With the internet and social media becoming accessible to everyone around the globe now more than ever, it’s pretty easy to get lots of viral photos and videos surfacing on the internet. Most of them, however, were short-lived. However, there were photos in the past that kept on resurfacing over and over again, passing the test of time. One of those was the iconic black and white photo of a woman hitting a skinhead neo-Nazi. Here’s the story behind it.
The Day of the Incident
It was April 13, 1985, and a small demonstration of the Nordic Realm Party was being held just shortly after the Left Party-Communists leader Lars Werner ended his public speech in the center of Vaxjo, Sweden. Even before the demonstration started, the left-wing supporters and neo-Nazis began their skirmishes. Photojournalist Hans Runesson was there, documenting and watching as the events unfolded behind his lens. Aside from the iconic photo of the woman (more about it later), he also captured a photo of 10 neo-Nazis being chased, thrown with eggs, and violently approached by a crowd of hundreds of attendants of the left-wing rally as well as local Vaxjo residents. There was even one who was kicked unconscious and fell to the ground until one of the protestors took pity on him and saved him. Due to the gravity of the situation, the far-right activists had to hide away in the toilets of the city’s train station and wait for the police to save and take them away from the scene.
Here’s a clip of the incident:
The Woman in the Photograph
What captured the people’s attention at that time and in the decades that followed was the photo of a woman hitting one of the neo-Nazis with her handbag. The lady was 38-year-old Danuta Danielsson. Her photo was published the very next day on the front page of Dagens Nyheter, a Swedish national newspaper, and in the British newspapers, The Times and The Daily Express on April 15. In 1985, the picture was selected as the Swedish Picture of the Year, and later on, as the Picture of the Century by the magazine Vi and the Photographic Historical Society of Sweden.
Danuta Danielsson was a Jewish Polish woman born in Gorzow Wielkopolski, in Poland. After her photo became “viral,” as we call it now, she veered off from the spotlight in fear of criminal prosecution and neo-Nazi hatred, and probably assault. Although she was often referred to as an old lady, it was just the angle of the photo, her facial expression, posture, and what she was wearing that all made her look a lot older than her actual age. Her mother survived a German concentration camp in Poland during The Holocaust, either in Auschwitz or in Majdanek. So she got furious after seeing the young Nazis parade themselves in her quiet town that only had been her home for a few years.
Those who knew her described her as energetic and very positive during her first few years in her new country, after meeting her future husband at a jazz festival and marrying shortly after that. She also suffered from mental problems, as Danuta would also sometimes scream menacingly at people on the streets and would sometimes mutter things to herself. Because of all these, she was treated in a psychiatric ward.
The neo-Nazi that she was photographed hitting with her bag was identified as Seppo Saluska, a militant from the Nordic Realm Party and would later be convicted for torturing and murdering a gay Jew.
For years, the photograph became a symbol of civil courage on how a fragile old lady resisted the archetypal neo-Nazi, but the truth was far from that. In reality, Danielsson hated the attention, which caused her to suffer from anxiety, leading her to commit suicide by throwing herself from a water tower just two years later.
Her identity was not revealed until 2014, when Swedish sculptor Sussan Arwin made a miniature statue of the iconic scene. From there, an initiative to build a life-size bronze version of the small statue in the city of Vaxjo started. This, however, was opposed by local politicians as they believed it might encourage violence. Danielsson’s son also condemned the idea, arguing that her mother never really liked the fame in the very first place.