Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Right-wingers are attacking President Obama for a remark at yesterday's Medal of Honor Freedom ceremony that Poles regard as offensive:

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."

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." ...

The right-wingers who want to argue that this is some sort of uniquely Obama-esque gaffe need to know that, for better or worse, this happens all the time. Here's a 2009 story at

American broadcaster CNN has apologized Poland for using a phrase "polish death camps" during their Tuesday's report of "March of the living" in Auschwiz-Birkenau.

Using words "polish death camps" on information strip during other news CNN joined a large group of broadcasters. Similar phrases were used by ABC News, CBS News and newspapers New York Times, Die Welt and The Guardian. Especially distasteful is the usage of phrase by the German newspaper.

Also republican senator Sam Brownback from Kansas used a phrase "polish concentration camp" while speaking in Congress about the film telling the story of Irena Sendlerowa. Poles demand a disclaimer in Congress from him.

Wow -- even a Republican has done this!

Also guilty of this have been Ha'aretz, USA Today, the L.A. Times, the Chicago Tribune, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, the Associated Press, The Buffalo News, Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper and broadcaster CTV, The Toronto Star, and the British comedian Stephen Fry. And that's just a list of people and organizations that have been reproached for it.

Oh, one more: Fox News.

Yes, it would have been better if the administration had avoided the gaffe, but it's quite a common gaffe.


Tom Hilton said...

So, the wingnuts want the President to go on an Apology Tour?

Steve M. said...

Heh. Indeed.

BH said...

Obama can't say this, of course, but I can. The Poles' sensitivity on this might be partly attributable to bad conscience. From what I've gathered, once the Germans had been pushed out of Poland during the Red Army's advance west, the remaining Jews in Poland were desperate to get out; this was in large part because the Poles - while not operating death camps, obviously - were persecuting them, denying aid, and the like. Unfortunately, Poland had and has its own native history of anti-Semitism.

BH said...

Addendum: thanks to TPM, I now learn that Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski has a history as a Nat'l Review columnist, AEI fellow & Murdoch advisor. The picture clears somewhat.

merlallen said...

Medal of Freedom. The Medal of Honor is a completely different thing. And Poland didn't need the Nazis to help them kill Jews, they had pogroms all of their own.

Grung_e_Gene said...

No no no, it's only an error when the Obamatuer does it! President Obama is similtaneously the most inept person ever while also being the most devious political schemer ever!

Steve M. said...

Medal of Freedom. The Medal of Honor is a completely different thing.

Ouch. Bad mistake -- fixed now.

And Poland didn't need the Nazis to help them kill Jews, they had pogroms all of their own.

Quite true.

Prof. K said...

What type of morons are on this thread?

To think the Poles overt sensitivity to the phrase "Polish death camps" is because the Poles feel bad about helping the Nazis in persecuting and murdering the Jews is about as ignorant and moronic as it gets.

Poland was the only Nazi-German Occupied country in Europe to not instill a collaborationist government with the Nazis, and no Pole formed any SS factions as they did in Lithuania, Slovakia, Ukraine, Vichy France, etc. Gee, why was that? Poland also had the highest number of rescuers of Jews, even though the consequence of giving aid to a Jew was immediate death for that individual and the individual's entire family - a penalty only imposed on Poland.

Go the library people and do some research. The Polish Community is overtly sensitive to the phrase because it is simply WRONG. Millions of Polish Christians perished during the War and were targeted by the Germans by being tortured and sent to die in these "camps." To label them as "Polish" is simply wrong and blatantly offensive to those who perished. Lay off your anti-Polish bigotry and do some reading, for your own sake's.

BH said...

The Poles didn't install a puppet government because the Germans didn't deem it useful to have one there, opting instead for direct control. I suppose we'll never know the outcome had the Germans decided differently, but it seems a stretch to think that no Poles could have been found to serve in such a government. That would argue an exceptionalism that doesn't seem borne out by the facts; after all, Stalin managed to find enough to do so. That is not to claim that majority opinion among the Polish populace would have been supportive of a German puppet government, any more than one could plausibly claim that, say, a majority of Norwegians supported the Quisling regime.

All this notwithstanding, the point here is that the level of rhetorical outrage on the parts of Tusk and, especially, Sikorski is highly disproportionate. They know as well as you and I do that Obama did not mean that Poles operated the extermination camps, and that "Polish" referred to location, not governance. Why they chose to make such an issue of it is something best known to them, but I suspect it had much to do with domestic Polish politics and perhaps with Sikorski's right-wing connections in the US.

Prof. K said...

BH - uh, do you possess any ounce of common sense? Poland was occupied at the time, thus there was no "Poland." The correct phrase should read "Nazi-German Concentration camp in Occupied Poland."

Of course we all know what Obama "intended" to say. In fact, why don't we just go through life saying different things than we mean to state. People will know what we are "intending" to say anyways, right? Who cares for the truth? Let's just say whatever! Yeah!

The rest of your post is so stupid that it is not even worthy of a response.

BH said...

I possess enough common sense to know that when one side in a dispute starts using terms like "stupid", it's no longer a dispute - it's a tantrum. And so, finis.