NY graffiti artist, a non-Jew, celebrates rescuer of Jews in Holocaust

The huge painting of Tibor Baranski is part of Artists4Israel’s efforts to combat rising antisemitism in the city.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Native New Yorker Fernando “SKI” Romero unveiled on Sunday his huge mural of a Gentile hero who rescued thousands of Hungarian Jews in the Holocaust, which he had sprayed onto a wall in the Soho neighborhood of the city.

The graffiti artist painted a 35-foot-by-12-foot, black-and-white image of Tibor Baranski, alongside the words “Saved 3,000 Jewish lives” in vibrant orange and yellow letters on a pink background.

The work is part of a worldwide Mural Project of Artists4Israel and the Combat Antisemitism Movement to honor the Righteous Among the Nations, non-Jews who risked their lives during World War II to save Jews without any recompense.

The well-known artist was thrilled to participate in the project, saying in a statement, “I’m not Jewish, 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 massive works are being painted by top urban artists either in the hometowns of those righteous Gentiles or in places where antisemitism is soaring, with the aim of educating the local populace in a way that is relatable and effective.

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“Our goal with this project is to educate people about the terror of unchecked antisemitism, which is very important as that antisemitism seems to keep growing,” said Artists4Israel CEO Craig Dershowitz. “And to pay honor to those heroes who stood up in the face of hatred and fascism and did above and beyond bravery and courage to rescue those in need.”

In addition, “We realized there was lot of shame and blame in how we were approaching the discussion of anti-Semitism. We wanted to create heroes within countries and societies and communities … and say, ‘Here’s an opportunity. This is what standing up to hate and fascism looks like.’”

Murals have already been painted in Portugal, Greece and other countries. New York was chosen because of the record-breaking number of antisemitic incidents that have been recorded in the city in the past year. According to the New York Police Department, antisemitic hate crimes jumped 125% in November (45 incidents) as compared to the same month last year.

The timing of the unveiling event on the first night of Chanukah was a bonus, Dershowitz added.

“The fact that [the reveal night] ended up being a holiday about fighting hatred, a holiday about being a light on the nation, all of that just fits so perfectly with what we were doing,” he said.

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As a 22-year-old Catholic priest-in-training in Hungary, when the Nazis took over the country in 1944 and started deporting Jews immediately to the death camps, Baranski convinced the papal nuncio to let him represent himself as an emissary of the Pope in order to save as many people as he could. He drove around Budapest in the Vatican diplomat’s Rolls Royce and waved official-looking but fake papers at Nazi guards while pulling Jews out of roundups, much like the more famous Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg did.

He also printed documents that allowed Jews to escape the country, and like Wallenberg, he set up safe houses in the capital for others. Like Wallenberg again, he was arrested by the Soviets when they conquered the city, but while Wallenberg disappeared into the Gulag, Baranski survived a 160-mile death march to prison. He was released but then rearrested in 1948 for “clerical reaction” and spent some five years in Soviet jails before being freed following Stalin’s death.

During the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, he escaped the country and settled in Buffalo, New York, leaving the clergy, marrying and raising a family. He was acknowledged as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1979 and died in 2019 at the age of 96.

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A QR code on the New York mural leads to a description of Baranski’s heroic deeds, adding to the educational value of the painting, which will stay in place for at least nine months.