Poland’s prime minister said Wednesday that remarks by President Barack Obama erroneously identifying a Nazi death camp as Polish had hurt all Poles and he expected more from the US than “regret”.
“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,” Donald Tusk told reporters in Warsaw.
Obama on Tuesday mistakenly called a Nazi facility used to process Jews for execution as a “Polish death camp.” The White House later said the president “misspoke” and expressed “regret”.
The linguistic faux pas overshadowed his posthumous award of America’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to Jan Karski, a former Polish anti-Nazi underground officer who provided the Allied powers with early eyewitness accounts of the Germany’s Holocaust against Jews.
Obama’s words had “hurt all Poles,” Tusk said Wednesday.
“Today this is a problem for the reputation of the United States. This can be an opportunity for the US administration and for President Obama to support Poland in its activity for historic truth,” Tusk added.
The Polish government keenly watches the global media for descriptions of former concentration camps as “Polish” because it says the term — even if used simply as a geographical indicator — can give the impression that Poland bore responsibility for Nazi Germany’s World War II genocide.
Although located in Poland, Nazi Germany’s most notorious World War II death camp — Auschwitz — was set up and run entirely by German dictator Adolf Hitler’s occupying forces from 1940 to 1945.
While most of the camp’s 1.1 million victims were Jews deported from other German-occupied nations, the Nazis sent at least 300,000 Polish Jews there.
Polish Jews represented around half the six million killed in the Holocaust.
Until 1942, the camp was primarily a prison and killing centre for non-Jewish Poles such as resistance members. An estimated 75,000 died there, out of around 2.6 million non-Jewish Poles who perished under the Nazi German occupation of their country.