(CNN) — The White House was in damage control Tuesday evening after words that President Obama used at a ceremony honoring 12 Americans with the Medal of Freedom sparked outrage.
The trouble came when he paid tribute to Jan Karski, the former Polish officer who escaped Nazi imprisonment and provided firsthand accounts to the Western Allies of atrocities. Karski received the award posthumously.
“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. Jan took that information to President Franklin Roosevelt, giving one of the first accounts of the Holocaust and imploring to the world to take action,” Obama said.
The president’s use of the term “Polish death camp” rather than Nazi death camp in Poland angered the Polish foreign minister, Radek Sikorski.
Sikorski tweeted: “White House apologizes for outrageous blunder. PM (prime minister) Tusk will take his position in the morning. It’s a shame that this important ceremony was overshadowed by ignorance and incompetence.”
The White House issued a statement from National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor on the president’s wrong word choice.
“The President misspoke – he was referring to Nazi death camps in Poland,” the statement said. “We regret this misstatement, which should not detract from the clear intention to honor Mr. Karski and those brave citizens who stood on the side of human dignity in the face of tyranny.”
Obama has spoken of the bravery of Poles during World War II in past speeches. Last year, he visited the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial that honors those who perished in the Holocaust.
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