Antisemitic hate crimes have surged here in New York and all throughout the United States.
So, in an effort to fight against the blatant prejudice, a group of graffiti artists has formed a global task force to carry out the “Righteous Among the Nations Global Mural Project.” It’s an initiative of the nonprofit Artists 4 Israel that seeks to promote cross-cultural unity and stand up against hate by painting building-sized murals honoring those who saved Jews during the Holocaust at the risk of their own lives.
The artworks have already turned heads in Greece and Portugal, among other locations. Destinations are chosen by the nonprofit group based on two criteria: they are either the home of the depicted Holocaust rescuers or current hotbeds for antisemitism. New York City has just joined the roster of participating towns with its very own mural on the entire facade of Vig Bar at 12 Spring Street by Elizabeth Street in Soho.
The graffiti, which debuted earlier this week, features a towering portrait of Tibor Baranski, a Hungarian-American who rescued more than 3,000 Jews during the Holocaust.
In 1944, a 22-year-old Baranski, who was actually not Jewish himself, was studying to become a Catholic priest in Hungary. When Nazi forces occupied Budapest, he was able to persuade a representative of the Vatican to let him use church resources to save Jews in peril.
To do so, Baranski established safe houses and printed fraudulent passes to get Jews out of the country safely. According to a press release, he even "borrowed the official diplomatic vehicle, a Rolls-Royce, and would show up at Nazi roundups and pull Jews out of the lines." That is what we call a hero.
The new mural is the work of Dominican-American artist from Queens, SKI (given name: Fernando Romero). “I’m not Jewish but I’ve painted in Israel and am blown away by the Jewish experience,” the graffiti artist said in a statement. “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.”
Passersby will notice a QR code right by the mural that they’ll be able to scan to land on a web page that tells the story of Baranski in more detail.
Needless to say, the project resonates particularly loudly in a city like New York, where acts of antisemitism are surging at a rapid pace. To put things in perspective: according to the New York Police Department, 45 antisemitic hate crimes were reported locally in November. That's about one such attack every 16 hours.
“These murals are being celebrated by Jews and non-Jews, by people in Europe and America, by people from Black and Brown communities, by people of all religions and none," said Craig Dershowitz, the CEO of Artists 4 Israel, in an official statement. "Art is part of the answer to antisemitism."