This unfortunate phrase has a history almost as long as the Nazi camps in Poland.
That’s the problem! The country was defeated in September 1939 by the Germans and the Soviets and there was no Polish territory, there. It was partitioned between Germany or The 3rd Reich and Russia or the Soviet Union.
Technically, then, those camps were on German territory. Shouldn't we, subsequently, use the term German or Nazi concentration camps? Yes, I very strongly believe we should, and we do. I also believe that we should use and continue using the German names of those places to make very clear to the whole World who committed those atrocities. The genocide, the holocaust was planned, executed and committed by the Germans! If so, don’t you think that words like Auschwitz and Birkenau better describe what happened there and by whom?
Let’s now imagine somebody, who wants to visit these places. Auschwitz, Birkenau – how come we are not going to Germany, why is it in Poland now? Why do they use German names? How come they call it German concentration camps if they are in Poland? The reasoning is straightforward; if they are in Poland, they are Polish.
There is no easy way out of this situation. It’s just easier to say Polish camps, meaning either run by the Polish or on the Polish territory. Since they are in Poland and the word Polish also means Polish people, it’s easy to make wrong assumptions and jump to erroneous conclusions.
Yes, there are people who use and abuse this situation, which principally may be resulting from English grammar. No, President Obama is not one of them. President Obama simply used the grammatically correct speech form, which politically, on the other hand, is completely intolerable.
How would you get out of this English grammar trap? Any suggestions?