Münzenberg, Wilhelm Willi

(1889-1940)
   publicist; organized and led Germany s most powerful Communist propaganda empire. Born in Er-furt, he passed a childhood marked by paternal brutality and poverty. In 1904, after a failed apprenticeship, he took a job in an Erfurt shoe factory. Joining a socialist youth club in 1906, he soon led the group and affiliated it in 1907 with Karl Liebknecht s* Free Youth Union. After a brief imprisonment for trying to organize Erfurt s apprentices, he traversed Germany as an itinerant worker. Set-tling in Zürich in 1910 as a pharmacist's assistant, he avoided World War I and through his youth work formed a friendship with Lenin. A participant in the 1917 International Socialist Congress at Stockholm, he joined the Spartacus League* upon returning to Germany. He settled in Berlin* and helped form the Communist Youth International, but at Lenin s urging he abandoned youth work to organize the Internationale Arbeiterhilfe (International Workers' Aid, IAH) in August 1921. Elected in 1923 to the KPD's Zentrale, he represented the Party during 1924-1933 in the Reichstag.*
   Münzenberg, often praised for his amiable disposition, directed so many Com-munist concerns—including publishing houses, newspapers,* and magazines— that people labeled him the "Red Press Tsar." The IAH, founded initially to organize international relief for famine-stricken regions of the Soviet Union,* enlisted the aid of such personalities as Maximilian Harden,* Kathe Kollwitz,* Albert Einstein,* George Grosz,* and the pacifist author Leonard Frank. Im-pressive in its relief efforts, IAH mutated into an international propaganda net-work. Münzenberg reported that by 1930 the IAH sponsored over 5,000 activities and had a membership of more than 100,000 people organized into 930 local chapters. His key publications, printed by the Neue deutsche Verlag (managed by his wife, Babette Gross), were Mahnruf (a bimonthly), Der rote Aufbau (a monthly theoretical journal), and the Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung (AIZ, a weekly with half a million readers). Münzenberg organized a League against Imperialism in 1927 and a League against War and Fascism in 1932. While he was faithful to Moscow s program, he retained an ambiguous editorial policy that set him apart from the austere rigidity of the KPD and helped him enlist collaborators not sympathetic to communism.
   After the Reichstag fire (February 1933), Münzenberg emigrated to Paris and established an antifascist propaganda enterprise. During exile he staged a coun-tertrial that discredited Germany's Reichstag-fire trial and indicted the NSDAP (incorrectly) for setting the fire. A trip to Moscow in 1936, amidst Stalin's show trials, led to his disillusionment. When Russia signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in August 1939, he accused Stalin of treason. Briefly interned by the French in May 1940, he fled to southern France. In October 1940 his body was found inexplicably hanging from a tree.
   REFERENCES:Deak, Weimar Germany's Left-Wing Intellectuals; Babette Gross, Willi Munzenberg; Gruber, "Willi Münzenberg's German Communist Propaganda Empire"; Koestler, Invisible Writing.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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