Poland Is Livid With President Obama Over ‘Polish Death Camps’ Remark

Barack Obama

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Poland Prime Minister Donald Tusk hammered Barack Obama on Wednesday for what the President later said was a result of misspeaking. When awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski, a former Polish anti-Nazi underground officer, Obama mentioned a “Polish death camp.” Later, a National Security Council spokesman tried to clarify that Obama was referring to a “Nazi death camp” operated in Poland. 

But now Poland is saying that’s not good enough. You can read Tusk’s full statement here, but here’s part of it:

The words uttered yesterday by the President of the United States Barack Obama concerning “Polish death camps” touched all Poles. We always react in the same way when ignorance, lack of knowledge, bad intentions lead to such a distortion of history, so painful for us here in Poland, in a country which suffered like no other in Europe during World War II.

For Poland and for our country, but also for all our fellow citizens, this is something that we cannot ignore. Here, in Poland, we cannot accept such words even if they are spoken by the leader of a friendly power – or perhaps especially in such situations – since we expect diligence, care, and respect from our friends on issues of such importance as World War II remembrance. In Polish-American relations, in friendly relations, respect vis-à-vis the smaller partner should be the most recognisable sign of such relations.

But this is not only an issue of justified sensitivity when it comes to Nazi German concentration camps which were placed on Polish soil in order to murder Jews, but also Poles and other nations. Today this is first and foremost the problem of America’s reputation. We expect Americans to become involved – in particular in relation to this statement – in our efforts, in our measures which will enable us to eliminate, once and for all, these false phrasings, so immensely unfair for Poland.

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor had offered this statement beforehand: 

The President misspoke. He was referring to Nazi death camps in Poland. We regret this misstatement, which should not detract from the clear intention to honour Mr. Karski and those brave citizens who stood on the side of human dignity in the face of tyranny.

But if reaction from the Polish government is any inclination, that statement will do little to satisfy relations between the two countries. Assumedly, Obama read these words, like the rest, off a teleprompter. 

In his story, ABC’s Jake Tapper points to a story in the Economist that Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski tweeted out last night. The opening reads:

FEW things annoy Poles more than being blamed for the crimes committed by the Nazi occupiers of their homeland. For many years, Polish media, diplomats and politicians have tried to persuade outsiders to stop using the phrase “Polish death camps” as a shorthand description of Auschwitz and other exemplars of Nazi brutality and mass murder. 

And here’s a sampling of some Polish publications’ websites today. First, the Polish version of Newsweek:

Obama Poland

A couple others, translated:

Obama Poland
Obama Poland