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Obama Gaffe Ignites Firestorm in Poland

Widespread anger erupted in Poland over President Obama’s use of the term “Polish Death Camps” to describe the Nazi concentration camps in the country, raising the possibility that Polish anger over both the remark and Obama’s failure to apologize to Poland’s leaders will percolate to Polish voters in the United States.

Polish American voters, some of whom may already be unhappy with Obama over forcing Catholic institutions to cover birth control, are crucial to Obama’s reelection hopes.

Obama Tusk
Obama and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk a year ago in Warsaw

According to the 2000 census, the critical swing states of Florida and Ohio each have more than 400,000 people with Polish ancestry. Wisconsin and Michigan – two states that lean toward Obama but which could become battlegrounds, rank #1 and #2 for Polish Americans as a percentage of the population, with nearly one in ten residents claiming Polish ancestry in each. And Pennsylvania, another state Mitt Romney would dearly love to snatch from Obama, ranks #6, with more than 800,000 Polish Americans.

The White House has so far acknowledged the error and expressed “regret” about the remark, made during a ceremony Tuesday at which Polish World War II hero Jan Karski was posthumously awarded a Medal of Freedom. But Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has suggested a stronger statement of apology is in order, as have Polish politicians across the political spectrum.

“The White House will apologize for this outrageous mistake,” Tweeted Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski. The Polish opposition leader has called for a “clear apology” from Obama.

While viewed by many in the United States as – in the words of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney – “a simple misstatement,” Obama has in fact stepped on something of a landmine in Poland.

The idea that Poles may be complicit in some way for the death camps established on their territory is a sensitive issue in Poland. According to The Warsaw Voice, the Polish government “has reacted sharply to previous reports by foreign media which could be taken to mean that the country bore responsibility for” the Holocaust.

Unlike many other groups living under Nazi occupation, Poles in fact refused to help run the German death camps.

The use of the term “Polish death camps” is not unique to Obama and is something Poles have been trying to stamp out for years.

An informal survey by Fakt, Poland’s largest newspaper, found that 85 percent termed Obama’s remarks a “mega-scandal,” while 15 percent said it was just a relatively minor error. A survey in the same newspaper found that by about the same margin – 84-16 percent, Poles think Obama is not “a good president of the USA.”

30 Responses to Obama Gaffe Ignites Firestorm in Poland

  1. During the eighties I lived in a wealthy town in Western MA, near Springfield. The uppity folks there did a time capsule on the green during a festival and among other items included a book of Polish jokes….the Polish communities, people with such pride in their heritage, demanded that it be removed. The town had to dig it up, with observers present, and remove the book…hilarious kick at snobbery!
    I hope the Poles keep on protesting! Obama insulted them.

    • As an American of Polish descent, I used to have to put up with the “Polake” jokes. The best response to one was given to me by one of the “old ones” in the family. It goes:
      Q: Can you speak Polish?
      A: No
      Q: Can you read Polish?
      A: No
      Q: How does it feel to be dumber than a “Polake”?

      • As I’m sure you well remember, he’s the one who said his uncle liberated Auschwitz. But it’s not a gaffe like the dumb McChimpy Bushitler would have made in his ignorance. It’s just a slip of the tongue from the tired, overworked, smartest, most bestest president we’ve ever had. On the other hand, since his grandparents and parents were all openly communist, it’s entirely possible that his uncle served in the Red Army during the Great Patriotic War.

  2. “Polish” Americans? Sad to think that we have American citizens who are so tied to the origins of their ancestors. I have ancestors who came from Austria, but you’ll not find me outraging over events in Austrian politics.

    Why aren’t Americans as outraged when this President violates our Constitution and so forth? Do we need the sentimental emo-link to our genetic heritage to get outrage started?

  3. Leaders are able to admit a mistake, apologize and move on. Obama and everyone in his inner circle are not leaders, they are little men who pretend to be leaders. I have a mental picture of them walking around in shoes that are 5 sizes too big. They’re trying on the adult shoes but they can not fill them. I hope he doesn’t apologize and he loses a larger segment of the population.

  4. In the big picture, this means nothing. The world’s smartest man (ugh) mis-spoke. So what? The issue to me is that, as usual, an insult, perceived insult, etc to one of our FRIENDS is ignored. This from a man who bows to foreign heads of state, almost BEGS forgiveness for past strong foreign policy, etc but chooses to treat people friendly to us poorly.

  5. I’m with Poland; we don’t say “the Cuban prison for terrorists”, or “the Japanese air force base”.
    So man up, MrO, and issue an offical apology to Poland.

    OT: a little
    Back in the day, there wasn’t a single ethnic group that wasn’t the butt of a lot of jokes. No religious group, no homeland, no gender was sancrosanct.
    There were a lot of first and second generation immigrants who kept their homeland’s identity making it easy to ridicule each other.

    Nowadays, we laugh at our politicians. I don’t know what they says about us or them.

