A sign playing off the Auschwitz slogan “work sets you free” was featured at a protest in Chicago where hundreds of demonstrators railed against state and local restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The signs called for Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker to end his coronavirus stay-at-home order, which runs until May 30.

A protester held a handwritten sign reading, Arbeit macht frei, JB. The first three words are part of the sign leading into the former Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp in Poland, where at least 1.1 million people, most of whom were Jews, were killed.

A picture of the sign was taken by registered nurse Dennis Kosuth, who posted it on Twitter.

“There are clearly a few who wish to exploit the very real suffering that is happening because of [coronavirus], and turn it into racist diversions and organizations of hate,” Kosuth told JNS. “People who are hurting must be given health care and actual relief, not dead-end solutions like reopen America. Government at every level must do more to provide those things.

“Additionally, we absolutely cannot allow the far right to grow their destructive ideas, as history has shown where that path leads. ‘Never Again’ is not a slogan, it’s a verb.”

On Saturday, Pritzker, who is Jewish, and the Auschwitz Museum and Memorial castigated use of the sign.

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

“I’ve spent decades of my life fighting against bigotry & hatred. I helped build [the Illinois Holocaust museum] by working with Holocaust survivors. 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.”

“’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,” tweeted the museum and memorial.

© 2020 American Jewish Congress.