19 maj 2016

About the Kapsa’s printing house where Kricks printed ‘The Item’

During WWII, between November 1943 and January 1945, the American Officers, POWs in Oflag 64, published the camp newspaper named “The Oflag 64 Item”. There were fifteen issues in total, released monthly. In fact there was no issue for January 1944, but in December 1943 the paper was published twice – at the beginning of month and shortly before Christmas. The newspaper usually consisted of four pages, but three times an issue consisting of 6 pages was published – in April, October 1944 and in January 1945, and once – in June 1944 – it had 8 pages. It was the anniversary issue, to emphasize, or rather to celebrate [sic!] the first anniversary of incarceration in Oflag 64. The circulation grew from 250 copies for the first issue to over 1400 for the last issue – each prisoner had his own copy from the beginning to the end.

The Christmas issue, December 1943, printed with green ink (digital copy from Susanna Bolten Connaughton).


It was the first Polish printing house founded in Szubin after Poland regained its independence in 1918. In 1920 Józef Kapsa (born in 1892) bought the property at Paderewski Street 7. He settled there with his family, and the outbuildings located in the courtyard were transformed into a printing press and bindery.

After 1850, in the city of Szubin, the German print house and bindery operated, where during Prussian times the following newspapers were printed: “Kreisblatt des Szubiner Kreises” (Official Journal of Szubin County), “Schubiner Kresiblatt” (Szubin County Journal) or “Schubiner Zeitung” (Szubin County Newspaper). After 1919, the last German owner of this print house, Fritz Lach, continued his printing house and printed the newspaper, “Orędownik na powiat szubiński” (The Spokesman for Szubin County) in Polish and German.

The headers of “Schubiner Kresiblatt” and “Schubiner Zeitung” (source: Muzeum Ziemi Szubińskiej).

The Kapsa printing house, soon filled with the best printing machines available on the market and a richly equipped typesetting room and bindery, became a very prosperous business, providing services for institutions, as well as for the residents of Szubin County. According to “Dzieje Szubina” (The History of Szubin), the press enjoyed  relatively high readership among the people of Szubin and played an important role in shaping the culture. Since 1925, and until the outbreak of World War II, printing of the Szubin County Newspaper, published in the interwar period under the titles: “Orędownik Urzędowy Powiatu Szubińskiego”, “Orędownik Powiatowy Powiatu Szubińskiego”and “Orędownik Powiatu Szubińskiego” (variations around: The Official Spokesman of the Szubin County) was entrusted to the Józef Kapsa printing press. The paper, which was the official organ of the municipal and the county authorities, was issued twice a week and contained various ordinances, communications, and news from local organizations and associations.

 The headers of “The Spokesman…”, printed by Lach (upper), and printed by Kapsa (lower) (source: Kujawsko-Pomorska Biblioteka Cyfrowa).

Invoice form printed in Kapsa’s printhouse (source: Muzeum Ziemi Szubińskiej).

A few days after the outbreak of World War II in Poland (September 1st, 1939), the German Army annexed Szubin. On Tuesday, September 5th, on the main square of Szubin the local Germans welcomed approximately 20 soldiers, who arrived in two cars and several motorcycles. The new Nazi German authorities from the very first days of their tenure began a planned extermination of the Polish population of Szubin County. Since the moment of the creation of the Posen Reich District, (initially called Reichsgau Posen, later The Reichsgau Wartheland), Wielkopolska (The Greater Poland), including Szubin and the Szubin County were incorporated into the territory of the Third Reich.

Nazi German soldiers at the main square Szubin, September 5th, 1939 (source: Muzeum Ziemi Szubińskiej).

