Photo: Artists 4 Israel
NEW YORK – A dangerous surge in antisemitism in NYC and around the world is being fought with aid from an unexpected source – graffiti artists who have formed a global task force to fight hate and promote cross-cultural unity.
In their latest mission, a mural encompassing the entire outside of the iconic SoHo hotspot, Vig Bar at the busy corner of Spring and Elizabeth Streets, will feature a towering portrait of Tibor Baranski a Hungarian-American who rescued more than 3,000 Jews during the Holocaust.
The unveiling of the mural on December 18th at 4:30pm will be accompanied by a cocktail reception and candle lighting for the first night of Hanukkah. In addition to the art, the celebration will feature musical performances by the Jewish singer Neshama Carlebach and the Harlem-based Doo Wop band, Cover Story. The Hebrew blessings will be recited by Rabbi Menachem Creditor of the Jewish Federation, and the sons of Tibor Baranski will briefly share how his Catholic faith inspired their father’s heroism during the Holocaust. Baranski settled in New York after the war and was beloved by both the Jewish and Hungarian communities until his death in 2019.
The mural is the work of SKI (Fernando Romero), a Dominican-American artist born and raised in Queens. SKI has joined forces with other top urban artists around the world to participate in the “Righteous Among the Nations Global Mural Project.” Together they are painting building-sized murals honoring the heroes who saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust at their own peril.
When Tibor Baranski was 22, he was studying to be a Catholic priest in Hungary. When the Nazis occupied Budapest, the young seminary student fast talked his way into the Papal Nuncio’s residence and persuaded the Vatican’s representative to let him use Church resources to save Jews.
Baranski setup safe houses and printed official looking but fraudulent passes to get Jews out of the country. He borrowed the official diplomatic vehicle, a Rolls Royce, and would show up at Nazi roundups and pull Jews out of the lines. He alternated between charming and bullying. He was fearless when Nazi soldiers pointed guns at his head. He even called Adolf Eichmann a scoundrel to his face.
“I’m not Jewish,” says SKI, “but I’ve painted in Israel and am blown away by the Jewish experience. We all have the ability to fight for peace. I look forward to continuing to spread love, positivity and unity in areas where people need it most.”
The Righteous Among the Nations Global Mural Project is an initiative of the non-profit, Artists 4 Israel. The goal is to empower a new generation to fight the latest resurgence of an ancient hatred.
Taken by amazing visuals like the Baranski mural, people naturally take out their smartphones to grab a photo. Then the QR code in the giant painting opens a link that tells the story of the heroic Rescuer. The Rescuer in the mural is either a native citizen or came to live in that locale after World War II.
“Learning that ordinary people from their own neighborhoods won an honored place in world history by acting against antisemitism motivates others to do the same, creating new heroes in a time of need,” says Craig Dershowitz, CEO of Artists 4 Israel. “We are modeling heroism to end antisemitism.”
Murals in Greece and Portugal have already become tourist destinations. The locations for the murals are chosen for either being the home of one of the Holocaust Rescuers or because the area has become a hotspot for antisemitism.
Unfortunately, New York City has become one of those places where antisemitism is surging. Anti-Jewish attacks made up 60 percent of all [reported] hate crimes in the city last month. The NYPD reports 45 antisemitic hate crimes in November – approximately one anti-Jewish attack every 16 hours.
“These murals are being celebrated by Jews and non-Jews, by people in Europe and America, by people from Black [including Black Jewish] and Brown communities, by people of all religions and none,” says Dershowitz. “Art is part of the answer to antisemitism.”