Donald Trump Congratulates Poland As Nation Marks Somber Anniversary of Nazi Invasion: 'We Also Have Many Polish People in Our Country'

This week, Poland is observing a dark and traumatic anniversary. On Sunday, the country marked 80 years since Nazi forces began their invasion of the nation in 1939, signaling Europe's descent into what would become the Second World War.

The occasion was marked with solemn ceremonies in multiple locations in Poland. These included the Baltic port of Westerplatte near Gdansk, bombarded by German battleships in the war's opening salvos. Crowds also gathered in the city of Wielun, which was razed by Nazi aircraft in what is considered among the first of a long list of Nazi war crimes in Poland.

Several heads of state, meanwhile, attended an event in Warsaw to mark the anniversary. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was among them, vowing that his nation would never forget the horrors of World War II and asking forgiveness "for Germany's historical guilt."

President Donald Trump was also due to attend the commemorations, but canceled his trip at the last minute to stay in the U.S. and coordinate the preparations for—and response to—Hurricane Dorian, which threatens to bring punishing winds and huge storm surges to the East Coast. Instead, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Warsaw.

But the president was soon facing criticism after being spotted at a Trump-branded golf course on Saturday, and again on Monday. On Sunday, having touched down back on the South Lawn of the White House aboard Marine One, the president was asked if he had a message for the people of Poland, having missed the weekend commemorations.

Rather than lament the horrors of the war or express solidarity with other world leaders against a repeat of such a conflict, Trump replied: "I just want to congratulate Poland. It's a great country with great people."

REPORTER: Do you have a message for Poland on the 80th anniversary of World War 2?

TRUMP: "I do have a great message for Poland & we have Mike Pence, our vice president, is just about landing right now...I just want to congratulate Poland"

[Poland was smashed by Nazis in 1939]

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 2, 2019

"We have many Polish people in our country—it could be 8 million," the president added. There are believed to be some 10.5 million Americans of Polish descent, forming one of the largest immigrant populations in the country. Polish populations are centered in the northeast of the country, with particularly large communities in Wisconsin and Michigan.

"We love our Polish friends," Trump added. "And I will be there soon."

The right-wing Polish government had hoped Trump would attend the Warsaw event as guest of honor, but instead had to settle for Pence. The vice president used his speech to lament war crimes committed by both Nazi and Soviet troops in Poland, and suggested that the salient problem in the 20th century was that men had forgotten God.

Despite the sentiment of reconciliation and remembrance, Polish leaders used the event to score political points for the nationalist government, The Guardian reported.

President Andrzej Duda suggested the war could have been avoided if other European powers "had put up a decisive resistance against ... the imperial ambitions of Hitler," while Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Poland must "demand compensation" from Germany for war-era economic losses.

Donald Trump, Poland, World War II
President Donald Trump walks from Marine One to the White House following a weekend at Camp David, on September 1, 2019 at the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C. Tom Brenner/Getty Images/Getty