In the first weeks of Nazi German occupation, Józef Kapsa was deprived of his print shop like many other homeowners and business owners in Szubin. Expropriation by the Nazis followed by rules “In fünf minute raus” (“Get out in five minutes”). Military police officers would give orders to entire families to leave their premises within a few minutes. Each family could bring no more than 50 kg of luggage, mainly food and personal clothing, and all valuables were confiscated. The evicted residents of Szubin were gathered at the Polish House (Dom Polski) located at the School Street, at which the German occupiers established the temporary displacement camp (Umsiedlungslager) for displaced people. The Kapsa family was divided. Józef’s son Adam (born in 1924), who had begun to apprentice in his father’s printing shop before the war, together with his mother and the rest of the family, managed to escape to their old family homein Wągrowiec (Eichenbrück), while Józef was displaced along with other families from Szubin to the General Governorate. He spent practically the entire five years of WWII in Minsk Mazowiecki trying to secure physical labor of various kinds, for example sweeping the streets.

During the German occupation, the Kapsa printing house had no administrator for some time. Hearing this rumor, the native of Szubin County, whose ancestors came from East Prussia, returned to Szubin. His grandfather, Franz Nicolaus Krix, was born in Grudziądz (Graudenz), while his father, Paul Kriks was born in Bydgoszcz (Bromberg). Paul Kriks, married Maria Magdalena nee Sułkowska and had thirteen children. To the youngest, born in 1907 in Rynarzewo (Netzwalde), they gave the name Willi Richard. Paul Kriks was a chimney sweeper and when he got the position of master in the Szubin railway circle, he moved to Szubin and bought a house on Raatz Street (Raatzstraße, currently Winnica Street).

Willi Kricks attended school in Szubin, and after completing school – as described by his son Rainer – Willi trained in typesetting at the Fritz Lach printing house on Bydgoska Street (Bromberger Straße). This information is inaccurate, inasmuch as according to the German city plan of Szubin (supposedly earlier than the date indicated in the caption), there was the Kapsa printing press (marked with a green spot) on Bydgoska Street, and the Lach printing house in the other place (marked with a red spot). It is not known to the author exactly when the name of Bydgoska Street was changed to Paderewski Street, but might have been in the 1920s.

The city plan of Szubin, dated 1935 according to the source, but supposedly it was the city plan of Szubin before 1919 (source: “Der Kreis Schubin”).

The Kricks family left Szubin in 1927, for political reasons, and settled in Haale/Saale (Germany). Most likely at the same time, the German printer Lach closed his print house and also left Szubin. Willi married in 1935 in Halle/Salle and got the position of Composing Room Manager for the “Die Mitteldeutsche Nationalzeitung” newspaper. In 1940, wanting to be closer to his small fatherland, he successfully applied for the position at a newspaper issued in Poznan. From there he repeatedly visited Szubin. When he learned that the Polish owner (Józef Kapsa) of the printing press at Szubin was expropriated, and the print house needed a financial manager (fiduciary), he decided to apply for the job and return to Szubin. Over time, the opportunity arose to buy the print house from  the German authorities. In the printing house operated under the management of Kricks, a number of Polish workers were employed including a typesetter, a bookbinder, an apprentice, a female helper, and Józef Kluczkowski, who worked as a foreman (overseer) and typesetter and, like Willi Kricks, supposedly apprenticed at the Fritz Lach print shop. Mr. Kluczkowski’s daughter, who helped deliver leaflets, was also at the printing house. At that time, a monthly newspaper, the “Altburgund Heimatbote” (Fatherland messenger from Altburgund), was printed, addressed to German soldiers on the front.

The header of “Altburgunder Heimatbote” (issue from October 1944) printed by Kricks (digital copy obtained from Rainer Kricks).

The photograph of the Evangelical Church in Rynarzewo, 1900/01, taken from the article on the first page of "Altburgunder Heimatbote” (digital copy obtained from Rainer Kricks).

Full issue of “Altburgunder Heimatbote”:
Page 3 upper | Page 3 lower | Page 4 upper | Page 4 lower 

 The post-evangelical church in Rynarzewo (Netzwalde). Currently church of St. Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr, 2016.

In 1943, Willi Kricks was conscripted into the Wehrmacht, while running the printing was taken over by his wife Anni. As Rainer Kricks emphasized – his father never was a member of NSDAP, though he was naturally a staunch German patriot.

Rainer Kricks at the doors of the printing house; Willi Kricks with his children Rainer and Brigitte in the garden at the backyard of the residential building; photos taken in 1943 (private archive of Rainer Kricks).

