Schwabmünchen Forced Labour Camp (Gebrüder Kroen)

Country Germany
GPS 48° 10' 43.9392" N, 10° 45' 43.2432" E
Address Schwabmünchen, Germany (exact address unknown)
Dates Active 1943 (or earlier) – April 1945

Channel Islander Incarcerated in Schwabmünchen Forced Labour Camp:
Kingston George Bailey

By Roderick Miller

Only one Channel Islander is known to have been imprisoned in the forced labour camp of the Gebrüder Kroen (‘Kroen Brothers’) construction company in Schwabmünchen, a small city in Bavaria, Germany, about 17 miles southwest of Augsburg. The company was founded in Schwabmünchen in 1826, by 1837 it was operating a brick factory, and by 1877 had expanded into construction and building material company. Gebrüder Kroen GmbH, which still exists today, exploited forced labour throughout the Second World War, as did most larger German companies. As of August 1943, the firm ‘employed’ 26 Russian prisoners of war and 31 Eastern European forced labourers, among them four women. [1] The International Tracing Service Catalogue of Camps and Prisons states that ‘A work detail of 60 convicts worked with the firm Gebr. Kroen’.

Guernseyman Kingston Bailey travelled by train to Schwabmünchen on 19 January 1944 from Bernau Prison and Prison Labour Camp, accompanied by a group of 36 Greek and three Spanish prisoners. They were met at the station by two civilians, one of whom carried a pistol, and were taken, despite the freezing weather conditions, in an open lorry to some recently erected barracks on an as-yet unidentified Gebrüder Kroen factory site. The barracks were surrounded by barbed wire but had no bars on the windows. They had wooden beds with straw mattresses, and a lavatory and washroom, all lit by electric lights and heated by wood-burning stoves.

There is some difficulty establishing the precise location of the forced labour camp where Bailey and his fellow prisoners from Bernau Prison were incarcerated, as Bailey states that they drove for half an hour from the Schwabmünchen station. Had they been kept in barracks on the Gebrüder Kroen factory grounds in Schwabmünchen, the drive would rather have been just a few minutes. It is possible that Bailey either mistook the length of time of the drive in the open lorry or that they were indeed in a camp outside of Schwabmünchen, of which there are many documented. Unless there are forthcoming wartime documents from the private firm Gebrüder Kroen GmBh, it is unlikely that this question will be resolved.

There is an additional difficulty in determining the exact location of Bailey’s camp in that he did not specify if he meant the the town Schwabmünchen or the Schwabmünchen district, which until the nationwide district reforms in Germany in the 1970s, covered the region around the town Schwabmünchen and would have been indicated on signs as ‘Schwabmünchen’ throughout the district.

Upon arrival in the camp, the prisoners exchanged their civilian clothes for prison uniforms and were introduced to the head of the prison, who met them with a Nazi salute and wore a military-style uniform similar to those they had seen in Bernau Prison. The Commandant told them that any infractions of the rules would be met with a forcible return to Landsberg Prison, the prison responsible for the administration of prisoners at the factory.

Bailey described his first meal in Schwabmünchen as ‘The best meal I had had in Germany.’ One of the Greek prisoners spoke fluent German, which helped the prisoners better communicate with the guards. After five days, the prisoners were marched to a nearby factory. The work there consisted of constructing pre-fabricated barracks to be dispatched to places in Germany that had been bombed out. In addition to Bailey and the Greeks and Spaniards who had arrived from Bernau, there were also around 50 Russian prisoners of war working in the Kroen barracks factory. According to Bailey, the mild treatment of the prisoners — at least the prisoners from Western Europe, as there is no mention of the treatment of the Russian prisoners — was due to this being the first time that forced labourers had been employed in the factory. This assertion may be true for this particular barracks factory, but documentation shows that the Kroen company had employed foreign forced labour from at least as early as 1943. [1]

