Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

16 Iyar 5761 - May 9, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Who Did the Rescuing During the Holocaust?

by Yisroel Spiegel

Part II

The first part of this article discussed the various ploys that the secular establishment has used in order to deflect guilt from itself for not doing anything during the Years of Rage to save as many Jews as they could. The Zionist establishment in Eretz Yisroel was preoccupied with getting a state and felt that the problems of the Diaspora were not their problems. Their alienation from the Jews who were not involved with the State is reflected in their criticism of the victims of the Nazis as having gone like "sheep to the slaughter." Later they complained that the rabbonim could have encouraged more of their followers to go to Eretz Yisroel where they would have been saved. Rabbi Spiegel presented detailed responses to these points.

Now there is a new criticism of the chareidi rescue efforts, which Rabbi Spiegel discusses and replies to here.

The Aim: To Minimize the Guilt of the Zionists

But all of these criticisms are nothing compared to the behavior of Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israeli branch of the Weisenthal Center, who is involved in hunting Nazis and bringing them to justice. For example, Zuroff is quoted in a headline for an interview on the 15th of Elul 5760: "Chareidim Acted Selfishly in the Holocaust." These words, which come from a man who presents himself, not only as a "Nazi hunter," but also as a "historian" make the stomach turn. It is worthwhile to say a few words about Dr. Zuroff.

According to the article, "Dr. Zuroff, aged 52, a Nazi hunter with a knitted kipah, was born in the United States." From this description I assume that he could not stand to see the Zionists coming out so tarnished from the subject of rescue failures in the Holocaust, so he felt it his duty to protect them.

But the way he chose was by spreading a despicable slander about the chareidim, that whatever they did, they did only for themselves. They saved only those whom they were interested in saving. This then lessens the burden of guilt of the Zionist behavior during the Holocaust, because if the chareidim were allowed to act "selfishly," and to worry about themselves, then the secular could too!

In fact Dr. Efraim Zuroff in the interview blatantly contradicts Dr. Efraim Zuroff in the book. We cite the story from Rabbi Yosef Friedensen's article in Dos Yiddishe Vort (Iyar-Sivan 5760 edition):

"Efraim Zuroff wrote a historical book on the chareidi Vaad Hahatzala. We just have a few complaints about this book. While we argue with him on some details, we acknowledge that he did good work, and whoever reads the book can, and should, be impressed with what he published. He describes how a small group of American Torah leaders and rabbis, whose influence over the broad American community was quite weak, managed to accomplish so much at a time when almost all other Jewish organizations, who had at their disposal much more power and money, did not do anything, or very little. Here and there in the book, one is also impressed by Zuroff's amazement when he wrote about their work and accomplishments."

The Aim of the Original Vaad Hahatzala Operation

That very Efraim Zuroff, who published a book that was basically positive about Vaad Hahatzala, in several newspaper interviews comes out accusing Vaad Hahatzala and those rabbonim who had done so much, charging: "For the majority of the war, they acted selfishly, only for chareidi Jews! In the whole period, those who received priority in their resources were the rabbis and yeshiva students!"

We did not emphasize the full name at the beginning of the article for nothing: Vaad Hahatzala Be'ad Hayeshivos Vehorabonim Negu'ei Hamilchomoh (the Rescue Committee for Yeshivas and Rabbonim Affected by the War). Vaad Hahatzala was founded as a result of Maran HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky's appeal to American rabbis to help the yeshivas and rabbonim. It is only natural that such a committee would be dedicated first and foremost to saving those who were its declared reason for coming into existence.

The interesting thing is that in his interviews with the media, Dr. Zuroff turns this fact into an accusation, while in his book, as Friedensen pointed out in his article, he states this matter-of-factly, without any criticism. "It is understandable," continues Friedensen, "that when we are talking about danger to specific people, all organizations (Jewish and lehavdil non-Jewish) worked especially to save their own leaders. So did the Zionists, Bundists, and likewise American rabbis, out of recognition that their first obligation is to act for the sake of rabbis in danger. Could there be any criticism of this?"

But that is not all. In his book (in contrast to his interviews), Zuroff describes in full detail the Vaad Hahatzala's efforts in raising funds to support the yeshivas in Shanghai, and its support for groups of yeshiva students who were exiled deep into Soviet Russia. He describes later on, envoys for Rav Weissmandel's vaad in Pressburg, who aimed to help prevent Jews from being sent to different camps or to help Jews escape and cross the Hungarian border, when the situation there still seemed better and safer.

The book concludes with a chapter that focuses on the last year of the war, after Vaad Hahatzala broadened its rescue activity and when that committee stood at the helm of rescue work of those Jews who still remained in German camps. On this point, friction had already arisen between the Vaad Hahatzala and other Jewish groups, with whom Zuroff sympathizes more. But even so, a reader of Zuroff's book could still be impressed, because the Vaad Hahatzala had achievements -- like freeing the "Kastener train" with 1600 Jews on it and freeing 1200 Jews from Tereisenstat -- the likes of which no other Jewish organization managed.

