Why would U.S. President Barack Obama call Auschwitz a "Polish death camp?"
And not only Auschwitz, where over one million were killed, but Treblinka (900,000 murdered), Sobibor (200,000 gassed), Majdanek (80,000 killed), and Warsaw itself where 400,000 were slaughtered.
Obama spoke of "Polish death camps" in the plural, which means all the above and auxillary camps where people were sent to be exterminated.
Surely, the president has advisers who would have known, and who could have scripted his speech while awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the late Jan Karski, a hero of the Polish resistance in WWII?
What the President meant to say was "Nazi death camps in German-occupied Poland." And that's exactly what the White House did in a correction it put on its website. But the damage was done.
Jan Karski came to America from Poland where, in the war, he crossed enemy lines and reported on atrocities in the Warsaw ghetto and Nazi extermination camps. A naturalized American, he taught at Georgetown University until dying in 2000.
While everyone makes mistakes, Poles are hardly forgiving of Obama's gaffe.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Polish leaders want an apology for Obama's "outrageous mistake." And Bloomberg quotes Poland's outspoken foreign minister, Radek Sikorski: "It's a shame that such a momentous ceremony has been overshadowed by ignorance and incompetence."
More restrained, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, said: "We cannot accept such words...as if there was no German responsibility, no Hitler."
The WSJ's James Taranto adds: "When voters choose a leader on the basis of 'likability'...there's a danger of ending up with somebody ignorant and incurious about the world."
Apparently, Poles were already upset with Obama -- or at least the White House -- because they wanted the Hero of Solidarity and former polish president, Lech Walesa to receive the Freedom Medal on behalf of Karski.
Walesa had refused to attend a gathering to meet Obama when he visited Poland last year, because he felt that as a former president of Poland he rated a one-on-one meeting. The White House got even by saying Walesa accepting the Freedom Medal on behalf or Karski was too "political."
I guess one snub deserves a reprisal snub.
"Polish death camps," isn't the first embarrassing "misspeak" by President Obama. Last month the White House backed up when Obama paid tribute to the achievements to Jews during Jewish Heritage Month, and included Gertrude Stein's name -- unaware that she had been a Nazi collaborator while living throughout WWII in Vichy France.
One might also remember that during his 2008 election campaign, at one point Obama said he would confer with "the president of Canada."
This was around the time that Republican vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, was being ridiculed for implying she could see Russia from her home in Alaska. At the time she knew that Canada had a prime minister, but that didn't save her from being mocked.
Like warfare, politics isn't fair. Vice-President Joe Biden (and Obama) can get away with gaffes and goofy statements that others wind up being parodied on T.V. by professional comedians.
Now that the U.S. is formally and officially into the presidential election campaign, we'll be inflicted with both Democratic and Republican exaggerations and distortions of themselves and their opponents. And voters will have to filter the truth from the hyperbole. But, what the heck, we're used to that.
The state of economy will likely dictate who the next U.S. president will be. If it continues to be stagnant or floundering, we can always blame George Bush -- as Obama has been doing for four years.