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 activity?

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 afterwards.

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 Germany?

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 opinions.


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