Warsaw outraged over Obama's Polish death camps remark

Poland's leaders are outraged over President Obama's reference to Polish death camps. 

Poland's prime minister said Wednesday that a statement from the White House expressing "regret" over the president's reference to Nazi death camps in the country as "Polish" was insufficient, and the faux pas threatened to further strain relations with Warsaw.

"I am convinced that our American friends can today allow themselves a stronger reaction than a simple expression of regret from the White House spokesman — a reaction more inclined to eliminate once and for all these kinds of errors," Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Wednesday, according to AFP.

The flap occurred during the posthumous awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honor, to Jan Karski, a Polish officer who provided the Allies with underground information about the ongoing Holocaust during the Second World War.


But the president's remarks were overshadowed by a moment wherein he referred to a Nazi facility as a "Polish death camp," earning front-page headlines in Polish media and a strong condemnation from Polish political leaders.

"It's a pity that such a dignified ceremony was overshadowed by ignorance and incompetence," tweeted Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski Tuesday.

The White House later issued a statement apologizing for the phrasing.

"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," said National Security spokesman Tommy Vietor in a statement.

But the statement did little to pacify Polish officials, upset over the suggestion the country might have borne responsibility for the genocide perpetuated by the Nazi regime. In his press conference, Tusk said Obama's words "offended all Poles."

"We always react the same way when ignorance, lack of knowledge, or ill will lead to such distortions of history," Tusk continued.

The prime minister went on to call on "the American administration, Americans and for the U.S. president to support Poland in its action for historical truth."

Polish Jews represented around half of the 6 million killed in the Holocaust, and some 300,000 were imprisoned at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland.