On the first night of Hanukkah in the heart of downtown Manhattan, a world-renowned artist painted a massive mural to raise awareness about surging antisemitism and spread tolerance between peoples.
The mural pays homage to Tibor Baranski, a courageous Hungarian American who rescued more than 3,000 Jews during the Holocaust.
The street art was deliberately created in New York because of the sharp rise in antisemitism there. According to recent statistics released by the NYPD, antisemitic hate crimes in New York City more than doubled in November compared to the same month last year.
The work was painted by Fernando “SKI” Romero, a Dominican-American artist born and raised in Queens, on the outside of the popular SoHo hotspot, Vig Bar.
SKI joined with other top urban artists around the world to participate in the “Righteous Among the Nations Global Mural Project”, an initiative of Artists4Israel, created in partnership with the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM).
The artists are painting building-sized murals honoring those who risked their own lives to save Jews during the Holocaust and have already had their works displayed on prominent buildings in Portugal and Greece.
“As a New York born Dominican non-Jew, I have had the opportunity with A4I to experience something so magical that I would’ve possibly never experienced if not for Art,” said the artist.
“I am forever grateful to be a part of something bigger and meaningful with such positive effects which I have witnessed firsthand. I look forward to continuing to spread, love positivity and unity in areas and with people that need it most.”
The mural reveal also coincided with the first night of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, and was followed by a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony, led by Rabbi Menachem Creditor.
“The purpose of the project is to force people to interact with the Holocaust, to learn and to find pride in fighting against antisemitism,” said Craig Dershowitz CEO of Artists4Israel. “The beautiful murals are a psychological trigger.”
“This initiative is about combating antisemitism through art and bridging between communities to push for greater tolerance and understanding,” said CEO of CAM Sacha Roytman Dratwa.
“We specifically wanted people from different backgrounds involved in this project to show how we can work, and fight hate together. Bringing this message literally to the streets is one way we can fight the extremists.”
Tibor Baranski’s life is an incredible story of selfless devotion to human life and heroism. At just 22, he was studying to be a Catholic priest in Hungary. As 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 set up 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 being charming and bullying. He was fearless when Nazi soldiers pointed guns at his head. He even called Adolf Eichmann a scoundrel to his face.
Shortly after the mural of Baranski was revealed, a woman came over to touch and kiss the face of Baranski. Her name is Carol Romeo, and she is Jewish, and her family survived the Holocaust. When she looked up who Baranski was and what he did, she decided the mural was a holy place. “I never knew he existed. And he lived here in New York. Everyone should know his story,” Romeo said.