The White House has apologized for President Obama’s reference to a “Polish death camp” during Tuesday’s Medal of Freedom ceremony, but Polish officials remain offended, seeking a “stronger, more pointed” retraction.
Obama used the phrase while describing the heroics of Jan Karski, a Polish courier who received the United States’s highest civilian honor posthumously for his efforts to notify President Franklin D. Roosevelt and other Allied leaders of the German Nazis’ slaughtering of Jews in Poland.
“Before one trip across enemy lines,” Obama said, “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.”
Poles resent the term for its implication that Poland ran the death camps, when in fact the camps were operated by Nazis who occupied the country. On its website, the Polish embassy in Washington calls references to “Polish death camps” “factually incorrect slurs.”
In a statement Wednesday, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor sought to clarify the president’s “misstatement.”
“He was referring to Nazi death camps in German-occupied Poland,” Vietor said. “We regret this misstatement, which should not detract from the clear intention to honor Mr. Karski and those brave Polish citizens who stood on the side of human dignity in the face of tyranny.”
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told the Associated Press that he accepted the apology but indicated it was unsatisfactory. Tusk called the White House response to Obama’s misstatement a “matter of the US’s reputation” and said a more forceful repudiation of the phrase “Polish death camps” could end its use “once and for all.”Callum Borchers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.