It happened at the ceremony when the President posthumously awarded The Presidential Medal of Honor to, among others, Jan Karski who is known today as “the man who tried to stop the Holocaust.”
A member of the Polish Underground during the German occupation of Poland in World War II, Karski was an eyewitness to the way the Nazis maltreated and murdered Jews in one of their camps.
Karski tried to inform the world about the killings he saw by going to London and Washington to warn the Allies about the state of terror facing the Jews back home. They refused to believe him.
Unfortunately, the President’s speech writers led him astray when they provided him with a text which had him say that Karski witnessed the atrocities against the Jews inside a “Polish” death camp. It was really a German camp.
This is not the first time this type of misidentification has drawn the ire of the Polish American Congress. The organization has been in the forefront of the fight against this misnomer for several decades.
“It stunned us to hear it from someone like the President of the United States,” said Frank Milewski who currently heads the Holocaust Documentation Committee.
After an Administration spokesman issued a statement claiming the President only “misspoke,” the committee called the White House and followed up with a request for further action: (see below).
To: The White House
From: Frank Milewski, Chair
Holocaust Documentation Committee
Polish American Congress
On behalf of the President’s National Security Council, Tommy Vietor stated that the President “misspoke” at the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony when he referred to a Nazi death camp as “Polish” instead of German.
One of the objectives of the Holocaust Documentation Committee of the Polish American Congress is to safeguard the integrity of Holocaust history by correcting errors which come to our attention.
Errors like the one the President made are generally brought to our attention by our members and constituents, as was the case here.
In all candor, the President’s error hit a raw nerve in the Polish American community as evidenced by the comments sent us. Our membership includes many registered Democrats whose families have been loyal to the party even for generations.
In view of the fact the President’s statement was so egregious, we would suggest that he be advised that, at the very least, an apology is the appropriate way to deal with this problem rather than merely saying he “misspoke.”
Misstatements damaging Poland’s history continue to be a grave concern of the Polish American community. We are also relying on the President’s promise to finally include Poland in the Visa Waiver Program and his assurance Poland’s security is a priority for his administration.
We are convinced his appropriate and prompt response will do much to reassure all of us.
Contact: Frank Milewski