WARSAW, Poland (CBS) -- The Polish Prime Minister demands an apology from Washington after President Barack Obama's 'Polish death camp' remarks.
Poland demanded an apology from the White House after President Barack Obama spoke of a "Polish death camp" while announcing an award to a Polish resistance fighter for alerting the world to the Nazi Holocaust, largely perpetrated on Polish soil.
The matter is a delicate one in Poland, which suffered Nazi occupation during World War Two and has long campaigned against suggestions it bore any responsibility for the slaughter of some 6 million European Jews.
Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski twittered on Tuesday night that the "White House will apologies for the outrageous mistake", adding that it was a pity that "ignorance and incompetence overshadowed such a momentous ceremony." On Wednesday, Sikorski added he did not suspect Obama of ill will and blamed the "grave mistake" on the White House's speech writers and press service.
After the ceremony in Washington, Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk demanded immediate clarification from Sikorski and the U.S. ambassador to Warsaw.
"Yesterday's words of the President of the United States, Mr. Barack Obama, about Polish death camps have affected all Poles," said Tusk at a news conference in reaction to Obama's words. "We always react the same way when ignorance, lack of knowledge or bad will leads to a misinterpretation of history. In this case it is especially hurtful for us in Poland, in a country which suffered like no other in Europe during World War II."
"If (there were) Polish death camps, then by whose hands did American soldiers die (during World War II)? If (there were) Polish death camps, then who did the United States liberate the Buchenwald death camp from? If someone says 'Polish death camps', then it's as if there were no Nazis, as if there was no German responsibility, as if there was no Hitler," Tusk added. "Polish sensitivity to these situations has far broader meaning than only national pride."
The posthumous award for Jan Karski was to honor him for bringing some of the first eyewitness testimony of the Holocaust to the outside world. Karski travelled to London, Washington and elsewhere urging action to prevent the mass extermination of Jews.
Israel's Yad Vashem institute has awarded Karski the Righteous Among the Nations title for his efforts to aid Jews, and to more than 6,300 other Poles - more than any other nationality, despite the fact that Poland's history is littered with anti-Semitism.
Some 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland before 1939. Most perished during World War Two, among nearly 6 million Polish deaths in total.