The organisation that runs the Auschwitz memorial has condemned the appearance at a US anti-lockdown rally of a picket sign bearing a Nazi slogan displayed above the entrance of the concentration camp.
A demonstrator attending a rally in Illinois, where hundreds of people protested against the state’s lockdown and social distancing measures, was photographed carrying a sign bearing the words “Arbeit macht frei, JB”.
The German phrase translates as “work sets you free”, with JB referring to the Illinois governor, JB Pritzker, who is of Jewish descent.
The font of both instances of the letter “B” on the picket sign bore a striking resemblance to the shape of the letter “B” on the sign above the gates of Auschwitz, the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centres, where more than 1.1 million men, women and children were murdered.
At the ‘Re-open Illinois’ rally, these two signs were seen.
Who is being called Hitler with a swastika next to his name, is Jewish.
‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ translates to ‘work sets you free’ - it’s literally from the ithe Auschwitz concentration camp.
This is just.... pic.twitter.com/K4FhmwYla2— Sana Saeed (@SanaSaeed) May 2, 2020
Another demonstrator at the same rally was reportedly seen holding up a picket sign bearing a swastika and the words: “Heil, Pritzker.”
The official Auschwitz memorial Twitter account condemned the gesture, writing: “‘Arbeit macht frei’ was a false, cynical illusion the SS gave to prisoners of Auschwitz. Those words became one of the icons of human hatred. It’s painful to see this symbol instrumentalised and used again to spread hate. It’s a symptom of moral and intellectual degeneration.”
"Arbeit macht frei" was a false, cynical illusion the SS gave to prisoners of #Auschwitz. 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. https://t.co/ZRxja8x6eS— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) May 2, 2020
Holocaust survivors often describe the slogan as a reminder of the many ways in which the Nazis tried to give their prisoners false hope, with the inscription suggesting to the people arriving at the camps that hard work would eventually secure their release, when their deaths were already certain.
The long, curving iron sign spanning the gates of Auschwitz is perhaps the best known version of the slogan. It was stolen by thieves from the death camp’s memorial site in Poland in 2009, but recovered by police and returned a month later.
Pritzker, a Democrat, has repeatedly emphasised the need for an extensive test-and-trace programme across the state before lockdown measures can be lifted, and ordered all Illinois residents to shelter in place from 21 March.
He subsequently extended the order until at least 31 May, a decision that could be overruled by the courts after the Republican lawmaker Darren Bailey filed a lawsuit alleging Pritzker did not have the legal authority to extend it beyond 30 days.
David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, said in a tweet: “Those words – Work Sets You Free – were a savage Nazi hoax for slave labor and gas chambers. JB in the sign refers to state’s Jewish governor. Shameful. Shocking. Sickening.”