30 May 2012

Obama and "Polish Death Camps"

I had a post planned for today already about Sorrel and some other items growing in our garden, including talking about a recipe I will be sharing this week. 

We were also busy with the end of the school year, a Kindergartner graduating to 1st Grade, preparing for camping this coming weekend in Ohio, and other items.

We've also been preparing for our own celebrations with the EuroCup 2012 almost here-think American Superbowl but with Polish flags, snacks, and screams and chanting over several Soccer games instead.

Everything has been going well. 

And then I woke up this morning.

And read this:  President Obama misspoke on 'Polish death camp' during Medal of Freedom ceremony: White House (From NY Daily News)

And this:  Poles Demand Obama Apology For “Polish Death Camps” Comment (BuzzFeed Politics)

And this:  "Polish Death Camps"-Mind Your Language (The Economist)

And this:  "Poland Seeks Apology for Obama Holocaust Comments (Chicago Tribune)

These are just a couple of countless American Media articles regarding this.  If you can read Polish, check out and see the nationwide reaction of outrage at being so insulted.  See the front page of Rzeczpospolita, filled with stories about Poland's outcry.  Countless other Polish language newssites also have this as their feature story.

Essentially, US President Obama, while posthumously honoring Polish hero Jan Karski for his heroism during WWII, called the camps "Polish Death Camps".

Jan Karski was the man who snuck into Nazi death camps in occupied Poland and snuck back out to report to the US and other world powers to report the atrocities he witnessed there.

The White House is attempting damage control by saying US President Obama "misspoke" (Associated Press article). 

Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s statement on the words of United States President Barack Obama

This subject is serious enough to have the Polish Embassy in DC's website include a
Against Polish Death / Concentration Camps: A How-To Guide for a year now.  Please read it to familiarize yourself with the various terms and their explanations, why reactions are what they are, and how to help in making a change.

I am no politician, I am not suave nor diplomatic.  I speak as an average US citizen born in Poland.  And I need to share how I feel about this.  Here is the communication I will be sending to the President myself.  Most likely, he will never read it but at least I stood for what I hold true.

Dear President Obama:

Regarding the phrase you uttered, "Polish death camps", I have to tell you that I am hurt as a Polish American.  When the New York Times and other American media sources make this mistake, I am outraged, yes.  But they are nobody in comparison to you.

You are the President of the United States of America.  There is no more prestigious position in the USA than your position.  You represent America.  You represent where I moved to, the country, the politics, the society, everything.  You carry a heavy burden.

And there is no excuse with such an important position to say such a thing as "Polish Death Camps".  It's not OK.  It's not you "misspeaking". 

Your speeches are written carefully, combed over for grammatical errors, guffaws and worded in such a way as to not offend anyone.  Your speeches are written to be sure that your points are crystal clear and not subject to interpretations.  They are checked over by others to be sure of that.

How could this happen?  Surely, your grasp of the events of WWII and who was the perpetrator and who was the victim is accurate and complete.  You are, after all, the President of the United States of America.

In case you don't get it, because I have met many in my time who also don't get it, let me explain once and for all why the words "Polish Death Camp" are so wrong, hurtful and blatantly insulting.

The Death Camps in Poland were not envisioned, created, organized or run by Poles.  They were run by German Nazis who invaded and occupied Poland.  Poland was not a perpetrator, Poland was a victim. 

The English language is not a complicated one.  Using the word "Polish" before the phrase "Death Camps" implied one and only one thing-that they were envisioned, created, organized and run by Poles. 

I've met many people who believe that Poles were the perpetrators in WWII, that we killed the Jewish people, that we ran the death camps, that Auschwitz was our heinous monstrosity.  Perhaps you were unaware of this.  But it's a very common thought.  And saying words like "Polish death camps" enforces their misinformed view of history, even if you didn't mean to.

Saying "Polish Death Camps" slaps a nation which was victimized in the face.  It states that you are either uninformed of how the English language works and/or WWII history, or that you are insulting them.  It is nothing else.

To be President of the United States of America means that you cannot use the excuse of being misinformed.  You are the President.  Not an intern, not a cashier, not an accountant nor any other position.

And this being done at an event honoring a Polish hero who did more than most men could.

Let me be clear, Mr. President.  I voted for you.  I was more inclined to vote for you again than for Mitt Romney.  Much more so.  You had my support until this.  Without a formal apology, my vote will go elsewhere.  I cannot stress that enough.

