O’s polish blunder / Fumbles on Nazi death camps (NEW YORK POST OP-ED) By ALEX STOROZYNSKI 05/31/12)
NEW YORK POST
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President Obama put his foot in his mouth by referring to a “Polish
death camp” as he was awarding a posthumous Presidential Medal of
Freedom to Jan Karski, a Polish hero who tried to stop the Holocaust.
There couldn’t have been a worse time to make this blunder of calling
German concentration camps “Polish.”
The only things Polish about Nazi concentration camps like Auschwitz
were the victims. Auschwitz is a German name; German guards patrolled
it; the German words “Arbeit macht frei” hang over the entrance.
Poland has been one of America’s greatest allies in the War on
Terror, and Obama’s comments are putting a strain on this important
relationship. Our president’s comments are such a scandal over there
that Poland’s president, prime minister and foreign minister have all
demanded that he apologize.
Karski was a hero for Poles. And he was such a hero for Jews that
Israel made him a citizen after the war. He risked his life to sneak
into the Jewish ghetto, where he promised Jewish leaders he would
tell their story to the Allies. He also disguised himself as a
Ukrainian guard to visit a German concentration camp.
Then Karski traveled across war-torn Europe to London and Washington
to deliver his eyewitness account of Nazi Germany’s mass murder of
President Franklin Roosevelt ignored Karski’s pleas to help the Jews.
Obama was supposed to set the record straight — but made things worse
by using a phrase that insinuates that Poles were responsible for the
This is not just semantics. The documentary “Upside Down” showed that
Canadian and American schoolchildren thought Poland built the
concentration camps because they’re often referred to as “Polish.”
After the Kosciuszko Foundation began a drive two years ago asking
news outlets to stop using the phrase “Polish concentration camps” to
refer to the German horrors in Nazi-occupied Poland. The Wall Street
Journal, The New York Times, the Associated Press and other media
organizations changed their stylebooks.
Yet the White House has issued only a lukewarm statement from a press
officer saying that Obama “misspoke.”
Misspoke? This offensive phrase was on the teleprompter. That means
the president’s staff didn’t care enough about this issue to research
Karski’s history on the Internet.
Had they done so, they would’ve learned that Karski was not the only
Pole who tried to save Jews from the German death camps. The
underground created a clandestine organization called Zegota — the
Polish Council to Aid Jews, which rescued tens of thousands of Jews
during the Holocaust. They’d have learned about Irena Sendler, who
rescued 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto and found Poles
willing to hide them.
Yes, there were cases of Poles killing Jews during the war — but no
country did more to save Jews during the Holocaust than Poland. There
are 6,339 people from Poland honored at Yad Vashem in Israel as
righteous folk who saved Jews during World War II — more Poles than
nationals of any other country.
Poles thought that by honoring Karski, Obama was going to set the
record straight about the death camps. But by using this phrase to
honor a Polish war hero, our president poured salt on wounds that
keep getting scratched nearly seven decades after the war ended.
Alex Storozynski is president and executive director ”¨ of The
Kosciuszko Foundation and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.
(Copyright 2012 NYP Holdings, Inc. 05/31/12)
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