President Obama has insulted Poland. On Tuesday, Mr. Obama referred to “Polish death camps” during World War II. His comments inflamed Polish public opinion. Mr. Obama has demeaned and degraded the victims of Nazism. He also has exposed his ignorance.
The irony is that Mr. Obama’s statements were made during a ceremony honoring World War II Polish resistance hero Jan Karski with a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom. Karski was one of the first witnesses to the Holocaust taking place in Nazi-occupied Poland and sought to alert the world.
The White House has said the president “misspoke” and that it “regrets” the comments. Poland’s leaders want more; its foreign minister demands that Mr. Obama issue a full apology.
They’re right. The impression Mr. Obama’s words give is that Poles - not Nazi Germans - presided over notorious concentration camps, such as Auschwitz. This is a gross error. Poland’s curse was that it lay between Adolf Hitler’s Germany and Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union. In 1939, the German Wehrmacht invaded and quickly conquered Warsaw. Despite brave resistance, the country was partitioned between Germany and Russia. Much of the Holocaust occurred on the Eastern front, especially in Poland and Ukraine. On Polish soil, for example, the Nazis established a series of death camps. The goal was to exterminate Europe’s Jewish population. Ultimately, 6 million Jews were murdered systematically.
It is often forgotten that Hitler’s victims also included millions of Slavs, Catholics, Gypsies (Roma), homosexuals and disabled people. According to Nazi racial doctrine, Slavs were deemed “subhuman” - fit only for slave labor. Hence, countless Poles and others perished at the hands of Nazi butchers. Mr. Obama’s comment reveals his lack of basic historical understanding. Millions of Poles died in defiance of Hitler’s rule; the president has slandered their memory. He should apologize immediately.
Yet Mr. Obama is not the only one to forget fascism’s real legacy. The postmodern West is characterized by hedonism, consumerism and secular liberalism. Most no longer know the past - or even care to know it. The horror of fascism, especially in Europe during the 1920s and 1930s, is that it was popular, widespread and rising. Its mythmaking, calls for a new order based on economic collectivism and ethnic purity, intense hatred of parliamentary democracy and romantic appeals to blood, race and empire - all of this propelled fascist movements across the Continent. Fascism combined xenophobic nationalism with state socialism. Hitler’s National Socialism was seen by many as the wave of the future - a much-heralded “Third Way” that transcended decadent capitalism and atheistic communism.
It cast a mesmerizing spell upon most peoples of Europe. Fascist regimes came to power in Italy, Spain, Vichy France, Norway, Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Some of the most savage Quisling states were erected in the Balkans. Romania’s ruler, Marshal Ion Antonescu, unleashed a murderous rampage against Jews and Gypsies. In Croatia, the sadistic Ustashe led by Ante Pavelic slaughtered numerous Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and anti-fascist Croats. Contrary to myth, Serbia also had a genocidal collaborationist dictatorship. Led by Gen. Milan Nedic, Belgrade’s fascists engaged in the comprehensive extermination of the country’s Jewish population. By the summer of 1942, Serbia had become completely “Judenfrei.” Even Allied or neutral countries, such as Britain, Ireland and Sweden, possessed fascist movements.
This is what makes the Poles so remarkable. Guided by their deep Catholic faith and unflinching patriotism, they stood up against the two seminal evil ideologies of the 20th century - Nazism and communism. Poland is a Christian nation. It has been crucified repeatedly throughout its long, tragic history. Like a phoenix, it has re-emerged from the ashes of Teutonic totalitarianism and Great Russian imperialism.
American liberals have a long history of betraying the Poles. President Franklin D. Roosevelt strongly supported Britain’s policy of appeasement against Hitler, including the infamous Munich agreement. When the Fuhrer’s forces invaded Poland, FDR refused to lift a finger to help. At Yalta, he abandoned Eastern Europe to Stalin’s brutal occupation.
Mr. Obama has betrayed the Poles again. In order to placate Moscow, he has withdrawn plans to install missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, and he has repeatedly called for a “reset” in relations with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. This is the same Mr. Putin who openly says the collapse of the Soviet empire was “the greatest tragedy of the 20th century.” Mr. Obama essentially has consigned Eastern Europe to Russia’s sphere of influence. He has emboldened our enemy at the expense of our closest friends - especially Poland. Now he is rubbing proverbial salt into the wound by refusing to apologize for his outrageous comments.
Fascism is not dead. It only has mutated into a new form: Muslim extremism. Both the European variety and today’s Islamofascism share similar traits - hatred of Western civilization, the desire for global domination, glorifying of violence, war and martyrdom, appealing to emotion and irrational impulses, and the overwhelming, pathological desire to destroy the Jews.
The center of world fascism is no longer Berlin, but Tehran. Iran’s theocratic regime not only denies the Holocaust, it seeks to complete Hitler’s Final Solution: the annihilation of the Jewish people and the Jewish state, Israel. This is why it is desperate to attain the bomb.
Mr. Obama, however, is willing to apologize to Iran’s mullahs but not to the Poles. In his 2009 Cairo address, he asked Tehran to forgive America’s alleged “imperialist” past, including U.S. support for the 1954 Iranian coup. In his eyes, fascist fanatics are worthy of apologies. Their victims are not.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.