My children look up to you.  They know who you are and know your story and view you as an important person to draw inspiration from.

But this cut.  This cut deep.  So deep, I cannot put it into words eloquently.

Just know that Poles and Polish Americans everywhere are hurting over this and brushing it off that you "misspoke" does nothing. 

What you should do, I don't know.  Damage has been done.  But whoever proofed your speech did a horrendous job of it.  Good luck, Mr. President, you are going to need it.

Note:  This letter is also going to be public for others to read.

If you are interested, you can send your own letter to US President Obama here.

Also, an official petition to the White House for an official apology can be signed here.  Please sign and pass through your network.

I get it, American English is a language filled with shortcuts.  Presumed shortcuts which we often know what they mean, such as "Y'all", "Ain't", "What's Up", etc.  I use some of them as well.

But when it comes to diplomacy, when it comes to making yourself completely understood and making sure not to offend, you can't use shortcuts.  Perhaps that's what President Obama was doing. 

However, we live in a nation where our drive-thru coffee is clearly labeled "Warning: Contents May Be Hot".  Coffee, which we assume to be hot or else why would we order it, correct?

So, if we need our coffee labeled with a warning sign that it's hot, why would it not also be apparent that our political officials and our media should use language which is clear, correct and not full of linguistic shortcuts? 

If that is what happened and not that our President actually believed them to be "Polish death camps".

What do you think?

Na razie...

Related Posts:

Gordon Gee and His Polish Army Joke (Yes, the President of Ohio University)

A Follow Up on Gordon Gee's Racist Joke

My Feet in Two Worlds, The Brutally Honest Truth of It


Megryansmom said...

au contraire, you are extremely eloquent!

Maria Monahan said...

History 101- WWII started when Germany INVADED Poland, and the Poles died with their boots on trying to protect their homeland- they didn't roll out the welcome mat and wave the Nazis in with little flags. My Polish grandfather died in a NAZI death camp. It wasn't his own brothers that killed him.

Dwija {House Unseen} said...

Thousands of Poles died trying to defend their country from those Nazi monsters and he can't be bothered to make that clear in his speech? Unacceptable. And this "misspoke" thing is the most frustrating thing of all. The fact that he "misspoke" is the entire PROBLEM. The president of the country can't go around "misspeaking" and think he can use that as an excuse.

Marta said...

I completely agree. With everything.

Olivia D {The Road to Poland} said...

He can apologize to our enemies but not to our allies. He can play nice with the Russians but not say a simple, "sorry." He hurt the Polish people here and in Poland deeply. To brush it off is to show exactly how much he respects the alliance he has and has always had with Poland. He better apologize, for real, not this "misspoke" crap. I would never be so sensitive if it weren't for Martin and he has lived his life trying to set people straight on things just like this. Two steps forward one step back.

AnetaCuse said...

Well put, I couldn't have expressed it any better.

P.S. I typo made its way into the letter's 5th paragraph from the bottom: Mrs. instead of Mr.

Anonymous said...

...and your again voting for "Mrs." Obama "Much more so".
Unfortunately that line was your guffaw and may very well guarantee that your letter will never reach the President. That line underscores to the Administration that he just "misspoke" and this is not a big deal since it will not change your position or your feelings about him and he will not lose your vote.
Perhaps you can revise your tone and let him know that you voted for him previous and your support is waning, or better yet, is lost without some form of public apology.
(You can vote for him all day long - voting is private and personal)
Just don't let him off the hook like that!

Polish Mama on the Prairie said...

Thank you for pointing that out! I'll revise it to "Mr" and change the tone to stress more what I was attempting to share-that I won't be voting for him again without a formal apology. I was pretty upset about this, as well as comments made by acquaintances that I was overreacting, so please forgive the typo and flawed tone in the letter.

Winnie said...

I saw the headlines here in NYC and it was glaring to me. But, I am sure that he will make an apology as I can't believe he wouldn't do so after this was pointed out. It is just wrong. He may not have realized his mistake (I would like to think he didn't..) It is nice to see people still writing letters to express themselves to their ELECTED officials.

Have fun with the rest of your fun Summer plans...

Polish Mama on the Prairie said...

Winnie, thanks. Our summer has been great so far, as I hope yours has. Obama did end up apologizing for it and clearing the air that the term "Polish death camps" was not correct.