The Polish government expressed dismay on Wednesday after President Barack Obama referred to a World War II concentration camp as a “Polish death camp.”
Prime Minister Donald Tusk said it was a comment that Poland could not ignore. "We cannot accept such words even if they are spoken by the leader of a friendly power - or perhaps especially in such situations - since we expect diligence, care, and respect from our friends on issues of such importance as World War II remembrance."
Obama made the comment Tuesday 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."
The Associated Press reported that Obama's remark drew swift complaints from Poles who said Obama should have called it a "German death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland," to distinguish the perpetrators from the location. Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski called it a matter of "ignorance and incompetence."
On Tuesday President Barack Obama awarded the nation's highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, to a new group of recipients that included Bob Dylan. NBC's Brian Williams reports.
Alex Storozynski, president of the Kosciuszko Foundation, said Obama's comment "shocked the Poles present at the White House and those watching on C-SPAN. ... Karski would have cringed if he heard this."
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."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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