Source: The Wall Street Journal
WARSAW -- Polish leaders reacted with outrage Wednesday to President Barack Obama's apparently inadvertent reference to a "Polish death camp" when he awarded a US Presidential Medal of Freedom to a now-dead Polish World War II resistance fighter Tuesday.
Poles are extremely sensitive about the way Nazi German-run death camps in occupied Poland during the war are described. Millions of Polish Jews and Catholics perished during the conflict and large numbers were murdered by German authorities in the camps.
"Yesterday's [Tuesday's] words by President Obama offended all Poles," Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said in nationally televised remarks Wednesday. "We always react the same way when ignorance, lack of knowledge, or ill will lead to such distortions of history."
In honoring Polish war hero Jan Karski on Tuesday, Obama described Karski's activities in Nazi-occupied Poland and lauded him for having sneaked into the Warsaw ghetto and "a Polish death camp" and bringing one of the first accounts of the Holocaust to the outside world.
Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the US National Security Council, said afterward that Obama 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."
After the collapse of communism, Poland became a staunch ally of the US. Its troops have fought on the side of the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the country has volunteered to participate in US-led missile defense efforts in Europe.
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said in remarks on Polish radio Wednesday that the death-camp reference was likely "a very serious mistake made by the person who wrote the text" for Obama. He said the phrase was "scandalous."
Tusk said now is the time for "the American administration, Americans and for the US president to support Poland in its action for historical truth."
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