Obama 'Polish Death Camps' Comment Fails At Cultural Sensitivity

Opinion

 
on June 01 2012 1:42 PM

What kind of calendar does your grandmother have in her kitchen?  Probably has a photo of kittens or puppies in a basket, right?  My grandmother's had a drawing of Polish nuns gathered before an open mass grave being shot by Nazis. And President Barack Obama's staff wonders why Poles are so angry at his calling the Nazi concentration camps Polish death camps.

No doubt, the Obama staff prides itself on their cultural sensitivities, love for diversity, and all that.  But when it came time to actually putting it into practice, they fell short.  Was it because, in their minds, the Poles aren't worth being sensitive about? 

From Warsaw to Krakow, in coffee cafes and over glasses of cold pilsner, I expect Poles are asking the same question today.

As if that gaffe wasn't enough, there's the uncomfortable fact that the correct information about Poland and the Nazi death camps was literally a stone's throw from the White House (not to mention a few clicks away on the Internet) at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.  To quote from the museum's website:

Documentation remains fragmentary, but today scholars of independent Poland believe that 1.8 to 1.9 million Polish civilians (non-Jews) were victims of German Occupation policies and the war. This approximate total includes Poles killed in executions or who died in prisons, forced labor, and concentration camps. It also includes an estimated 225,000 civilian victims of the 1944 Warsaw uprising, more than 50,000 civilians who died during the 1939 invasion and siege of Warsaw, and a relatively small but unknown number of civilians killed during the Allies' military campaign of 1944 -- 45 to liberate Poland.

And, most important, never to be forgotten; it was Hitler's Final Solution genocidal policies that caused over three million Polish Jews -- men, women, and children -- to be executed in concentration camps, operated by the Nazis.  The camps were in Poland, but it didn't make them Polish.  That's why the largest camp, in O?wi?cim, Poland (where over a million Jews perished), is known throughout the world by its German name:  Auschwitz.

Here's a suggestion for the West Wing staff: Get Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security adviser to Jimmy Carter, on your speed-dial -- for the next time the boss makes a remark about Poland.  Yes, that's right, the guy who's Mika's dad -- he knows a bit about Polish history.  I'm sure she can get his phone number for you.

Joanne Butler is a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a former professional Republican staff member at the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee.

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