Pop Culture

“Illinois Nazis” Trending Topic Is More Than Just a Blues Brothers Gag

Friday saw another rally to “re-open” the economy in a midwestern state. Unlike Michigan, where heavily armed people swarmed the Capitol building, the action in Illinois left many people quoting an old exchange between Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi.

A protestor at a demonstration in Chicago carried a sign so distasteful she was condemned by the official social media arm of the Auschwitz Museum in Poland.

“Arbeit Macht Frei, JB,” her sign read. The phrase, which translates from German as “work sets you free,” was used by Nazis, most notably at the Auschwitz extermination camp, where 1.1 million people, primarily Jews, were killed.

“JB,” is a reference to Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker, who is Jewish.

Another protestor held a sign which read “Heil Pritzker” and featured a swastika.

Since the protest and appropriation of Nazi phrases happened in Illinois, people online, in a collective act of “you have to laugh so you don’t scream,” are remembering John Landis’ 1980 film The Blues Brothers with an #IllinoisNazis hashtag.

If it’s been a while since you’ve seen it (or perhaps never got around to it) Jake and Elwood Blues (Belushi and Aykroyd, appearing as characters created on Saturday Night Live) must “get the band back together” to raise money and save an orphanage. Their hijinks on this “mission from God” involve running afoul of a band of marching “Illinois Nazis” led by Henry Gibson.

While the concept of “Illinois Nazis” seems absurd (hence it being such a memorable turn-of-phrase all these years later) some may not realize this scene stems from a very real event.

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