President Obama caused an outcry in Poland after he called a World War II Nazi death camp a "Polish death camp." Obama made the gaffe during a ceremony in honor of a Polish resistance hero who was among the first to warn the Allies of the Holocaust.
Fox News reports that Obama made the slip during a White House ceremony honoring 13 Medal of Freedom recipients. Obama said Jan Karski "served as a courier for the Polish resistance during the darkest days of World War II. Before one trip across enemy lines, 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. Jan took that information to President Franklin Roosevelt, giving one of the first accounts of the Holocaust and imploring to the world to take action."
Fox News reports that National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, admitted that "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 honor Mr. Karski and those brave citizens who stood on the side of human dignity in the face of tyranny."
Poland has often been cited as one of the European countries that suffered most during Nazi occupation of much of Europe. According to BBC, Poles have for many years resisted the practice of referring to Nazi concentration camps located in Poland as "Polish," because it wrongly suggests that Poles were involved in the Holocaust. Polish diplomats and international organizations have campaigned to stop people referring to the Nazi death camps, such as Auschwitz and Treblinka, as "Polish."
Fox News reports that the AP Stylebook states that when referring to "World War II camps in countries occupied by Nazi Germany, do not use phrases like Polish death camps that confuse the location and the perpetrators. Use instead, for example, death camps in Nazi-occupied Poland."
According to the BBC, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, addressing reporters in Warsaw after President Obama called the Nazi death camps "Polish," stopped short of calling for an apology, but said Poland would like to see more than just an expression of regret. The Telegraph reports that in what is widely considered an unprecedented reprimand by a European leader to an American president, Prime Minister Donald Tusk rejected Vietor's statement of regret, saying that Obama has "offended all Poles." He said: "When someone says 'Polish death camps,' it is as if there were no Nazis, no German responsibility, as if there were no Hitler. We cannot accept such words even if they are spoken by the leader of a friendly power... since we expect diligence, care, and respect from our friends on issues of such importance as World War II remembrance."
According to the BBC, he said: "I am convinced that today our American friends are capable of a stronger reaction... than just the correction itself and the regret which we heard from the White House spokesperson."
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, said: "The White House will apologize for the outrageous mistake." He tweeted, "It's a pity that such a dignified ceremony was overshadowed by ignorance and incompetence."
Alex Storozynski, president of the Kosciuszko Foundation, said the comment, "shocked the Poles present at the White House and those watching on C-SPAN... Karski would have cringed if he heard this."
The Telegraph reports Storozynski told ABC News, "The president must acknowledge his mistake and apologize for it. He must do it for Karski and the other Poles that risked their lives trying to stop the Holocaust."
It is believed that the Nazi murdered about six million Poles in Europe during World War II with half the number being Jews. About 1.1 million people, including 300,000 Jews, were killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau alone. Karksi was being honored for the role he played in drawing attention to Nazi crimes in Poland. Karski went to London and then the U.S. to tell President Franklin Roosevelt about the mass murder of Jews by the Nazi authorities. He later became professor of history at Georgetown University. He died in Washington in 2000, aged 86.
According to BBC, the Polish Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walsea, said Obama's gaffe provided opportunity to further sensitize people about the matter. He said: "We should use this huge gaffe to make sure nobody, nowhere in the world, ever says that again."
The Telegraph reports that Poland is a staunch ally of the U.S. The country, with about 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, is the sixth-largest international contributor. But relations between the Polish government and the Obama administration have often been strained. Many Poles felt disappointed when Obama decided to abandon the plan for a European missile defense shield based in Poland and the Czech Republic.