  6. Obama is becoming more ‘Biden-esque’ every day. However, the Poles should be more outraged over the fact that ‘Obama-vednev’ cancelled the missile defense shield. In fact, every American should be demanding answers regarding the ‘hot mic’ love fest caught on tape. The so-called ‘leader’ of the Free World was caught with his pants down. ..and no one is calling 911! -The Nov. election should be all about the definition of ‘flexibility’ – watch Obama squirm!

  7. I think the real adult speeechwriters in this country are writhing in shame for their profession. BUT there don’t seem to be any adult editors or proofreaders in this administration. And the Commander and Chief is too dumb to catch mistakes, gaffes and facepalms.

  8. The words the fraudster in chief spoke weren’t a gaffe. Someone on Team Obot put the words to paper, where they were most likely reviewed by the boss (ValJar). Then Team Obot loaded the words to TOTUS for the arrogant one to mindlessly read off the screen. Just like his announcement of the cancellation of the Polish missile defense system on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland, there is no doubt in my mind that this was another intentional slap to Poland.

    Still can’t get over the oxymoron of him giving Dolores Huerta a Medal of Freedom. Marxism and freedom just don’t equate.

  9. I think wonder boys errors of late are part in due to fear of losing in November.
    Perhaps he hears the fat lady singing (not MO). He might have to work sort of and all the life of a 1% will be over he will be mortal.

  10. It occurs to me that in reading about all this uproar and the recipients of the Medal of Freedom that Obama’s problem is deeper. The mistake he made shows a superficial approach to the actual recipients of the award. I am pretty sure he would not have made this gaffe about the background of Huerta. And if he had he would have apologized. Profusely.

    • Speaking of the Medal of Freedom, MOTUS noted the award to “Bob Dylan, ne’ Zimmerman, another White Hispanic.”

  11. Jay “The Shell Game” Carney will announce at his briefing today that Romney’s people hacked into the TOTUS (Teleprompter Of The United States) and caused this error to occur. Therefore, its Mitt that should apologize to Poland.

  12. I remember when Obama made the Holocaust Museum a photo-prop earler this year. I wonder if he needs to revisit it.
    I visited it last year and was deeply moved as I toured the museum with my 6th grader in Feb 2011. Poland was nearly distroyed as a country and a people under WWII Germany control.
    “Our Smartest Prez Ever” has wounded a staunch ally and country that suffered terribly under the boot of the Nazis. A man who was as highly educated as he portrayed would be so insensitive as to be dangerous.
    Words matter and a true patriot of America in an increasingly unstable world would hope that the Romney/Super Pacs make this a campaign issue.

  13. Have ya heard this one?
    Three people walk into a bar, A ….. (whoops, can’t say that)
    Ok, how ’bout this one? To screw in a light bulb, it takes how many… (nope, can’t say tell that joke either)
    How ’bout this one: You might be a redneck if your sister and your mother are the same person. Cool, that will work!

  14. Ok, one more.
    Do you know the difference between a Polish death camp and a German death camp?
    Oops, never mind.
    Do ya’ know the difference between a hickey and a black eye?
    Good fer ya, Cause a redneck woman doesn’t.

    Before you get all bent out of shape. I’m not making fun of rednecks. I am trying to make a point. I think it is just as derogatory to call rural, country folks, rednecks, as it is, to call other people or cultures, names. I am just attempting to make a point. Why is it uncool to refer to our people or cultures by such names, but it’s cool to call rural southerners?

  15. Methinks the Poles doth protest too much. Far too many Poles were complicit in rounding up the Jews during the Nazi era. Read Auschwitz survivor Halina Nelkin’s holocaust memoir entitled “And Yet, I am Here!”.

    I knew Ms. Nelkin, an Auschwitz survivor, personally. She was a Polish Jew. a teenager when sent to the ghetto by the Nazis. My Grandmother, Charlotte Wilcoxen, lived in the same building with her some years ago, in Cambridge Mass., and helped Halina with proof-reading her manuscript for publication. According to Ms. Nelkin’s narrative, which I have no reason to doubt, many, many Poles were enthusiastically complicit in helping the Nazis round up and liquidate the Polish jewry. And, moreover, she made the observation that during her post-war lecture tours of Germany and Poland, she, Ms. Nelkin, personally observed far more contrition on the part of the Germans than amongst the Poles who by then inhabited the area where her family had once lived, many of whom remained un-repentant and/or completely in denial, just as we currently observe when we review the Polish prime minister’s irresponsibly revisionist comments, regarding Obama’s supposed gaffe. Sadly, the Poles eagerly helped the Nazis partition Czechoslovakia, in 1938, and were later hoist by their own petard, so to speak. That so many modern-day Poles wish to re-write history is understandable, for so many amongst them didn’t exactly cover themselves with glory. Give Obama some credit for verisimilitude, if nothing else.