A Woman to Know: Danuta Danielsson

Looking closer, you might guess this is a woman who knows something about flags. — Mark Granier

Looking closer, you might guess this is a woman who knows something about flags. — Mark Granier

(image via Wikimedia)

On April 13, 1985, a group of Neo-Nazis marched through the streets of Växjö, Sweden. Suddenly, a woman leapt from the crowd, smashing her handbag into the skull of the closest supporter. Photojournalist Hans Runesson saw the moment and grabbed his camera. Today, his shot is held up as an iconic image of protest.

But not much is known about Danuta Danielsson, the woman with the handbag. She grew up in a Polish-Jewish family, and her mother had survived a concentration camp during World War II. A few years before the photo, she moved to Sweden with her husband.

Seeing the Nazis marching in her new home, she snapped.

The image brought her international recognition — with people both celebrating her and vilifying her. Her son said she never recovered from the notoriety the image brought her. Two years later, already battling a mental illness that the media attention exacerbated, she jumped off a water tower, committing suicide.

In “The Weight,” poet Mark Granier closes with this remembrance of Danuta:

Depending on how power-washed you prefer
your heroes or heroines, the handbag
will either lose its weight, become
insubstantial as an averted eye, a pursed
word, or it will gain
the gravity of a scream, a pendulum.

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