"Polish death camp" - these words were used by US President Barack Obama in his speech delivered at the White House on May 2012 at a ceremony in which he posthumously awarded the Polish hero Jan Karski the highest civilian award of the United States - the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
– 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 – said the US President. That caused a scandal.
– We have stated what we think about that and now we expect that appropriate steps will be taken. I have been promised that a special statement will be issued on this matter – said the former Minister of Foreign Affairs Adam Daniel Rotfeld, who received the award on behalf of the Polish Underground courier, who died in July 2000.
In the stenographic report from Obama’s speech that was quoted by the media several hours after the ceremony, the words "Polish death camp" were replaced with "Nazi transit camp in Izbica", which corresponded to the historical truth. The spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, Tommy Vietor, wrote: "The president misspoke. He was referring to Nazi death camps in Poland". Several hours later, the spokesman released a special statement with the words: "We regret this misstatement". However, the spokesperson of the White House, Josh Earnest, admitted that it could not be said that Barack Obama had apologized explicitly for the words that he had used.
According to Jaromir Sokołowski, a minister of President Bronisław Komorowski, to whom Obama sent a letter on the following day, the US President only expressed his regret. "In referring to a 'Polish death camp’ rather than a "Nazi death camp in German-occupied Poland", I inadvertently used a phrase that has caused Poles anguish over the years", wrote Barack Obama. However, apparently, the letter failed to offer a full apology.