White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest confirmed today that President Obama had sent a letter to Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski on the matter of Obama’s use of the term “Polish death camps.”
Earnest said it was inaccurate to say Obama “apologized” for the incident, which occurred as Obama posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom Tuesday to Polish World War II hero Jan Karski.
But a copy of the letter posted on the Polish president’s website makes it clear that this is in fact an apology, albeit one of those that preserve deniability because Obama didn’t explicitly say, “I’m sorry.”
In referring to “a Polish death camp” rather than ” a Nazi death camp in German-occupied Poland,” I inadvertently used the phrase that has caused many Poles anguish over the years and that Poland has rightly campaigned to eliminate from public discourse around the world. I regret the error and agree that this moment is an opportunity to ensure that this and future generations know the truth.
Komorowski suggested that the apology would help put the matter to rest. From the website:
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,” president Komorowski told a press conference. “With this letter Poland has gained an important ally in its battle against the misleading, wrongful and painful term ‘Polish death camps'” the Polish president said.
It’s not clear how other Polish politicians will react, though – Komorowski didn’t take as hard a line with Obama as many other Polish leaders and citizens did.
The White House is smart to try to put the kabosh on this as quickly as possible. After all, the Poles of Ohio and Pennsylvania may be watching.