President Obama wrote a letter to the president of Poland in which he expressed regret for his words during the Medal of Freedom ceremony in which he referred to World War II-era “Polish death camp” instead of a Nazi death camp in Germany-occupied Poland.
“In referring to ‘a Polish death camp’ rather than ‘a Nazi death camp in German-occupied Poland,’ I inadvertently used a phrase that has caused many Poles anguish over the years and that Poland has rightly campaigned to eliminate from public discourse around the world,” President Obama wrote. “I regret the error and agree that this moment is an opportunity to ensure that this and future generations know the truth.”
President Obama made the remarks while posthumously awarding Polish freedom-fighter Jan Karski with the Medal of Freedom.
Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski in response said that “the events of the past few days and the US President’s reply may, in my opinion, signify a very important moment in the struggle for historical truth. With this letter Poland has gained an important ally in its battle against the misleading, wrongful and painful term ‘Polish death camps.’ I am convinced that Polish state authorities and institutions, with special emphasis on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will be able to take adequate stock of the US President’s declaration in their further (…) struggle for the eradication of confusing, painful and untrue qualifications found in public language outside Poland.”
President Komorowski received permission from the White House to post the entire letter on his website.
President Obama also noted that “As we all know, the Polish people suffered terribly under the brutal Nazi occupation during World War II. In pursuit of their goals of destroying the Polish nation and Polish culture and exterminating European Jewry, the Nazis killed some six million Polish citizens, including three million Polish Jews during the Holocaust. The bravery of Poles in the underground resistance is one of history’s great stories of heroism and courage. Moreover, there simply were no ‘Polish death camps.’ The killing centers at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Treblinka, and elsewhere in occupied Poland were built and operated by the Nazi regime. In contrast, many Poles risked their lives – and gave their lives – to save Jews from the Holocaust.”