According to Bailey, their main guard was a German named George Handler, who treated Bailey well but would beat the Greek prisoners with a stick that he carried around if he felt that they had disobeyed or were not working hard enough. There was also a ‘chief’ (most probably ‘boss’, from the German Chef) who would inspect them from time to time, a son of the Kroen factory owner, for whom Bailey made the rather unlikely accusation that he was a ‘member of the Gestapo’. This boss man once found out that four of the Greek prisoners had stolen food and sent them to Landsberg Prison, where they were confined in close quarters to 14 days’ bread and water rations. The man described by Bailey was most likely Hermann Kroen, a son of the factory owners, who was a member of the Schwabmünchen Town Council from 1935 as well as a member of the Nazi Party. A younger son of the factory owners, Walter Kroen, was in the Wehrmacht and taken prisoner by the allies in 1943. [2]

At some point after the allied invasion of France in June 1944, discipline became much stricter and bars were installed in the barracks windows. A new commandant named Strickler was put in charge, who Bailey describes, despite the stricter discipline, as having been lenient. The prisoners began to get less food rations, although they were still fed much better than in Bernau Prison. Throughout the summer of 1944, Bailey was able to work outdoors and said that he was ‘in very good health’ by autumn of the same year.

In November 1944, Bailey had apparently served his sentence and was asked if he would like to continue working at the Kroen factory as a free labourer, but Bailey said he could not work for Germany as they were the enemies of his own country. Bailey believed that this refusal was the reason for his subsequent fate. On 22 November 1944, Bailey left Schwabmünchen accompanied by Commandant Strickler, who confided in Bailey that he hated the brutality of war and had ‘no faith in German victory’. Bailey was told in Landsberg that he was to be discharged to a civilian internment camp, where he could expect decent living conditions. He was able to take a proper bath and his civilian clothes were returned to him. However, after a brief stay in Munich Gestapo Prison, on 18 December 1944 Bailey was transported to Dachau Concentration Camp.

Kingston Bailey survived the end of the war. He was liberated on 4 May 1945 in Laufen Civilian Internment Camp and went on to publish his memoirs about his wartime experiences in 1958. The town of Schwabmünchen was heavily bombed by allied forces on 4 March 1945, resulting in the deaths of 61 people, including three Eastern European forced labourers from the Gebrüder Kroen, who were likely forbidden access to German air raid shelters. In addition, an Eastern European forced agricultural labourer died in the bombing. US Army troops liberated the city without resistance on 27 April 1945. The company Gebrüder Kroen GmbH still exists today and has a detailed history of the company on their website, but as of date (January 2019) no mention is made of the fact that the company exploited foreign forced labourers during the war. A street in Schwabmünchen is named in honour of the firm.

[1] Augsburg City Archive, DAF Kreisverwaltung folder 16, via Zentrale für Unterrichtsmedien im Internet e. V.

[2] Museumsstiftung Post und Telekommunikation, Army Postal Service Collection, Letters of Walter Kroen. Link (in German).

Special thanks to Michael Wenzl for his kind assistance.

Augsburger Allgemeine, ‘Als Schwabmünchen im Bombenhagel versank’, 3 March 2009. Link (in German).

Bailey, K.G.: Dachau, All the Horrors of Nazi Oppression, C.I. Marine Ltd., Guernsey, [1958] 1979, pp. 83-90.

Gebruder Kroen GmbH, company history as published on their website in German. (page as saved on the Internet Archive on 5 September 2018.).

International Tracing Service Arolsen, Catalogue of Camps and Prisons in Germany and German-occupied Territories, 1949-1951, p. 195.

Jahn, Joachim: Schwabmünchen – Geschichte einer schwäbischen Kleinstadt; Schwabmünchen, 1984, p. 353.

The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA FO 950/1353 (Bailey)

Pfandzelter, Elmar: Schwabmünchner Geschichten – Der 4. März 1945, Augsburg, 2010, List of allied bombing victims, p. 44