This post has been updated to include a reference to a photoshopped image similar to the viral photo of the Auschwitz poster. The image that was photoshopped is not the same poster at the center of this story.
With millions unemployed and many struggling to make ends meet amid the coronavirus lockdowns, protesters took to the streets in ten state capitols on Friday. Most of the protesters are rightly concerned with the economic damage done in the name of stopping the spread of the coronavirus, but one protester made a perplexing — indeed, an infuriating — decision. She marched with a sign featuring the well-known slogan from the gates of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Naturally, leftists used it as yet another excuse to demonize President Donald Trump.
“This was one of the signs at the ‘Re-open Illinois’ event today,” tweeted registered nurse Dennis Kosuth, who appears to have taken the picture. “She assured those that she was not a Nazi, and stated, ‘I have Jewish friends.’ Thank you for representing yourself and your ‘movement’ for what it is.”
This was one of the signs at the “Re-open Illinois” event today. She assured those that she was not a Nazi, and stated, “I have Jewish friends.” Thank you for representing yourself and your “movement” for what it is. pic.twitter.com/CcIX2SVu6s
— Dennis Kosuth, RN (@Dennis_Kosuth) May 1, 2020
“Arbeit Macht Frei” translates to “Work makes you free.” The sign ends with “JB,” addressing Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-Ill.). Pritzker comes from a Jewish family.
Left-leaning pundits linked this poster with another poster comparing Pritzker to Adolf Hitler.
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
Godwin’s law states that every internet discussion, if it goes on long enough, ultimately ends with a reference to Hitler. The Nazi dictator, who represents the most evil atrocities in history, is often used as a rhetorical crutch to batter one’s opponents. When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) repeatedly condemned illegal immigrant detention facilities as “concentration camps,” for example, she was hearkening back to the Holocaust, using Hitler to condemn immigration laws. An antifa terrorist who tried to blow up one of the detention facilities echoed her rhetoric on them.
As a descendent of Eastern European Jews myself, I find any such comparisons noxious. J.B. Pritzker’s coronavirus restrictions may indeed be tyrannical — but comparing them to Hitler is heinous, especially given Pritzker’s Jewish origins.
There is an extremely small possibility that the woman did not know that this German phrase was put over the entrance to Auschwitz. It is far more likely, however, that she did know, and that she was comparing overly stringent lockdowns to the concentration camps, a heinous comparison I loudly condemn.
The conspiratorial part of me wants to think she might be a “plant” meant to delegitimize the lockdown movement. After all, the phrase “Work makes you free” in the Holocaust context appears to be a condemnation of the Americans who want to return to work, not support for them. Indeed, someone on Twitter photoshopped a poster at a Pittsburgh protest from “FREE SMALL BUSINESS” to “WORK SETS YOU FREE” in an apparent attempt to discredit the anti-lockdown movement. Arijeta Lajka, the Associated Press reporter who pointed out the fake poster, confirmed to PJ Media that the photoshopped poster she was referring to was not the Illinois protest image.
For those saying that the sign has been photoshopped: That's not the altered photo.
THIS is the altered photo. pic.twitter.com/qtjT8cHZBa
— Ashtar94 (@Ashtar94) May 2, 2020
Until we know more about this woman, however, we should not speculate on her motivations.
I strongly condemn any comparison between the lockdowns and the Holocaust, and I believe most anti-lockdown protesters would also condemn such a thing. The lockdowns are doing tremendous economic damage, but they are intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus. While many of the restrictions have been absurd, and some of the lockdowns have arguably gone on too long, none of them is comparable to Adolf Hitler, and especially not to the Holocaust.
In this confusing and frustrating time, Americans need to listen to each other’s concerns. The coronavirus is deadly, but the lockdowns are also dangerous. We need a dialogue in good faith about reopening the country with the right restrictions so that we can prevent further economic damage while also slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
This one protester does not represent the lockdown movement. Indeed, Jewish congregations are challenging unnecessary coronavirus restrictions on their religion in court.
Yet left-leaning commentators and Democratic activists rushed to condemn Trump for his connection to the anti-lockdown movement.
Andrew Weinstein, chair of the Democratic Lawyers Council and a member of the Holocaust Museum council, tied the Auschwitz sign to Trump.
“Arbeit Macht Frei is a German phrase meaning ‘work sets you free’. It appeared on signs at Auschwitz, Dachau, and other Nazi concentration camps. Donald Trump thinks these are ‘very good people’,” Weinstein tweeted.
Arbeit Macht Frei is a German phrase meaning “work sets you free”. It appeared on signs at Auschwitz, Dachau, and other Nazi concentration camps. Donald Trump thinks these are “very good people”. https://t.co/3WOourxB6n
— Andrew Weinstein (@Weinsteinlaw) May 2, 2020
Weinstein was referring to President Donald Trump’s tweet urging Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.) to “give a little, and put out the fire” when it comes to the anti-lockdown protesters in Michigan. In that tweet, Trump said the lockdown protesters “are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”
The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 1, 2020
The idea that Trump calling anti-lockdown protesters in Michigan “very good people” somehow makes him complicit in supporting the Auschwitz sign in Illinois is absurd, especially given the fact that Trump tweeted that message before the woman protested and before the Twitter outrage about her sign erupted on Friday night.
Yet others also accused Trump of somehow supporting the Auschwitz comparison.
“Donald Trump referred to protesters as ‘very good people’ this morning. Here’s one of them holding a sign with the motto that hung on the front gates of Auschwitz,” Max Berger, co-founder of the left-wing Jewish group IfNotNow and a former campaigner for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), tweeted.
Donald Trump referred to protesters as “very good people” this morning.
Here’s one of them holding a sign with the motto that hung on the front gates of Auschwitz. pic.twitter.com/Oz08w3fQP1
— Max Berger (@maxberger) May 2, 2020
Screenwriter Bess Kalb also used the sign to slam the president.
“She’s carrying the Auschwitz slogan and ‘JB’ is the Jewish governor of Illinois. Fuck this president and the hate movement he emboldens from the White House. I will vote for the democratic nominee as if my murdered ancestors are watching,” she tweeted.
She’s carrying the Auschwitz slogan and “JB” is the Jewish governor of Illinois. Fuck this president and the hate movement he emboldens from the White House. I will vote for the democratic nominee as if my murdered ancestors are watching. https://t.co/l2flDfAISh
— Bess Kalb (@bessbell) May 2, 2020
Sean Kent, a popular YouTube host, took the sign as evidence that “Trump supporters are finally saying the quiet part out loud and showing us who they are.”
“Arbeit Macht Frei” or “Work makes you free” was the slogan on the gates of Auschwitz. JB are the initials of the Jewish governor of Illinois. I’m glad Trump supporters are finally saying the quiet part out loud and showing us who they are. https://t.co/6hCC55VFup
— Seanologues on YouTube! (@seankent) May 2, 2020
Whatever you think of the lockdowns and whatever you think of Trump, it is absurd to seize on this one sign to condemn the anti-lockdown movement and Trump as some kind of Nazi. The president is a champion of Israel, welcomed a practicing Jew into his family, and fought to protect Jews facing anti-Semitic harassment on college campuses.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.
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