Irmela Mensah-Schramm, Teacher and human rights activist
3. february 2009
Irmela Mensah-Schramm, 64, is a german teacher and human rights activist for
human rights, democracy and tolerance. She has dedicated
herself to fighting racism and discrimination in Berlin
and other German and European cities by removing racist
and anti-Semitic graffiti and stickers. She has
received several German awards.
Why do you think your activities are necessary?
Simply because looking away approves and encourages the
authors. I believe that he who keeps silent and looks
away becomes an accomplice. These unbearable racist and
anti-Semite messages are intended to make people afraid
and to recruit like-minded people to the cause.
What was the catalyst which brought you to this
It was in 1986. While I was on my way to work, I
discovered a Nazi-sticker at the bus stop just in front
of my house. I wasn’t able to pull it off before the bus
arrived. All day long I was so ashamed of myself.
Finally, when I came home 10 hours later, I removed it.
I felt such gratification.
If you don’t do it yourself, who will do it? Everybody
can do it! It is also a message to the authors to tell
them that you don’t agree with them.
How do people react to your activities?
I am active in Poland, in France, (Strasbourg), in
Brussels and Vienna. There are certainly positive
reactions and gratitude for my actions. Someone asked me
if I was paid. There are reactions from angry citizens
who say that I am worse than the Nazis. The Nazis
themselves tell me that I would have been brought to the
gas chamber under Hitler’s regime.
I did get graffiti saying : ''Schramm we’ll get you!'' or ''Granma Punk we’ll catch you!''. Once, I met one of them
and I said: ''Hey here I am, so what do you want?'', he
said nothing and ran away. There have always been
confrontations with Nazis but I got away with it.
I have been physically threatened. Once I met a young
man at Berlin Rudow, where I am at least once a week,
and he stopped me on the street and said: “Mrs Schramm,
I am off now. I left the Nazi movement, and therefore I
would like to thank you!” I was moved to tears! I wasn’t
prepared for that.
Police in Berlin tell me that I am not allowed to remove
the Nazi-stickers because the political party isn’t
prohibited. They also forbid me to remove small graffiti
with polish remover or over-paint big ones because it
would be damage to property. Needless to say that I
don’t stick to that.
What do the authorities think of your activities?
The Berlin Senate repeatedly refused to support my
project. I wasn’t even thinking about financial support,
but rather to include it in a national plan of action in
the education programme. It seems to me that the Berlin
Senate doesn’t want to deal with my project.
What motivates you to continue your activity?
People have always complained about Nazis and Fascism
but it doesn’t change things or helps to make them to
disappear. You have to react! I have noticed that people
have now understood that they can actually do something.
Recently, I have been contacted by the European Academy
in Waren to cooperate with the mayor and the local
police in order to pull off and erase Nazi-graffiti with
young people all over the town. We did this in several
cities and the young people continue to do so
Sometimes it is depressing and it is tiring. But at
other times I say to myself, I have to go again. I can’t
take a rest. Since 3 January 2007, I have removed over
17, 500 stickers.
How do you assess the level of discrimination in
At the moment, it is getting worse. The more discussions
concerning a ban of the German far-right party NPD
appear on the daily agenda, the more its followers act.
The problem is the population’s reaction. Whilst I was
removing a NPD sticker from an election poster of the
Greens, an elegant townswoman who isn’t discernable as a
Nazi, told me right that I have to accept other people’s