Auschwitz Museum denounces woman holding Nazi sign at Illinois protest

Doha Madani and Shamar Walters

The Auschwitz Museum and Memorial and Illinois' governor denounced the use of Nazi slogans at a Chicago protest to ease lockdown measures after a photo of a woman holding a sign with a German phrase circulated online.

Dennis Kosuth, a registered nurse, captured the photo of a woman wearing a U.S. flag mask and holding a sign in German that read "Arbeit macht frei," or "Work will set you free," during a protest Friday at the Thompson Center.

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Kosuth told NBC News that the unidentified woman was one of several protesters who confronted him and his group.

"This person came up to us, and I saw her sign, and I was just floored. Are you kidding me?" Kosuth said. "They were not respecting our space. They would come up to us and get in our faces."

The woman said that she is not a Nazi and that she has Jewish friends, according to Kosuth. NBC News was unable to identify and locate her for comment.

The Twitter account of the Auschwitz memorial in Poland shared Kosuth's photo on Twitter and said the phrase on her sign was a "cynical illusion" given to prisoners at the death camp.

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"Those words became one of the icons of human hatred," the museum tweeted. "It's painful to see this symbol instrumentalized & used again to spread hate. It's a symptom of moral & intellectual degeneration."

In a statement Saturday, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who is Jewish, addressed those carrying "signs filled with hate" at the protest against his strict lockdown measures.

The governor tweeted that he would "defend to the death their right to be wrong" about the social distancing measures, but he also condemned hatred and bigotry.

"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," Pritzker said. "I am so grateful to live in a state with those millions of really good people."