According to various news reports, Poland’s Prime Minister (PM) is rather upset over President Obama’s misspeak this week when he referred to “Polish death camps” during a ceremony honoring a World War II hero, saying he wants a “stronger, more pointed” response.
So, what’s the President to do? He can allow Poland to be upset for awhile, and allow conservative talking heads to make fun of him, or he can say he’s sorry and deal with the unending litany of being accused of apologizing for America again.
And while the phrasing may be considered hugely offensive in Poland, where Nazi Germany murdered Poles, Jews and others in death camps it built during World War II on Polish and German territory, the facts are more than 225,000 Poles served in the Wehrmacht, Kriegsmarine and even in the Waffen SS, so Poland isn’t exactly completely innocent when all things are considered.
Former President and Solidarity founder Lech Walesa said the phrase confused henchmen with their victims but that Obama’s mistake might prevent similar statements by others.
The White House has tried to explain that the president misspoke in bestowing the Medal of Freedom posthumously on Jan Kozielewski, alias Karski, a Polish emissary who in 1943 alerted Allied leaders to mass killing of Jews. In order to gather first-hand evidence he risked his life and was secretly smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto and a death camp. Additionally, it was pointed out President Obama has visited the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial while in Poland and that he has repeatedly discussed the bravery of Poles during World War II.
Yes, Poland was and still is one of our strongest allies, but this was not a deliberate attempt to insult the Polish people, and in fact this continued petulance over the issue is overshadowing the awarding of the Medal of Freedom to one their countrymen; unfortunately, Poland can’t really deny there were death camps in Poland, and that Poles served in the military of the Third Reich; accept the explanation and move on, or perhaps you’d prefer to deal with your Russian cousins to the East?
May 31, 2012 at 02:51
Seriously? The facts in this post are somewhat misrepresented. Ever heard of forced conscription? The overwhelming majority of non-German soldiers that served in the Nazi war machine did so against their will, under duress. They were only forced into the army near the end of the war, when the Germans started to get desperate( with few exceptions I believe, such as the Norwegian S.S. Viking unit). Before then, the military had a strict ethnic policy when it came to recruitment. My Polish speaking Silesian Grandfather, born in what was German Silesia before the war, was one of the forced recruits. He was sent off to France and, together with the rest of his group, surrendered to the first English soldiers they encountered ( after jumping and tying down their all too war eager German commander). My great grandfather, on the other side of my family, spent the war in a camp, and was one of the few that miraculously survived. There were collaborators in Poland, but not many, especially compared to other occupied countries – and they were dealt with properly, either during the war by the underground Polish state, or after the Germans were forced out. The “fact” that 225,000 Poles served in the German military is false and misleading, and may give the impression that Poles readily joined the Nazis and supported them. That simply could not be further from the truth.
Deal with our Russian cousins to the east? That statements smacks of arrogance and ignorance. Obama has already demonstrated that he cannot be relied on as an ally. He pulled out of a promise to build a radar facility in Poland, part of the missile defense system, to appease the Russians. To add insult to injury, he announced that decision on September 17, 2009, the 70th anniversary of the Russian invasion and subsequent occupation of eastern Poland. Couple that with the reports of Obama being caught telling Medvedev that he will able to be more flexible concerning missile defense after November, it’s no wonder Poles have little faith in the US right now.