Polish-Americans Debate Obama’s ‘Polish Death Camp’ Gaffe

As was widely reported last week, a gaffe by President Barack Obama in which he referred to a “Polish death camp” infuriated Poles and Polish-Americans. Poles have argued that the phrase is misleading because camps such as Auschwitz and Treblinka were run by Germany. The term Poles prefer is “death camps in Nazi-occupied Poland,” as we have noted. Obama expressed regret for the error in a letter to the Polish president, Bronislaw Komorowski. New York’s Polish community was abuzz about the incident, The Polish-language newspaper Nowy Dziennik reported. The translation is below.  

“In my opinion it was a slip of the tongue or President Obama is completely uninformed and does not know the history of Poland,” said Krystyna from Ridgewood, Queens. “It is just like with the Guantanamo jail – it is often referred to as a Cuban jail, but in fact it is an American one. Maybe Obama thought along these lines?”

“However,” she added, “the American President has to explain the mistake and apologize to the Poles, who are outraged by what they heard.”

“That’s scandalous!” said Stanisław, a resident of Ridgewood who was outraged by the President’s remark, spoken during the ceremony honoring Polish World War II hero, Jan Karski. “It is unthinkable that after so many initiatives aimed at banning the use of this phrase from the American media, the American President should publicly talk about ‘Polish death camps.’ In my opinion, somebody really wanted this erroneous phrase to stick in people’s minds. A lie that is continuously repeated becomes a fact, and spoken by the President, it gains validity. That’s what it is about. That’s sheer scandal.”

“First of all, they were not Polish camps, but German camps [operated by Nazis] in Poland,” said Wieslawa from Greenpoint. “This makes a difference. We have to do all we can to make everybody in the world realize that they were German camps in the territory of occupied Poland. Polish politicians should also do their best to prevent people from using the erroneous phrase in public again. What Obama said, I think, is scandalous. The American President should now apologize to the Polish people and at the same time appeal to the nation, especially to journalists, not to use the phrase, so that once and forever we put an end to lies.”

“In my opinion, Obama, as politician, should be aware and educated enough to know that even though they were located in Poland, the camps were created and operated by Germans,” said Jan from Ridgewood. “It was the German Nazis who killed and burned Jews and Poles there. Barack Obama should issue a public apology for the mistake he made, so that everybody finally understands that they were not Polish camps!”

“I survived the war,” said Barbara from Greenpoint. “I was only nine then, but I remember everything well. My parents kept telling me that the Germans created concentration camps, where they transported Jews and Poles. My parents lived in fear then, because my mother helped Jews – she would feed them. The camps were German and the Jewish people also should now talk about it aloud in order to help Poles clean history of lies. I am appalled by the fact that this misleading phrase is being used.”

“I think that either somebody provoked Obama in order to make him look foolish in front of constituents,” said Marian from Ridgewood, “or he wanted to deal a blow to us, the Poles, and humiliate us in front of the entire world during this important ceremony, honoring distinguished people with the Medal of Freedom.”

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