President Barack Obama has angered the Polish government after he referred to a World War II concentration camp as a “Polish death camp” during an East Room ceremony honoring 13 Medal of Freedom recipients on May 29, 2012. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk issued a statement on Wednesday, calling the President’s words “ignorance” and a “distortion of history.”
The ceremony at the White House honored both political and cultural icons, including John Glenn, Bob Dylan, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and Polish resistance fighter, Jan Karaski.
The comment was made when Obama awarded one of the medals in honor of Jan Karaski, a resistance fighter against the Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II who died in 2000.
The President stated in his speech that Karski, “served as a courier for the Polish resistance during the darkest days of World War II … resistance fighters told him that Jews were being murdered on a massive scale and smuggled him into the Warsaw Ghetto and a Polish death camp to see for himself….” (click here to watch video)
On Wednesday, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk issued a press release that states in part, “We always react in the same way to ignorance, lack of knowledge and ill will which lead to the distortion of history. Such phrases are especially painful for Poland – Europe’s most affected country by World War II.”
The Associated Press reports that many Polish people said that Obama should have referred to the concentration camp as a “German death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.”
The Prime Minister stated in his press release that Poland expects America to engage in efforts aimed at eradicating the phrase “Polish death camps” once and for all.
“I am certain that our American friends are capable of a more explicit reaction than issuing a correction and the spokesperson of the White House expressing regret, and that maybe they will once and for all eliminate such errors.”
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told the media that Obama “misspoke’ and “He was referring to Nazi death camps in Poland.”
Vietor spoke on behalf of the President and stated, “We regret this misstatement, which should not detract from the clear intention to honor Mr. Karski and those brave citizens who stood on the side of human dignity in the face of tyranny.”
Read Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s entire statement on the Obama’s Polish death camp gaffe here.
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Sources: MSNBC, premier.gov.pl, AP