The hugs and the handclasps told much of the story Friday as a Norwegian woman met for the first time with an American Army officer who liberated her and hundreds of others from a German prison camp 48 years ago in southern Germany.
"Words can't tell. There are no words to explain . . . it's incredible," Dagny Loe, 81, said of the meeting with former 1st Lt. Chester J. Krawcykowski, who along with three other soldiers freed an estimated 500 to 800 prisoners near Aichach.The woman, who displayed a gray woolen prison blanket that she used to keep warm while in German captivity for nearly two years, spoke through an interpreter, her daughter, Lilla, who also flew to Salt Lake City from Norway.
The two women were separated during the war after Dagny Loe was taken prisoner in retaliation for war resistance activities of her husband, Osvald. They met Friday with Krawcykowski and his wife, Ruth, now of St. Petersburg, Fla.
Joining them at a press conference were other veteran-members of the 42nd "Rainbow" Infantry Division Association, which met for the group's annual convention at Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City.
Also at the press gathering were David W. Pearson, St. Paul, Minn., a retired U.S. Army colonel who has spent the past three years trying to find Krawcykowski and to arrange a meeting between him and Loe. Others at the press meet included retired Lt. Col. Odd Jorgensen of Bjerkvik, Norway, a former commander in the Norwegian militia, and representatives of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corp.
Jorgensen introduced Pearson to Loe in 1990 during a public commemoration in memory of the execution of Loe's husband and six other Norwegian fisherman in Norway. Osvald Loe and six others were taken prisoner, tried and executed after the Nazis discovered their intelligence-gathering activities along the Norwegian north coast.
Pearson said Dagny Loe told him her story in 1990, recounting how Krawcykowski and the other soldiers came to her prison cell near Aichach.
"`I'd like to find him and thank him. Can you help me?' " Pearson quoted the woman. Pearson said he agreed to try to help. Friday's meeting was a result of the three-year effort.
The liberation of Dagny Loe and the other prisoners occurred April 30, 1945, when Krawcykowski and three other soldiers pulled their jeep out of a convoy that had halted outside of Aichach on its way to Dachau. David Benedict, Hacienda Heights, Calif., a son of the one of the other liberators, the late Pfc. Michael Benedict, was also present Friday.
The soldiers' curiosity took them down a side road where they discovered the prison unguarded except by the warden.
Dagny Loe, then a 32-year-old Norwegian mother of eight and one of the prisoners, was arrested in her tiny fishing village of Berlevag on Norway's north cape after her husband's execution. She survived a series of about seven German prisons and a mid-winter's death march before arriving at the Aichach prison.
Krawcykowski and his fellow soldiers found the Aichach prison by accident during an unauthorized absence from their unit. There is no written record of the incident and the other American witnesses are either dead or not available, Pearson said.
"I'm a grown man, but some of us get emotional some time," he said, laughing back what earlier were tears.