WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s President Bronislaw Komorowski welcomed a letter from Barack Obama on Friday in which the U.S. president expressed regret for referring to a “Polish death camp”.
Poles have called on Obama to apologise for a phrase they say wrongly suggests that Poland, occupied by Nazi Germany during World War Two, was partially responsible for Holocaust atrocities perpetrated on its soil.
Numerous German camps in occupied Poland during the war included the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau, Krakow-Plaszow and Treblinka complexes, among others.
“The correspondence received today is an important and a very necessary gesture by the U.S. president,” Komorowski told a news conference. “In my view, it’s a letter from our important ally and a good friend.”
In the letter, Obama said he regretted the error and also saw this as “an opportunity to ensure that this and future generations know the truth”.
“I inadvertently used a phrase that caused many Poles anguish over the years and that Poland has rightly campaigned to eliminate from public discourse around the world,” Obama said in the letter released by Komorowski’s office.
The gaffe caused a storm in the Polish media and sparked angry reactions from senior politicians in the country, which has traditionally been one of staunchest U.S. allies in Europe.
The White House said the matter should not overshadow the intention of posthumously awarding the top U.S. civilian honour to Jan Karski, a Pole who infiltrated the Warsaw Ghetto and a Nazi camp for first-hand evidence of the Holocaust, in which some six million Jews were killed.
“The issue itself is not over,” Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk told a news conference in Bucharest. “Let us put this incident behind us, but we will not rest until we will make sure such a situation never happens again.”
Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, additional reporting by Luiza Ilie in Bucharest,; Editing by Myra MacDonald