Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung (AIZ) / Workers’ Illustrated Newspaper

Photo montage: John Heartfield, Kleiner SA Heldenbilderbogen
Photo montage Kleiner SA Heldenbilderbogen (Small Picture Sheet of SA Heroes) by John Heartfield for one of the last issues of AIZ to appear in Germany
Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Kunstsammlung John Heartfield Nr. 5183, © The Heartfield Community of Heirs/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015

Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung (AIZ) / Workers’ Illustrated Newspaper

An illustrated publication offers resistance in exile

Die AIZ unterscheidet sich von allen anderen Illustrierten grundsätzlich. Sie hat ihr Gesicht ganz dem Leben und den Kämpfen der Arbeiter und aller werktätigen Schichten zugewandt.

[The AIZ is fundamentally different to all other illustrated newspapers. It focuses entirely on the life and struggles of the workers and all working classes. (ed. trans.)]

Willi Münzenberg, Solidarität. 10 Jahre JAH 1921-1931, 1931

One of the illustrated newspapers in the Weimar Republic with the strongest circulation was the Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung (AIZ), which was published in Berlin as a Communist propaganda paper. The history of the AIZ is closely linked to its publisher and founder Willi Münzenberg. In 1921, Münzenberg was commissioned by the Communist Party leadership on Moscow to set up a newspaper. The illustrated newspaper Sowjetrußland im Bild (A view of Soviet Russia) published large-format photo features and propaganda articles about the Soviet Union. It was renamed Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung in 1924. Both the AIZ and its publisher were influenced by the Communist Party in Moscow.

Although the AIZ mainly printed articles from the Soviet Union and aimed to help its readers in their class struggle, the newspaper was not an organ of the party. It did not leave out any areas of the workers’ life and focussed not only on propaganda, but also entertainment, also featuring regular competitions and organising events. 1930 saw the appearance of the satirical photo montage by graphic artist John Heartfield, and the AIZ provided him with the space to develop his satirical photo montage further. The newspaper brought avant-garde art from the Dada scene to its readers and used the art for propagandistic purposes. Within a brief period of time, the AIZ had become a high-circulation publication and in 1933 around 500,000 issues were sold every week. Willi Münzenberg advanced to become one of Germany’s most important publishers.

As a Communist newspaper that directly attacked the Nazis, the AIZ had to put up with being banned and with persecution after the NSDAP seized power. The management therefore relocated the newspaper production to Prague in February of 1933, while Münzenberg fled to Paris. At first, the AIZ continued publication in Prague, calling for resistance against the Nazi regime and issues were smuggled over the border illegally. The readership, however, consisted mainly of émigrés and only small print runs were produced. When the Nazis annexed the Sudetenland in 1938, the newspaper went out of publication.

Further reading:
Bois, Marcel / Bornost, Stefan: Kompromisslos auf der Seite der Unterdrückten. Die Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung. In: Bernd Hüttner, Christoph Nitz (Hg.): Weltweit Medien nutzen. Medienwelt gestalten. Hamburg: VSA 2010, S. 185–194
Gross, Babette: Willi Münzenberg. Eine politische Biografie. Hg, v. Koestler, Arthur / Kerbs, Diethart. Leipzig: Forum-Verlag 1991
Schiller, Dieter: "Propaganda als Waffe“. Kurt Kersten und Willi Münzenberg. Berlin: Helle Panke 2007