German woman dedicates her days to erasing neo-Nazi graffiti
Summary of story from Washington Post, March 26, 2011
Irmela Mensah-Schramm, a retired woman from Berlin, spends her time erasing neo-Nazi graffiti from the walls of Berlin.
“I scratched off the first sticker in 1986, at a bus stop in front of my house,” Mensah-Schramm said.
It demanded “Freedom for Rudolf Hess” — Adolf Hitler’s deputy – who at the time was still alive and in prison in Berlin.
“The sticker was there all day and I couldn’t understand why nobody else took it off — people can be so ignorant,” she said.
For 25 years, Mensah-Schramm has taken it on herself to clean Berlin of neo-Nazi propaganda scrawled by skinheads and other right-wing groups.
She calls herself the “political cleaning lady of the nation” and says that in the last four years alone, she has scratched away more than 36,000 right-wing stickers.
She said seeing racist slurs sprayed on walls across the German capital with its atrocious Nazi past made her angry and she felt a personal responsibility to do something about them.
“Freedom of speech ends where hatred and racism begin,” Mensah-Schramm said.
Since her retirement in 2006, Mensah-Schramm walks the city six days a week, trying to track down all possible Nazi propaganda in the German capital.
Before she makes the racist slogans disappear, she documents everything, taking pictures of all the “evil stuff” she has found.
The number of far-right extremists in Germany is small — some 26,000 according to the most recent estimate from the country’s domestic intelligence agency — and when neo-Nazis hold demonstrations they are invariably dwarfed by counter-protesters.
However, the far-right National Democratic Party has garnered enough votes to make it into two states’ parliaments and in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt earlier this month more than 12 percent of voters under the age of 30 cast their ballot for the party.
Some passers-by applaud Mensah-Schramm spontaneously when they see her grass-roots response to neo-Nazi graffiti, but others get upset.
Skinhead groups have posted taunts about her online and several times property owners have reported her to the police. So far, nobody ever pressed charges against her successfully, she said.
“Neo-nazis and private security personnel have harassed and bumped me more than once,” Mensah-Schramm said, adding that she has given up calling the police for support, “because they rarely ever help me anyway and don’t remove racists slogans even if I tell them to do so.”
Mensah-Schramm, who is not Jewish, said that even though new stickers or graffiti often reappear soon after she’s removed them, she will never give up her work.
“I may be the craziest woman in all of Germany,” she said. “But the only way to get rid of those Nazis is to consistently work against them.”