President Obama has a long track record of insulting the Poles. In 2010 he chose to play golf on the day of the funeral of the Polish President Lech Kaczynski, the Polish First Lady, and 94 senior officials who perished in the Smolensk air disaster. Eight months earlier he humiliated Warsaw by pulling out of the agreement over Third Site missile defence installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. And last night Barack Obama caused huge offence in Poland by referring to a Nazi death camp in Poland as “a Polish death camp” while awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to a Polish resistance fighter. As ABC’s Jake Tapper reported:
Poles and Polish-Americans expressed outrage today at President Obama’s reference earlier to “a Polish death camp” — as opposed to a Nazi death camp in German-occupied Poland.
“The White House will apologize for this outrageous error,” Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski tweeted. Sikorski said that Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk “will make a statement in the morning. It’s a pity that this important ceremony was upstaged by ignorance and incompetence.”
The president had been trying to honor a famous Pole, awarding a Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski, a resistance fighter who sneaked behind enemy lines to bear witness to the atrocities being committed against Jews. President Obama referred to him being smuggled “into the Warsaw ghetto and a Polish death camp to see for himself.”
The Obama administration has tried to downplay the incident. According to ABC:
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement, “The President was referring to Nazi death camps operated in Poland. The President has demonstrated in word and deed his rock-solid commitment to our close alliance with Poland.”
Weasel words from the White House will do little however to calm Polish anger. After all, these were carefully scripted remarks by the president reading off a teleprompter. Six millions Poles died at the hands of Nazi Germany during World War Two, including three million Polish Jews during the Holocaust. The president’s use of the term “Polish death camp” is hugely insulting to the Polish people, and will reinforce the growing image across Eastern and Central Europe of an American presidency that cares little for key US allies, especially against the backdrop of its controversial and weak-kneed “reset” policy towards Russia. For a US administration that likes to boast of “smart power,” this was an act of staggering historical ignorance as well as crass insensitivity.
nicely done barry
America’s liberal ‘mainstream’ media has largely ignored the diplomatic firestorm which has resulted from Barack Obama’s reference to a “Polish death camp” at a White House awards ceremony yesterday. But to say that this has been a public relations disaster for the Obama administration would be an understatement.
The Polish government, one of Washington’s most important allies in Europe, has reacted with undisguised fury to the president’s crass and insulting words. In a highly unusual move for a close US ally, the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has issued a harshly-worded rebuke to Barack Obama, underscoring the intense displeasure of the Poles over a highly sensitive issue. The White House has still not apologised for the president’s comments, but I suspect an apology may be forthcoming as anger builds across the Atlantic as well as at home among the 10 million-strong Polish American community in the United States.
Here is Tusk’s statement in full:
Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s statement on the speech of US President Barack Obama, Chancellery of the Prime Minister, 30th of May 2012.
The words uttered yesterday by the President of the United States Barack Obama concerning “Polish death camps” touched all Poles. We always react in the same way when ignorance, lack of knowledge, bad intentions lead to such a distortion of history, so painful for us here in Poland, in a country which suffered like no other in Europe during World War II.
For Poland and for our country, but also for all our fellow citizens, this is something that we cannot ignore. Here, in Poland, we cannot accept such words even if they are spoken by the leader of a friendly power – or perhaps especially in such situations – since we expect diligence, care, and respect from our friends on issues of such importance as World War II remembrance. In Polish-American relations, in friendly relations, respect vis-à-vis the smaller partner should be the most recognizable sign of such relations.
But this is not only an issue of justified sensitivity when it comes to Nazi German concentration camps which were placed on Polish soil in order to murder Jews, but also Poles and other nations. Today this is first and foremost the problem of America’s reputation. We expect Americans to become involved – in particular in relation to this statement – in our efforts, in our measures which will enable us to eliminate, once and for all, these false phrasings, so immensely unfair for Poland.
Perhaps this is paradoxically a very good occasion for the U.S. administration, for Americans, and for the President of the United States to support Poland in its efforts towards historical truth, towards the correct phrasings, the right assessment of what happened during World War II on Polish territory and throughout Europe.
This is also important for the United States, since American soldiers, too, died during World War II. If these were “Polish death camps,” then at whose hands did American soldiers die? If these were “Polish death camps,” then from whose hands did the uncle of the President of the United States liberate the Buchenwald concentration camp? When someone says “Polish death camps,” it is as if there were no Nazis, no German responsibility, as if there was no Hitler – that is why our Polish sensitivity in these situations is so much more than just simply a feeling of national pride.
This truth about World War II is important and must also have importance for every other nation. I am convinced that today, our American friends are capable of a stronger reaction – a clearer one, and one which perhaps eliminates, once and for all, these types of mistakes – than just the correction itself and the regret which we heard from the White House spokesperson. We take note of these words, but it seems that it would be even more important for the United States than for Poland to end this with class. That is how one acts with regard to tried-and-tested friends, but this is also how one acts in your own, well defined interest. I believe our allies are capable of such behaviour. Thank you very much.
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