One protester's sign featured a phrase used by Nazi officers during the Holocaust

May 04, 2020 12:20 PM
Nazi Slogan Sign Seen at ‘Re-Open Illinois’ Rally
Credit: Courtesy Dennis Kosuth

The Auschwitz Memorial in Poland slammed the use of a phrase used by Nazis in concentration camps after it was emblazoned on a protester’s sign during a rally against coronavirus stay-at-home orders in Chicago.

More than 100 people attended the rally on Friday in downtown Chicago, taking to the streets to demand Gov. J.B. Pritzker lift restrictions put in place to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, according to WMAQ.

One of those protesters, a woman wearing an American flag face mask, held a sign that read, “Arbeit macht frei, JB,” a German phrase meaning “Work sets you free” that she addressed to Pritzker.

The phrase was one frequently used by Nazis, and can be seen on the entrances of different German concentration camps, including Auschwitz, Dachau and Flossenbürg.

A photo of the sign went viral after a tweet from Dennis Kosuth, who said the woman holding it assured him she is “not a Nazi” and “has Jewish friends.”

The Auschwitz Memorial responded to Kosuth’s tweet to explain the origin of the phrase, writing that it “was a false, cynical illusion” the SS gave to Auschwitz prisoners to get them to work under the belief they’d be spared from death.

“Those words became one of the icons of human hatred,” the memorial's response read. “It’s painful to see this symbol instrumentalized & used again to spread hate. It’s a symptom of moral & intellectual degeneration.

Meanwhile, Gov. Pritzker, who is Jewish, also blasted anti-Semitic protesters, some of whom he said had swastikas on their rally signs.

“Yesterday, there were quite a number of people protesting by carrying signs filled with hate,” he wrote on Twitter. “I’ll defend to the death their right to be wrong and say it out loud. But if you look at the facts, the experts are trying to protect them.”

He said he’s spent “decades” of his life fighting against bigotry and hatred, and worked with Holocaust survivors to help build the Illinois Holocaust Museum.

“The meaning of that swastika is apparently unknown to the people who are carrying it, or if it is known, it’s a demonstration of the hate that is among us,” he wrote. “These were a few hundred demonstrators yesterday – but there are millions of people in the state who are doing the right thing, protecting each other during this extraordinary crisis. I am so grateful to live in a state with those millions of really good people.”

Virus Outbreak Illinois Protest
Credit: Nam Y Huh/AP/Shutterstock

Kosuth, the man who captured the offending sign and shared it to Twitter, told NBC News he was shocked when he first saw the woman’s sign.

“This person came up to us, and I saw her sign, and I was just floored,” said Kosuth, a registered nurse who was participating in a counterprotest. “Are you kidding me? They were not respecting our space. They would come up to us and get in our faces.”

Pritzker’s stay-at-home order has been in place since March 21, and has been extended through at least May 30.

“The governor has gone beyond his legal authority to order citizens of the state to do anything,” protester Ben Bierly, a Republican candidate for the Illinois state Senate, told ABC News.

As of May 4, there have been at least 61,499 cases and 2,632 deaths attributed to coronavirus in Illinois, according to The New York Times. The U.S. has seen at least 1.1 million cases and 67,785 deaths.

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