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Obama 'death camps' remark draws Polish condemnation

Poland's leaders said Wednesday they weren't satisfied with a White House explanation that President 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 death camps it built during World War II on Polish and German territory.

Poles have responded to Obama's words with outrage, saying he 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" that could prevent 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 on Wednesday reiterated the administration's earlier 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 Wednesday, Tusk said he accepted the White House explanation that Obama misspoke but was still 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.' reputation."

He hinted it should include facts about Nazi Germany's brutal occupation of Poland, during which 6 million Polish citizens were killed, half of them Jews.

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."

"When someone says 'Polish death camps,' it is as if there were no Nazis, no German responsibility, as if there were no Hitler," he added.

Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski thanked Obama for honoring Poland's "national hero" and expressed hope that the "unfortunate words" would serve as foundations for jointly educating the world about Poland's role in World War II.

The White House said the president misspoke Tuesday in bestowing the Medal of Freedom posthumously on Jan Kozielewski, alias Karski, a Polish emissary who in 1943 alerted Allied leaders in London and Washington to mass killings of Jews in Europe and in Nazi-occupied Poland. To gather first-hand evidence he risked his life and was secretly smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto and a death camp. His account was met with disbelief and brought no reaction.