For the bereaved, this is a time for hearts opened in sympathy, not minds hastening with historical reflections. For Poland, however, and for Europe, there is already a glimmer of hope discernible in the darkness. This hope lies in the contrast between the two Katyns: the original secret massacre of Polish officers by the Soviets in 1940, and last Saturday's plane crash that killed the Polish president and other leading figures on their way to mark the 70th anniversary of that crime. More accurately, it lies in the contrast between the historical circumstances revealed by the two events. These are like night and day.
The secret execution of thousands of Polish officers in the Katyn forest, at a time when the Soviet Union had joined Nazi Germany in the Hitler-Stalin pact, was a totemic crime of mid-20th century European barbarism. Back then there was no Polish state to mark their passing with the kind of rites we are seeing today, because the Polish state had been erased from the map by the Nazis and Soviets between them.