Women to Know: Danuta Danielsson

An enraged woman runs across a street / to bring her handbag down, hard, on the back / of a skinhead Neo-Nazi flagbearer. / A photographer freezes her weapon in mid-air ... — Mark Granier

(image via Wikimedia)


In 1985, a group of Nordic Reich Party supporters marched through the streets of Växjö, Sweden. At one turn, a woman leapt from the crowd, smashing her handbag into the skull of a Neo-Nazi supporter. Hans Runesson grabbed his camera and got the shot. Even today, his photo is held up as an iconic image of protest.

Danuta Danielsson, the woman with the handbag, had moved to Sweden a few years before, to marry a Swedish man. She'd grown up in a Polish-Jewish family. Her mother had survived a concentration camp during World War II. Seeing the Nazis in her new home, she snapped.

The image brought her international recognition — with people both celebrating her and vilifying 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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