Throughout the course of the war, both Agnes and Gustav stood up for what they knew was right—even in the most dangerous of circumstances.
In one instance, Agnes refused to report a food theft—and paid the price for her courage by being demoted from a German’s secretary to a toilet scrubber in a bombed out factory. Gustav likewise allowed a couple to keep a stash of hidden meat that he should have confiscated or destroyed. He reflects, “That choice I made was one of the first conscious moral stands I had ever taken in my life.”
At the end of the war, Gustav’s morality led him to make another difficult choice: he turned himself in to the Allies and was taken as a prisoner of war.
Overcoming Through Love
Agnes and Gustav outside the Switzerland Bern Temple on the day of their family's sealing.
After enduring the horrors of captivity, Agnes was finally liberated. She eventually decided to move to Långshyttan, Sweden, where she worked in a factory cafeteria.
“The job as a kitchen helper and waitress in Långshyttan was my first paid job, and it marked also the beginning of a new life for me,” she says. Little did she know that it would also mark the beginning of a new love: Agnes and Gustav were destined to meet in Långshyttan.
Gustav’s path to Sweden as a POW was a difficult and uncertain one. When he was released, Gustav recounts, “They unlocked my jail door. For me, the war was finally over. My first hour of freedom stunned me.” Due to Gustav’s Swedish citizenship, his sister had negotiated his exile to Sweden rather than a political trial in Norway, and his cousin, Helge Palm, arranged a job and apartment for Gustav upon his arrival in Långshyttan.
“I was 23 years old, had only a few clothes and no money, and felt completely ostracized from society,” he shares. “For me it was inconceivable that Germany could be behind the horror that I was hearing more and more about. But now it turned out to be true, and I had taken part in all this. I had served in the Waffen-SS in good faith, but no one now wanted to see it that way.”
But there was at least one person who noticed him: Agnes. “In early March,” she says, “I noticed a young man—so miserable, so lean, and so pale, almost green in his face—standing in the lunchroom queue. He had beautiful, sad, kind eyes.” When she noticed his seat empty one day, she traveled to his nearby apartment to bring him food.
And that was how it all began.
Gustav initially asked Agnes to the movies. “We began to meet more frequently. We each had little money, but neither of us really missed anything. Our long walks and talks took the place of what we did not have. Agnes meant more and more to me.”
Even when Gustav told Agnes about his past in the Waffen-SS, she listened to him with an open and forgiving heart. “Our relationship only got stronger,” Gustav says, “and soon there were ties between us that could no longer be broken so easily.”
“Gustav was 24 and I was 27, and we were truly in love,” Agnes recalls. “We needed each other. He was alone and I was alone, but together we had each other.”
Nothing could separate them—not even their war traumas. They were married on March 2, 1947.
Finding the Gospel Together
1950s, Borlänge, Sweden
Happy years passed by, and they each put their war-ridden pasts behind them. Still, Agnes and Gustav each yearned to find a fulfilling church to go to. They found it when a neighbor lodging two American Mormon missionaries loaned them a Book of Mormon and introduced the Palms to the elders.
The family studied the Book of Mormon and met with the missionaries. Agnes remembers, “Gustav did as it said in the book to do: he asked God in prayer with a sincere heart whether the book was true, and he got a convincing answer to his prayer.”
Ten months later, they were baptized in a small river. “It felt like being baptized in the Jordan River. A quiet peace prevailed, and I felt a great inner joy,” Agnes says.
Gustav and Agnes are now in their 90s, and through many years and humble circumstances, they have built up a large, devoted family that now exceeds more than 125 people. Their example is one that will forever be remembered—and not only by their family.
In 1995, President Thomas S. Monson visited Stockholm to divide the existing stakes. At a meeting with 1,500 Swedish Saints, President Monson told the little-shared story of Agnes, a Holocaust survivor, and her sweetheart Gustav, a Waffen-SS soldier. Finally, Gustav’s years of guarded silence about his past were broken.
And yet, never an unkind word has been spoken on the subject. Their fellow Saints know that their life together is a remarkable example of fortitude, forgiveness, and faithfulness to the Lord. Inscribed on the Palm family crest is the motto “Overcome through love.” And nothing could describe Agnes and Gustav’s legacy more aptly than that: love and faith can conquer all.
This story originally ran on LDS Living in 2014.
Read or listen to more of their amazing true story and journey of faith and forgiveness with the book and audiobook Surviving Hitler. This book tells even more about the horrors of their war experiences and the multiple miracles that saved their lives. Available at deseretbook.com.