WARSAW, Poland -- Poland's leaders said yesterday they weren't completely satisfied with a White House explanation that President Barack Obama misspoke when he referred to "Polish death camps" during a ceremony honoring a World War II hero, saying they wanted a stronger response.
The phrasing is considered hugely offensive in Poland, where Nazi Germany murdered Poles, Jews and others in camps it built during World War II on Polish and German territory. Poles have responded with outrage, saying Obama should have called it a "German death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland" to distinguish the perpetrators from the location.
President Bronislaw Komorowski said he has written to Obama and hopes the letter will lead to a "joint correcting of the unfortunate mistake," preventing the use of such phrases in the future.
"In my opinion, the words of the U.S. president -- unjust and painful to us all -- about a Polish death camp, do not reflect either the views or the intentions of our American friend," Komorowski told a news conference.
White House spokesman Jay Carney repeated the administration's assertion that Obama simply misspoke when he referred to "Polish death camps."
"This was a simple mistake and we regret it," he said. "It was Nazi death camps that the president was referring to." Carney said Obama had not spoken to Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
Earlier yesterday, Tusk said he was accepting the explanation that Obama misspoke, but was waiting for a "stronger, more pointed reaction" that could eliminate the phrasing "once and for all." Tusk said it was a "matter of the U.S.'s reputation."
Stressing that the entire Polish nation felt affected by Obama's words, Tusk said: "We always react in the same way when ignorance, lack of knowledge, bad intentions lead to such a distortion of history, so painful for us here in Poland, in a country which suffered like no other in Europe during World War II."
Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski thanked Obama for honoring Poland's "national hero" and expressed hope that the "unfortunate words" will serve as foundations for jointly educating the world about Poland's role in World War II.
Obama made the remark Tuesday in bestowing the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously on Jan Kozielewski, alias Karski, a Polish emissary who in 1943 alerted Allied leaders in London and Washington to the mass killings of Jews in Europe and in Nazi-occupied Poland.