Gerry Ford Redux: Obama's 'Polish Death Camp' Gaffe

Back in October of 1976, Time magazine reported “The Blooper Heard Round the World:”

Chopping the air with his right hand, Gerald Ford boldly declared: “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford Administration.”

Incredulous, New York Times Associate Editor Max Frankel asked a follow-up question that offered Ford a chance to retreat, but Ford lowered his head and charged into a trap of his own making. By his reckoning, Yugoslavia, Rumania and even Poland were not under the Soviet thumb. “Each of these countries is independent, autonomous; it has its own territorial integrity.”

Thus, in his second debate with Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford made what could well be the most damaging statement of his career.


Flash-forward to today, when Obama made a gaffe involving Poland and the totalitarianism that was forced upon it that rivals Ford’s: “President Obama Causes Outrage with Reference to ‘Polish Death Camp,'” Jake Tapper reports at ABC:

Poles and Polish-Americans expressed outrage today at President Obama’s reference earlier to “a Polish death camp” — as opposed to a Nazi death camp in German-occupied Poland.

“The White House will apologize for this outrageous error,” Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski tweeted.  Sikorski said that Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk “will make a statement in the morning. It’s a pity that this important ceremony was upstaged by ignorance and incompetence.”

The president had been trying to honor a famous Pole, awarding a Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski, a resistance fighter who sneaked behind enemy lines to bear witness to the atrocities being committed against Jews. President Obama referred to him being smuggled “into the Warsaw ghetto and a Polish death camp to see for himself.”

Sikorski also tonight tweeted a link to an Economist story noting that “few things annoy Poles more than being blamed for the crimes committed by the Nazi occupiers of their homeland. For many years, Polish media, diplomats and politicians have tried to persuade outsiders to stop using the phrase ‘Polish death camps’ as a shorthand description of Auschwitz and other exemplars of Nazi brutality and mass murder. Unfortunately this seems to have escaped Barack Obama’s staff seem not to have noticed this.”


As Seth Mandel noted earlier this month at Commentary, “it turns out Obama has added bullet points bragging about his own accomplishments to the biographical sketches of every single U.S. president since Calvin Coolidge (except, for some reason, Gerald Ford).” Nice Obama to rectify that omission with his latest gaffe.


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