Why the words ‘Polish death camps’ cut so deep Obama must remember that Poles were also victims in the Holocaust By Corky Siemaszko / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

My first memory is hearing my father scream at night.

I was very young and it pierced my sleep and sent me racing to my parents’ bedroom, where I found my mother holding my dad in her arms.

She told me he had a nightmare and to go back to bed. But I stood rooted there in shock because it was the first time I realized that my father could be afraid of anything.

His name was Konstanty Siemaszko and he survived both the Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. To the day he died, he was plagued by nightmares.

I found myself aching for my father this week after President Obama caused an uproar by mistakenly using the term “Polish death camp” while honoring a World War II hero with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

You see, my father was Polish. And I am certain that if he was alive today, he too would be disappointed that those three awful words wormed their way into an otherwise wonderful tribute to Jan Karski, a Polish underground fighter who was the first to alert the world that the Holocaust was underway.

In addition to being Polish, my father was also Catholic.

And that fact is also key to understanding why so many Poles and Polish-Americans are angry at Obama’s comments.

While everybody should know by now that the Nazi genocide machine was created mainly to destroy the Jews, less known is the fact that more than a million Polish Catholics were also ground up in those gears.

This is entirely understandable. The Jews were Hitler’s primary victims. Catholic Poles were next in line, along with homosexuals and Gypsies and others the Nazis deemed “undesirable.”

When Polish-Americans hear the words “Polish death camp” uttered by the President of the United States, they don’t hear a benign geographical description — as some apologists for the White House have argued Obama’s gaffe to be.

They hear blame and responsibility for the slaughter of millions being transferred from the true culprits to victims like my father.

They hear a refusal by a President many of them admire to acknowledge the pain and suffering of people who went to the gas chambers and the ovens with the Jews.

That is wrong. The Poles did not launch the Holocaust or build the concentration camps or the death camps. The Germans did. Anybody who has ever cracked open a history book should know that.

Yes, there were Polish collaborators, and nasty anti-Semitism lingers to this day. There is scum in every society — in fact, there were collaborators in just about every European nation. But they were far outnumbered by other Poles who risked their lives to save thousands of Jews from the Nazis.

Just go to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and count the Polish names on the list of The Righteous Among the Nations who aided Jews. There are more than 6,000 of them.

But all it takes is three awful words, strung together in a speech, to turn them into villains. And that is why Obama, who I’m certain meant no harm, needs to take an extra step and apologize to the Polish people.

Siemaszko is a reporter for The Daily News.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/words-polish-death-camps-cut-deep-article-1.1087670#ixzz1wimvSwEe

Comments

  1. Prof. Pogonowski.
    Letter to President Barack Obama

    2012-05-31
    To President Barack Obama
    The White House

    Dear Mr President:

    Thank you for decorating a personal friend of mine, Jan
    Kozielewski-Karski with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I am 90
    years old Polish-Catholic veteran of five-years imprisonment in the
    German Concentration Camp in Oranienburg-Sachsenhausen near Berlin.
    After the war I met professor Jan Karski in Caracas Venezuela and
    later I was several times his guest in Washington. I wrote about Dr.
    Karski in my book “Jews in Poland” (Hippocrene Books. Inc. New York
    1993).

    I am writing this letter in Florida where, a large and growing Polish
    community is slowly catching up with Pennsylvania, Illinois and
    Wisconsin. Polish Americans believe that the medal is well deserved by
    Dr. Karski.

    Your unfortunate description of German-Nazi death camp in Poland as a
    “Polish death camp” is offending to Polish Americans aware that Poles
    did not collaborate with the Nazis in running the country, much less
    in the Holocaust. The use of the phrase “Polish Death Camp” is
    insulting and shameful.

    Dear President Obama, I have also noticed that you are the first
    post-war president of the United States, who during the observation of
    the D-Day in France, failed to mention the very important contribution
    of the Polish Armored Division at Falaise, France, during the battle
    for Normandy in 1944.

    Polish Americans are also surprised by the fact that your Secretary of
    State Mrs. Hillary Clinton, officially and repeatedly insists that
    Polish victims of war pay Jewish victims of war for damages inflicted
    on the Jews by the Nazi-Germans and the Soviets.

    I want to bring to your attention that recently the names of
    Polish-American generals, heroes of the War for American Independence,
    Casimir Pulaski and Thaddeus Kościuszko were recently removed from
    Amercan history high school text books. I hope you will consider to
    intervene and correct this situation.

    Respectfully yours,

    Iwo Cyprian Pogonowski
    Anti-Defamation Committee of
    Polish-Amercan Association of Sarasota Florida
    Sarasota, FL 34236

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