of her, framed and still well-preserved, sits framed on a shelf in their home.

Mackiewicz's first wife eventually left communist Poland to seek her fortune in the U.S. and remained abroad for 20 years. They never had children.

When Profe re-entered his life, he asked his wife for a divorce but she at first refused, forcing the couple to delay their own marriage. The wife eventually relented and Elvira and Fortek made their long-delayed vows in 2005.

They took each other's names; today she is Elvira Profe-Mackiewicz and he is Fortunat Mackiewicz-Profe.

"I never dreamed I would meet Elvira again," he said. "There was an Iron Curtain across the continent that was not to be crossed."

Profe's Polish is halting, and Mackiewicz's German, much better in youth, has grown rusty with disuse. The two use a bit of each language and understand each other.

Though her hair is now white and his silver, they are both trim and active. She exercised regularly with a women's group until a few months ago when she had to have bypass surgery, and he regularly uses a sauna in their basement.

Their house, surrounded by a small yard with geraniums and roses, sits on the edge of a pine forest haunted by boars and deer - an area once dotted with the homes of German families. Many of the houses were heavily damaged in the war and afterward their materials used to rebuild Warsaw 450 kilometers (275 miles) away, which the Nazis had bombed to near oblivion.

The Profes' factory, which made tape measures, sits vacant at the end of a country road five minutes from where they live now. The original family house was burned down by the Soviets.

Their lives today are a peaceful marital routine. They say they never argue - that it's not their nature anyway and that the short time they have been given together should not be spoiled. "What is there to fight about?" Mackiewicz said.

Like many husbands, he has trouble remembering their wedding anniversary. But he insists it's not important anyway. What matters to him is the day in 1947 when he sought permission at town hall to marry her.

And what he remembers is this: "Even though they said no, Elvira told me, 'it doesn't matter because I will never stop loving you."'


Associated Press writer Marta Kucharska contributed to this report.

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