Auschwitz Museum condemns Reopen Illinois protester’s sign seen at Chicago rally

“It’s painful to see this symbol instrumentalized & used again to spread hate. It’s a symptom of moral & intellectual degeneration,” officials from the museum tweeted Friday.

SHARE Auschwitz Museum condemns Reopen Illinois protester’s sign seen at Chicago rally
Protesters gather in front of the Thompson Center Friday.

Protesters gather in front of the Thompson Center Friday.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Leaders of the Auschwitz‑Birkenau Memorial and State Museum on Saturday condemned an anti-Semitic sign purportedly spotted at Friday’s Reopen Illinois rally in Chicago, calling it “painful to see.”

In a viral photo shared on Twitter, a demonstrator at the rally outside the Thompson Center — where hundreds gathered to decry Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s extended statewide stay-at-home order — is seen holding a handmade sign that reads, “Arbeit macht frei, JB.”

The German phrase translates to “Work sets you free” and carries a dark significance as the slogan notoriously posted at the entrances of several Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz in Poland, where an estimated 1.1 million people were killed.

“‘Arbeit macht frei’ was a false, cynical illusion the SS gave to prisoners of #Auschwitz,” the Auschwitz museum tweeted. “Those words became one of the icons of human hatred. It’s painful to see this symbol instrumentalized & used again to spread hate. It’s a symptom of moral & intellectual degeneration.”

The entrance to the former Auschwitz German Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, pictured in December 2019.

The entrance to the former Auschwitz German Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, pictured in December 2019.

Getty

Several other signs spotted at Friday’s rallies in Chicago and Springfield invoked Adolf Hitler and Nazis. Another woman carried a sign bearing a swastika and the words, “Heil Pritzker.”

Pritzker, who is Jewish, helped found the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie.

“There were people carrying signs with swastikas suggesting either that they believe in Nazism or they think it’s okay to throw the invective at people with a swastika,” the Democratic governor said at his daily coronavirus briefing Saturday. “The meaning of that swastika is apparently unknown to the people that are carrying it. Or, if it is known, it is a demonstration of hate that is among us.

“Having said all that, this was a few hundred demonstrators, and there are millions of people in the state of Illinois who are doing the right thing, protecting each other.”

In a tweet, officials from the Illinois Holocaust Museum said, “Name-calling is easy. Leading during a global pandemic is not. [Pritzker]is making hard decisions to save the lives of Illinoisans. References to murderous Nazi policies and the horrors of the Holocaust are misguided and just plain wrong.”

American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris said the use of the phrase was “Shocking. Shameful. Sickening.”

“An Illinois resident protests #COVID restrictions w/ the 3 words at #Auschwitz entrance—Arbeit Macht Frei,” Harris wrote in a tweet. “Those words — Work Sets You Free — were a savage Nazi hoax for slave labor & gas chambers.”

The Twitter user who posted the photo, Dennis Kosuth, said the woman he photographed denied she was a Nazi, “and stated, ‘I have Jewish friends,’” Kosuth said in his tweet.

The troubling images caused “Illinois Nazis” to trend nationwide on Twitter Saturday morning.

“This is warped beyond belief,” one person tweeted. “As a wise man named Jake Blues once said: ‘I hate Illinois Nazis.’”

“Horrifically fitting these Illinois Nazis are essentially calling for mass death,” another user wrote. “And later, they will no doubt deny the mass death.”

Contributing: Ben Pope

The Latest
Four men were fatally shot in under three hours early Saturday, according to police.
Kahleah Copper is one of eight players making their World Cup debut, along with her Rutgers teammate, the Sky’s 2015 17th overall draft pick, Betnijah Laney, who plays for the New York Liberty.
They were in a parking lot in the 7100 block of North Clark Street when they were attacked, police said.
They were driving in the 1700 block of West 43rd Street when they were shot, police said.
The woman was driving in the 5300 block of South Lake Shore Drive when she was killed in a car crash, police said.