The President of Germany has expressd regrets 80 years ~ to the day ~ after the outbreak of the Second World War. Sunday’s lament was a profoundly emotive moment for Germany and Poland in the decades since the war was over. It was no less a historical moment than the twists and turns of world history since 1945.

“In no other square in Europe do I find it more difficult to speak, and to address you in my native language of German. I ask for forgiveness for Germany’s historical guilt and I recognise our enduring responsibility,” President Steinmeier said at a ceremony in Pilsudski Square in Warsaw. He has spoken his mind to an audience of Poles who belong to a generation then unborn. So too do President Steinmeier and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. Both joined a number of Heads of State at the ceremony. Other events were held in Wielun, which was heavily bombarded by the German air force on the first day of the war; and Westerplatte, where the first shots of the war were fired when a German battleship opened fire on a Polish garrison in the early hours of 1 September. Overall, it was a commemoration of one of the cataclysms of the 20th century.

As much was the core of the Polish President, Andrzej Duda’s presentation at the Warsaw ceremony. “It is hard to imagine that cataclysm of history today, the armed conflict which brought the most disastrous consequences in the history of mankind. We have to remember, and therefore we are gathered here today,” he said. There was a note of anger in President Duda’s speech. Europe, he told the gathering, should have stood up to the Nazis earlier. “Perhaps the Second World War would not have broken out in the first place, if the states in the West had put up a decisive resistance against the imperial ambitions of Hitler.”

On the 80th anniversary of the first gunshot that ignited the conflict (1939-45), the President of Poland utilised the opportunity to debunk Western leaders who had proposed rapprochement with President Vladimir Putin after Moscow’s actions in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014. “Turning a blind eye is not the recipe for preserving peace. It is a simple way to give consent to further attacks,” was the resounding signal that he emitted from Warsaw to the Kremlin. Putin was present at a similar commemoration 10 years ago, but was not invited this year because of the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and Russia’s new revisionist historical policy, which downplays the Nazi-Soviet pact agreed a week before Germany attacked Poland.

While the Russian President had called the pact a mistake a decade ago, Russia’s foreign ministry has embarked on a campaign in recent weeks to show it as necessary and even a diplomatic triumph. German officials have insisted that the matter is closed and they will not pay reparations. It didn’t seem to be closed on Sunday, the