The Associated Press is reporting late Tuesday that President Obama’s remarks about a “Polish death camp” during a White House medal ceremony have drawn criticism from Poles, who say the president should have called it a “German death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.”
Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski called the president’s comments a matter of “ignorance and incompetence.”
Obama made the comment while awarding the Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski, a resistance fighter against the Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II. Karski died in 2000.
During an East Room ceremony honoring 13 Medal of Freedom recipients, Obama said that Karski “served as a courier for the Polish resistance during the darkest days of World War II. Before one trip across enemy lines, 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. Jan took that information to President Franklin Roosevelt, giving one of the first accounts of the Holocaust and imploring to the world to take action.”
Sikorski tweeted that the White House would apologize for “this outrageous error” and that Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk would address the matter on Wednesday.
“It’s a pity that such a dignified ceremony was overshadowed by ignorance and incompetence.”
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said: “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.”
Mr. Obama has had trouble before with World War II history. In 2008, he mistakenly said his uncle was among the “first American troops” at Auschwitz. The Soviet Red Army liberated Auschwitz, not the Americans.
The then-senator’s camp said he meant Buchenwald, not Auschwitz.