Willi was a guard at Oflag 64, and when the Americans learned that he operated the printing house in the town, the idea of printing the camp newspaper was born: “Considering the circumstances, it was hard to imagine why Germans agreed to such a project, and more that “The Oflag 64 Item” was printed in the printing house taken over from the Poles, currently owned by one of the guards of the camp, Willi Kricks”. Frank Diggs, the chief editor of the camp newspaper, years later recalled – “the printing was done by the wife of the guard, (...) and the Polish staff turned out to be very helpful, especially in the typesetting”. In his book “Americans Behind the Barbed Wire”, Diggs wrote: “It [the Item] was printed by Willi Kricks, the same German guard who was operating the print shop in nearby Schubin and who assisted Don Lussenden in setting up the camp bookbindery. With a staff of four Polish printers, Willi did a good job of it too after all the language typos were corrected. Every month I would be escorted by an armed guard to the print shop downtown, usually accompanied by Larry Phelan or Seymour Bolten, a New Yorker who spoke fluent  German.”

As Rainer Kricks recalls: “Since the organization of printing the newspaper required investments, my father was transferred to security personnel [of the camp], in order to organize the purchase of sets of new fonts, and other professional equipment. During the editing of the camp newspaper the experienced professionals among American prisoners of war worked for us as typesetters. Good contacts were established between us. My father was a German patriot, for whom the obvious duty was to engage on the side of his country. This does not mean, however, that there was any improper relation to people or any kind of ill-treatment. His behavior in relation to the Polish associates, as well as to the prisoners of war was characterized by responsibility, reasonableness and a willingness of mutual assistance in the difficult times of war”. This was confirmed in my conversation with the daughter of Józef Kluczkowski who said: “Kricks always treated Poles working for him very well. My father used to repeat this many times”.

“The Americans left their home addresses with my father – said Rainer Kricks – which he could use after the war in case any help was needed. I remember Carl Hansen [1st Lt.  Carl V. Hansen ] – the professor of German philology and Carter [2nd Lt Amon G. Carter Jr.] – the owner of one of the larger newspapers in Fort Worth, Texas. Both [after the war] sent us parcels to the Soviet occupation zone [Deutsche Demokratische Republik] and we have maintained a correspondence”.

In autumn 1944 Kricks started rebuilding the right side of the barn located behind the printing house. In order to expand the printing equipment he also purchased the press of Johannisberger Schnellpresse which – as Rainer mentions – already lacked printing rollers, which were cast in Leipzig. As Rainer Kricks also recalls –  in the typesetting room some fonts for printing the American newspaper were missing, so with the approval of the German authorities he bought more of them at the Bauer Type Foundry in Frankfurt am Main, among them the “Bodoni-Antiqua” typeface known around the world.

On  January 21st, 1945 the American POWs were evacuated to the West. Also on that day, Willi Kricks with his family, like the vast majority of local Germans, left Szubin with a horse-driven cart.

After his return to Szubin in 1945 Józef Kapsa took back his home and found his printing press in surprisingly good condition, so immediately returned to work. He was able to run it as an owner until 1949, when according to the new nationalization law [the process of transforming private assets into public assets by bringing them under the public ownership of a national government or state] introduced by the Communist government, the print shop with all the equipment was taken from him again. He was an established specialist and therefore he was allowed to continue working in the printing house, together with his son Adam, but the state-owned printing facility was established and the managing director was posted by the local authorities (actually several during those years). He kept his home, in which the Kapsa family was allowed to live, although the Communist authorities would not allow them to fully manage it – every now and then sub-tenants were assigned to them or part of the house was assigned for other purposes, such as the separate apartment for a teacher of the nearby school or store.

Marek Kapsa, grandson of Józef, recalled growing up in the environment of this business and even today, after many years, he would be able to recreate the print house as it was from his memory. He also recalled that his grandfather Józef and father Adam were often persecuted by the Communist authorities – for example, they were repeatedly fired. Marek also started training to be a printer, but later worked in the other print shop.

