A pop-art mural near a Holocaust memorial in Milan, Italy, which depicts characters from “The Simpsons” wearing striped uniforms and yellow Stars of David, was reportedly vandalized on April 17 at the start of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust remembrance day.
Someone drew wavy scribbles over the mural of the disturbingly thin characters in camp uniforms. “We can say that it is part of the game,” the artist Alexsandro Palombo, told JNS. “In the last year, almost every new street artwork has been vandalized.” (The artist writes his first name with a lowercase first letter and a capital ex.)
Palombo said he had to create three different murals of Marge Simpson cutting her hair in solidarity with Iranian women in front of Milan’s Iranian consulate. “It was vandalized, removed and covered,” he said. (A company renovating the building provided the artist with wall space to cover.)
The mural responds to Track 21 in Milan’s central train station—from which hundreds of Jews were loaded into cattle cars bound for Auschwitz-Birkenau, Mauthausen, Bergen-Belsen and other concentration and death camps. “Milan Track 21 is the hidden gateway to hell for Jews in the days of World War II,” Palombo wrote on Instagram. “Today, it is converted to a memorial for the world to know.”
Although the Holocaust memorial commissioned the work, Palombo knows some might find it offensive and consider it trivializing the Holocaust. He works in pop-art style, which saw its rise in the 1960s and is most famously associated with Andy Warhol. Palombo often depicts iconic cartoon characters in shocking ways.
“If someone finds these works offensive, then I may be doing something good because art has the task of shaking consciences,” he said. He sees the murals as rescuing Holocaust memory from oblivion and indifference among young people.
Ori Soltes, who teaches art history at Georgetown University and who has published books on art and the Holocaust, and who served as director and chief curator of the B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum, told JNS that he understands why some might take offense at Palombo’s controversial works.
“I prefer to see it as intended to bring Holocaust awareness to those who might not have an understanding of its cruelties,” he said. “If you follow ‘The Simpsons,’ you ought to be aware of the Holocaust.”
‘A social cancer that hurts everyone’
Palombo’s art has also responded to the war in Ukraine—Anne Frank burning the “Z” symbol associated with Russia’s military—and domestic violence, illustrated by police arresting a Disney prince who has assaulted “Snow White.” His work has also responded to police brutality, masking during the pandemic and breast-cancer awareness.
His series on Marge Simpson cutting her hair also includes a pose—evoking historical art masterpieces of Judith beheading Holofernes—of her bearing a bloody scimitar, having beheaded Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. A vandal sprayed black paint over the head and Marge’s face.
The Iranian regime doesn’t understand the meaning of “human rights,” to Palombo, who added that the regime’s antisemitism is as hateful as its repression of women.
He plans to continue making “loud” art that counters antisemitism.
“Antisemitism is a social cancer that hurts everyone,” he said. “Fighting it means guaranteeing stability and freedom for everyone. The Jewish persecutions were humanity’s greatest horror, and we must never forget it.”