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One woman tackles neo-Nazi graffiti

The Local · 12 Jan 2012, 10:57

Published: 12 Jan 2012 10:57 GMT+01:00

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Wielding just nail-polish remover, a camera and an "Against Nazis" bag, Irmela Mensah-Schramm is a one-of-a-kind fighter against Germany's increasingly threatening far-right scene.

Walking the streets of the depressed east Berlin district of Lichtenberg on the hunt for racist and pro-fascist graffiti, 66-year-old Mensah-Schramm's diminutive frame belies a crusader's iron will.

"I'm removing Nazi stickers!" the grey-haired, bespectacled pensioner calls almost playfully to a young skinhead sporting a black Thor Steinar sweatshirt, popular among neo-Nazis, and walking two menacing dogs on leashes.

The man mutters an inaudible reply and crosses to the other side of the street.

Mensah-Schramm, a retired special-needs teacher originally from Stuttgart, has spent the last 25 years eliminating an estimated 90,000 graffiti and stickers used by the far right to whip up support and intimidate minorities.

She works alone but is one of a growing number of grassroots activists stepping in to what they say is the gulf left by the authorities.

Their cause was highlighted by the bombshell revelation in November that a neo-Nazi gang was behind the unsolved murders of 10 people, mainly shopkeepers of Turkish origin, between 2000 and 2007.

Mensah-Schramm said she was one of the few people not surprised that the far right was behind the murders.

"It confirms the impression I had about the threat from the scene,” she says.

Mensah-Schramm estimates she spends 34 hours a week and about €300 euros a month on her "Hate Destroys" campaign which she has also taken to Italy, France, Austria, Luxembourg, Belgium and Poland.

"I was at the Warsaw ghetto memorial and found a Nazi swastika sprayed on the wall right next to it," she said. "Can you imagine?"

While the extreme right has made no inroads in German national politics and its rallies draw far more counter-demonstrators than supporters, campaigners say the authorities have turned a blind eye to the real threat.

Chancellor Angela Merkel devoted her weekly video podcast before Christmas to activists like Mensah-Schramm; former neo-Nazis recruiting others to leave the scene; pupils fighting the far right in their schools; and football fans who challenge racist slurs in the stands.

"These are the many, many people who stand up to all extremist tendencies with courage," Merkel said.

Hajo Funke, an expert on the far right at Berlin's Free University, calls Mensah-Schramm's work "encouraging" but notes that unless private initiatives are joined by concerted state action, both are doomed to failure.

"These kinds of campaigns are crucial to turn the atmosphere of intimidation around," said Funke, who calls German neo-Nazis the most dangerous in western Europe.

"But at the same time it is not enough if the authorities sweep the problem under the carpet or are incompetent. You need both."

"Unbelievable," Mensah-Schramm says, cursing under her breath as she sprays paint over swastikas daubed on a wall near the local light-rail station.

"Freedom of expression has a limit and that is where hatred and contempt for other people begin."

The "muck", as she calls the graffiti, uses a clutch of hateful slogans: "Foreigners out", "Germany for the Germans", even "Gas the Turks".

Mensah-Schramm says she has never been attacked by skinheads but they frequently harass, taunt and threaten her while she is working, and on extremist websites or in hate mail sent to her home.

Story continues below…

One young man said she belonged in a "gas chamber". Some passers-by cheer her on as she goes about her Sisyphean task, others call her "crazy" or complain she is defacing property.

One overzealous security guard put her in the hospital a few years ago.

Back at her flat, filled with books about Nelson Mandela and other resistance heroes, she has hundreds of pictures of hate propaganda which she has used to stage exhibitions and educational workshops across Germany and abroad.

She says her most rewarding work is with children, whom she encourages to report racist and anti-Semitic graffiti, rather than taking out scrapers and spray cans themselves.

"They could get in trouble for damaging property," she says. "It is a risk I'm only willing to take myself."


The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

12:04 January 12, 2012 by stoljar01@gmail.com
I wonder what her opinion might be of the "racist" play in Berlin featuring blackface?
12:49 January 12, 2012 by KamiZ
" Walking the streets of the depressed east Berlin district of Lichtenberg on the hunt for racist and pro-fascist graffiti, 66-year-old Mensah-Schramm's diminutive frame belies a crusader's iron will. "

I don't know if the writer knows this but crusaders were popular for killing Muslims. Not the best choice of words, my friend.
13:58 January 12, 2012 by freechoice
she should get the congressional medal of honor for fighting the NAZIs!
16:51 January 12, 2012 by LecteurX
Hold your breath till idiot du jour going by the name of henry1544 comes over and tell us she should take care of leftwing graffiti and how these "double-standards" are allowed to go one and blah blah blah.
17:11 January 12, 2012 by Englishted

In modern usage the term "crusade", or "crusade against...", is often used metaphorically to refer to any idealistically- or ideologically-motivated campaign without religious connotations, as in "Crusade Against Cancer".
17:34 January 12, 2012 by JAMessersmith
"Back at her flat, filled with books about Nelson Mandela and other resistance heroes"

Funny. One man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist.

"Later, mostly in the 1980s, Spear of the Nation (paramilitary group formed by Nelson Mandela) waged a guerrilla war against the apartheid government in which MANY CIVILIANS BECAME CASUALTIES. Mandela later admitted that the ANC, in its struggle against apartheid, also VIOLATED HUMAN RIGHTS, sharply criticizing those in his own party who attempted to remove statements supporting this fact from the reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission".

So, yes, Mandela is a hero, so long as you weren't an innocent child who happened to be born in South Africa at the time...

I guess it's cool, though, so long as it's the UNDERDOG who's killing children, right?

People are so incredibly stupid sometimes.
18:35 January 12, 2012 by nemo999
At 69.90 Euro for a Black Sweat Shirt, it appears that they have a very poor understanding of the value of money, in addition to their neolithic repressive klan (Yes it is spelled clan) culture.
22:12 January 12, 2012 by b-c
What a great, brave person. Irmela, keep up the good work! What you do is very, very important.
15:51 January 13, 2012 by LecteurX
@ JAMessersmith - all right. So Mandela sitting in prison from 1962 to 1990 as he was, was also masterminding a guerrilla war in the 1990s? Wow.

"Prison conditions were very basic. Prisoners were segregated by race, with black prisoners receiving the fewest rations. Political prisoners were kept separate from ordinary criminals and received fewer privileges. Mandela describes how, as a D-group prisoner (the lowest classification) he was allowed one visitor and one letter every six months. Letters, when they came, were often delayed for long periods and made unreadable by the prison censors.

Whilst in prison Mandela undertook study with the University of London by correspondence through its External Programme and received the degree of Bachelor of Laws. He was subsequently nominated for the position of Chancellor of the University of London in the 1981 election, but lost to Princess Anne."

So while receiving his mail once every 6 months and while studying by correspondence, with all his mail censored, he also managed to mastermind bombings, right? Genius.

Also, why is that you quote one part of the wikipedia article and drop the other part that you don't like? Just before the sentence you cherrypicked, there are also this extract:

"Mandela described the move to armed struggle as a last resort; years of increasing repression and violence from the state convinced him that many years of non-violent protest against apartheid had not and could not achieve any progress"

The 2nd sentence you selected shows contrition from Mandela and that he was not willing to sweep the bad actions of the ANC under the carpet.

"People are so incredibly stupid sometimes."

Yes, that applies to you.
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