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Obama made "misstatement" about Polish death camps; should have said Nazi death camps

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WASHINGTON--White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday President Barack Obama made a "missstatement" when he referred to "Polish death camps" during a ceremony honoring Jan Karski--the Polish national who tried to warn the world about the Nazi genocide of Jews and others.

This is a very sensitive subject for Poland. Carney said Obama "misspoke" and was referring to "Nazi death camps in German-occupied Poland."

Obama made the comment on Tuesday in awarding a presidential Medal of Freedom to Karski, who died in 2000.

Obama announced he was awarding Karski the honor during an April speech at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In trying to pay tribute to a heroic Polish Catholic--and to modern-day Poland-- Obama instead created a situation that overshadowed--at least for now--the intent of awarding Karski the medal.

Carney's comments:

Q: And on one other subject, the Polish prime minister said he's not completely satisfied with the White House explanation over the president's reference to Polish death camps. Does the president have any plans to call Prime Minister Tusk and offer an explanation?

MR. CARNEY: The president misspoke. He was referring to Nazi death camps in German-occupied Poland. And as we've made clear, we regret the misstatement. And that simple misstatement should not at all detract from the clear intention to honor Mr. Karski and, beyond that, all those brave Polish citizens who stood on the side of human dignity in the face of tyranny.

You know, on several occasions, including his visit last year to the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial, his remarks at the Holocaust Museum just last month and his video message at the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, President Obama has paid tribute to the terrible loss of innocent Poles in Nazi death camps during the Holocaust.

Again, we regret the misstatement, but that's what it was. It was a misstatement, and I think it's important to see this in the context of awarding this medal in honor of the remarkable bravery of Mr. Karski and other brave Polish citizens who stood on the side, as I said, of human dignity in the face of the 20th century's most terrible tyranny.


"For years, Jan Karski's students at Georgetown University knew he was a great professor; what they didn't realize was he was also a hero. Fluent in four languages, possessed of a photographic memory, Jan 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. It was decades before Jan was ready to tell his story. By then, he said, "I don't need courage anymore. So I teach compassion."

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on May 30, 2012 2:57 PM.

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