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President Obama Infuriates Poles With Use Of Phrase ‘Polish Death Camp’

Commander-In-Chief Apologizes For Gaffe During Ceremony To Honor War Hero
President Barack Obama (credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama (credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — President Barack Obama is expressing regret over a comment he made while honoring a Polish World War II hero.

On Wednesday, CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan went to Polish Town in Riverhead where the community reacted harshly to the words “Polish death camp.”

Polish Town was bristling. Hundreds of Polish-American families, alongside tight-knit business and church leaders, were expressing disappointment and some heartfelt anger at the president over his choice of words regarding their homeland.

“He said ‘Polish death camp.’ He’s not supposed to say that. I know that was mistake, but that very hurt us,” resident Claudia Mikina said.

“Poland was invaded by the Nazis and Polish people were imprisoned in death camps, too. There were no Polish death camps. They were Nazi death camps,” resident James McKay added.

The White House said the president misspoke when he said “Polish death camp” rather than a “German death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland” in remarks during a ceremony posthumously awarding the Medal of Freedom to a Polish World War II hero who risked his life alerting allies of mass killings of Jews.

“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,” Obama said.

Poland’s prime minister, Donald Tusk, and residents here are asking for a stronger more pointed response for the phrasing “Polish death camp” is considered hugely offensive in Poland.

“Regarding the statement, we expect the United States to engage in Polish efforts that will eliminate once and for all those false and unjust words,” Prime Minister Tusk said through a translator.

“We didn’t do that. It was the Nazis that did that. And he should know this. He’s really making it bad for Poland,” Riverhead resident Christine Blasko added.

The White House said the president has repeatedly discussed the bravery of Poles during World War II and has visited the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial while in Poland.

On Wednesday night the president said he clearly regrets the misstatement. The White House said the “misstatement” should not detract from the clear intention to honor Polish war heroes and brave citizens who stood on the side of human dignity in the face of tyranny.

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