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Poland not satisfied with White House "regret" over "death camp" comment

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk delivers on May 30, 2012 a statement to the press in Warsaw. GRZEGORZ JAKUBOWSKI/AFP/GettyImages

(CBS News) Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk remains unsatisfied with the White House response to a comment President Obama made Tuesday regarding a Holocaust-era "Polish death camp," and suggested the administration offer a more "explicit reaction" to the incident.

"We expect that America, in connection with this very statement, will join our efforts and help us eradicate such false and unjust phrases once and for all," said Tusk of the characterization, according to the Polish government's website. "We always react in the same way to ignorance, lack of knowledge and ill will which lead to the distortion of history. Such phrases are especially painful for Poland - Europe's most affected country by World War II."

On Tuesday, President Obama awarded a posthumous Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski, a Polish resistance fighter during World War II. In his remarks honoring Karski, who died in 2000, Mr. Obama described an incident in which Karski was smuggled "into the Warsaw Ghetto and a Polish death camp" to witness atrocities taking place there. Karski subsequently reported what he saw to Franklin Roosevelt, in what Mr. Obama called "one of the first accounts of the Holocaust."


Mr. Obama's characterization of the incident drew immediate criticism from Polish officials, who argued that he should have referred to the camp as a "German death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland," rather than a "Polish death camp."

Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski accused the president of reflecting a perspective of "ignorance and incompetence," and Tusk suggested that Obama's words reflected a "distortion of history."

The White House subsequently said the president had misspoken and expressed its regrets.

But Tusk, on Wednesday, made it clear he wasn't satisfied with that reaction.

"I am certain that our American friends are capable of a more explicit reaction than issuing a correction and the spokesperson of the White House expressing regret, and that maybe they will once and for all eliminate such errors," he said. "It is an issue to which we cannot be indifferent, for the sake of Poland, our country and our fellow countrymen. We cannot accept such words, even if they are uttered by the head of an ally superpower."

Tusk argued that referring to the camps as "Polish," was akin to suggesting "there had been no Nazis, no German responsibility, no Hitler."

In his daily press briefing Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney reiterated that the president had misspoken, and that "he was referring to the Nazi death camps in German-occupied Poland."

"As we've made clear, we regret the misstatement," Carney said, highlighting the president's efforts to honor the Polish losses during World War II. He added that the error "should not detract from the clear intention to honor Mr. Karski" and other Polish citizens "who fought against the terrible tyranny of the Nazis."

Carney said he was not aware of any plans for the president or anyone else in the administration to call the Prime Minister.

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