Semra Ertan

My dear sister Semra, 37 years have passed. You were 25 years old when you burned your little tender body out of despair and protest against everyday racism. But you did not leave us forever. More than 350 poems of yours have remained and are read again today. Poems about your resistance, your anger, your joy in life and - one of your most beautiful poems - a poem about love.


How could I know that you love me,
If your eyes did not speak?
How could I think such a thing?
Till yesterday I walked the streets alone,
And today I walk hand in hand with you
And lie in your arms in the pub,
From the same glass we'll enjoy love
And be happy together,
With some nights without a tomorrow,
How could I know
That a fire is kindled,
If your hands had not touched mine?
If I did not hear your heart beat,
Could I love you so much?
Could I have such longing for you?
The whole body like a flame,
Where are the years gone by?
I began to live yesterday,
That which I am, I have only now come to know,
It's nice that your mouth told me what my name is,
Nice is that I'm not so far away anymore,
Beautiful is that I saw you and loved you,
It's nice that I was loved the way you dream I could be.
Who knows, under the earth I could lose myself like a river,
If you would not find me
And I would not write this poem.

Dear Semra, you were a lone fighter, racism has not diminished since then. But today we are a strong community. And your thoughts, your poems help to raise our awareness of where we stand, where resistance is needed and where we can find allies. Today you would not be as cruelly alone as you were then. With your poems you have become a valuable part of our struggle for a better, a humane Germany. Before your courageous act you wrote to the NDR and the ZDF: I want foreigners not only to have the right to live like human beings, but also to have the right to be treated like human beings.

You did not die, you and the many victims of racism, Ramazan Avcı, Yeliz, Ayşe - and all the others, they live on in us, they are not forgotten, their names are not erased. They and like stars that show us the way. One of your poems has found its way into school books and other publications. It has become - you are - part of our history, our collective consciousness.

Mein Name ist Ausländer.
My name is Foreigner.
I work here
I know how I work
The Germans know it too
My work is hard
My work is dirty
I don't like it, I say
"If you don't like the work
go to your homeland" they say
My work is hard
My work is dirty
My wages are low
I pay taxes too I say
I say it again and again
I have to hear again and again
"Find another job"
But the blame does not lie with the Germans
Does not lie with the Turks
Turkey needs foreign currency
Germany needs manpower
Turkey sent us to Europe
Like stepchildren
Like useless people
But still she needs foreign exchange
Needs rest
My country sent me abroad
My name is Foreigner

My dear sister Semra, because of you I left science and became a therapist. And my daughter, born in 1986, I gave your name. With films and texts about you, she has become your strongest ally.

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I want people to love and accept each other.
And I want them to think about my death.
(Semra Ertan 1982)

Semra Ertan was politically active. Among other things, she demonstrated against the NPD's camouflage organisation "Hamburger Liste für Ausländerstopp" (Hamburg List for Stopping Foreigners), which ran in the 1982 parliamentary elections. She fought against racism and stigmatisation, for gender equality. She interpreted free of charge for her compatriots when they went to the authorities.

She was 17 when she began to write intensively. In over 350 poems and satires, she described her life and experiences in Germany. They are about suffering, anger, love, hope and friendship, social equality, the courage to resist and a human way of living with and for each other.

In December 2020, part of her poems was published as a book. It is entitled SEMRA ERTAN "My name is a foreigner / Benim Adım Yabancı" and was awarded the Alfred Döblin Prize in 2021.

On 24 May 1982, at the age of 25, Semra Ertan burned herself to death at the intersection of Simon-von-Utrecht-Straße/Detlev-Bremer-Straße (St. Pauli, Hamburg) in protest against rampant racism in order to shake up the public.

Why am I writing, do I want to write?
For whom all this?
Taking everything into account,
Writing in any case,
What is it that I want?
Where does the fidgeting come from, the urging...?
Try to understand at last...
It's time.
Put an end to the silence...
Look into this lush green valley and...
At the mountains reaching into the clouds....
This roaring sea and the crystal clear stream,
What are they trying to tell us?
Try to understand.
It is time.
Put an end to the silence...
It must stop, it must stop.


A man is not forgotten until his name is forgotten. (from the Talmud)

But remembrance also needs a place where relatives, friends and people in solidarity can come to mourn. A place that reminds everyone who visits or passes it that racism has a long tradition in Germany, but also resistance against it.

A place that signals that Semra Ertan, that her story is part of Hamburg. We need to remember in order to always be aware of the deadly consequences of racism.

Therefore, we demand that Semra Ertan is also present in the cityscape.

Initiative in Gedenken an Semra Ertan