Józef Kapsa retired in 1968 and died soon thereafter in 1970. The printing house, which he founded in Szubin, together with all its pre-war equipment operated until the beginning of the 1970s. In 1974, it was liquidated and the machines were transported to another printing house in Żnin.

Józef Kapsa (from private archive of Marek Kapsa).

After the war Willi Kricks leased a printing house in Beetzendorf/Altmark in Eastern Germany. In June 1950, however, he fled from the Communists to Western Germany. Through the refugee camps in Uelzen, Freiburg/Breisgau and Osthofen he arrived at the Westhofen Worms, which became his new home. Willi Kricks, with his wife Anni, revisited Szubin in the 1970s. They then visited Mr. and Mrs. Kluczkowski and the printing house of Józef Kapsa. Willi died on March 16th, 1988 in Westhofen.

In 1951 his son Rainer began to apprentice as a typesetter. After passing the master exam and after several years of practice in another printshop, he took over his father’s printing house in Westhofen and ran it until it was taken over by his son Volker, a graduate engineer in printing.

The beginning of a free Poland presented a new opportunity for reprivatization [the process of restoring to its former owners properties seized by a government or the process of compensating previously uncompensated former owners], but despite many attempts through the years 1990-2008 to finalize the process of such regulations, Poland remains the only country of the former Soviet bloc, in which this re-privatization has not been carried out. Adam Kapsa (the son of Józef) and his descendants have never received any compensation. He died suddenly in 1992. Thereafter the Kapsa family was able retain the buildings, but never got back the equipment.

The Kapsa family still lives in the same place at Paderewski Street. The buildings which used to be the print shop where “The Oflag 64 Item” was printed, now house the professional recording studio Electric Eye HD and record label Electric Eye Records owned by Kuba Kapsa and his brother Bartek Kapsa, who are great-grandsons of Józef Kapsa, and musicians associated with bands like Something Like Elvis, Contemporary Noise Quintet (Sextet), Kuba Kapsa Ensemble or Tropy.

Buildings of former printing shop of Józef Kapsa, 2016.


In searching for the printing machines from the Szubin printhouse, I’ve traveled to Żnin where, after the liquidation of the Kapsa’s printpress, his machines were taken. I believe it is probable that the printing machines from Kapsa’s printshop may be among the collections at the exhibition dedicated to the history of local printing in Muzeum Ziemi Pałuckiej. For example, the machines from the Reform School at Szubin can be found at the exhibition. After WWII, in one of the barracks built by prisoners of war, another printing house operated until 1994. However, no one has actually been able to confirm whether any of the machines located there were in fact taken from the Kapsa printshop.

Looking through accurate pictures of machines collected in the Museum, Rainer Kricks has found that as far as he remembers, the Victoria printing press was certainly equipment of his father’s print shop (or Kapsa’s) in Szubin (“Der Victoria-Tiegel im Vordergrund sowie der Boston-Tiegelstandenwohl in der Druckereimeines Vaters bzw. Bei Kapsa”).


My special thanks to Marek Kapsa, grandson of Józef Kapsa and to Rainer Kricks, son of Willi Kricks, for sharing their time and memories. Thanks to Muzeum Ziemi Pałuckiej for permission to take photos at the exhibition dedicated to the history of printing at Pałuki region and thanks to Muzeum Ziemi Szubińskiej for providing photos for the article. My special thanks also to Elodie and Bill Caldwell for regular editing and proofreading of the English language versions of my entries.

  • "Dzieje Szubina", Marian Biskup (ed.), Warsaw-Poznań, 1974.
  • "Spacer z historią w tle" by Kamila Czechowska, Urząd Miejski w Szubinie, Szubin, 2015.
  • "Der Kreis Schubin", Heimatkreis Schubin - Altburgund e.V., Bergen, 1990.
  • "Oflag 64 The Fiftienth Anniversary Book", Evanston Publishing, inc. Evanston Illinois, 1993.
  • "Americans Behind the Barbed Wire. World War II: Inside a German Prison Camp", by Frank J. Diggs, Vandamere Press, 2000.

© Mariusz Winiecki

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