The Cause: Hatred of Chareidim and Lomdei Torah

How is it possible for someone who sympathetically describes Vaad Hahatzala's activities in the book he wrote, to say in an interview, "Instead of utilizing all the money collected by the Vaad Hahatzala for assisting the escape of Jews to safety, the Vaad Hahatzala transferred a portion of the money it had collected to finance refugees for a long time after they had been rescued."

There is no basis for the criticism that he makes of the Vaad Hahatzala, that it acted "selfishly," only for the sake of chareidim or bnei yeshivos, because as we said, this was its stated purpose, as its full name implies. It is also simply logical from the context of its formation, when thousands of bnei Torah streamed into Vilna, and Maran HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky's greatest fatherly concern was to form a body that would work on rescuing them and bringing them to safety. It does not make sense to connect this with the broader need to save the masses of Jews from danger, since such an undertaking was almost impossible and also unfocused. That group of bnei Torah was focused in terms of its location and concentration, in Vilna and its environs, and they were realistically possible to rescue.

But Zuroff says in an interview with David Lavi, "When Jews were murdered in Auschwitz and Treblinka, Vaad Hahatzala sent some of its funds to bnei yeshivos who had journeyed to Shanghai and Asiatic Russia, so that they could continue learning Torah uninterrupted. The Agency and the Joint were already taking care of the refugee's basic needs, so there was no danger that they would die of starvation. So why did Vaad Hahatzala have to send them money so they would not need to work and could learn Torah?"

Zuroff continues with his criticism: "The Vaad Hahatzala could have said, `Chevra, close your gemoras and go to work as long as war and danger is hovering over the heads of millions of Jews, because we need every dollar in order to continue rescuing people.' Instead, the Vaad took money from American Jews in order to save Jewish lives, but sent some of it to finance Jews learning Torah in China who no longer needed to be saved, when their whole rationale was that one had to also worry about learning Torah."

To Increase Sales

The amazing achievements of this Vaad Hatzala, that was unfortunately the only one that worked efficiently and did so much, as everyone acknowledges, including him in his book. Yet, Zuroff dares taint their image, as his disdain for bnei Torah is evident and his real purpose is absolutely selfish: He wants to use chareidi bashing in the form of the Vaad Hahatzala to increase sales of his book.

What is the basis of Zuroff's anger about the help that Vaad Hahatzala extended to the bnei yeshivos in Shanghai or in remote places in Russia? Here is what he said in an interview: "During the first 10 months of '44, the Vaad Hahatzala sent $420,000 to occupied Europe to fund the rescue of Jews, and at the same time it sent $110,000 to refugees in Shanghai and $155,000 to refugees in White Russia. These are refugees who had managed to flee from Eastern Europe to Lithuania in '39-'40, from Lithuania to Japan in '40-'41, and in '41 they were deported by the Japanese to China."

Here he not only admits that besides the money that was sent to support the bnei yeshivos, $420,000 (almost twice as much in total) was also sent for the rescue of Jews in occupied Europe, but also another important detail: "In those days the chareidim already found excellent channels to transfer money to occupied Europe. It was indeed impossible at that time to take Jews out of Auschwitz, but it was definitely possible to prevent--if more money would arrive-- the arrival of additional Jews to the concentration camps and annihilation. A quarter of a million dollars is not a lot today, but in those days this was a huge amount of money. This money could save many Jews! My complaint is simple. If they had sent all the collected money for rescue efforts to Rav Weissmandel and not to the yeshiva students in China, it would have been possible to save hundreds of more Jews with this money. Weissmandel could save one Jew for around 50 dollars, and he called for every penny."

Suddenly, he takes Rav Weissmandel zt'l under his wing. In all of Rav Weissmandel's letters and in all of his terrible accusations of disregard for him and for his pleas for help, never once did he complain about the American Vaad Hahatzala, which was the only body that did send him money, although it certainly never met the needs for his work, but it was done according to the Vaad Hahatzala's limited ability.

Zuroff ignores the fact that all the other Jewish organizations were flush with money (they had tens of millions of dollars), but they maintained their adamant refusal to send Rav Weissmandel the vital financial means that could have saved many Jews.

Slander for Increasing Sales

Zuroff's feelings about bnei Torah are evident as he tries to connect it all to the current situation in the State of Israel and the rift between the chilonim and the chareidim. He tells the interviewer, "A continuous ideological thread connects the rescue policies of the chareidim in the Holocaust and their approach today to governmental institutions in general and the memory of the Holocaust in particular. The unwillingness to stand for the siren on Holocaust Day and the refusal to send their sons to the army stem from the same isolationist approach that was formed from the way they see the place of Torah in the Jewish nation."

His desire for publicity in the media to promote his book has driven him to change the rescue of bnei Torah from annihilation into a kind of "unforgivable sin." It is doubly amazing to read such words from a man wearing a kippa.

What was so bad about Vaad Hahatzala worrying about the rescue of bnei Torah from the claws of the vicious Nazis, while also caring for the daily maintenance in their places of escape, when they were really lacking?

Zuroff exaggerates the aid that the Jewish Agency and the Joint extended to the refugees. These organizations were not prepared to violate the rigid laws of the Allies, including a complete prohibition against the transfer of any money to enemy countries. The Vaad Hahatzala was the only one that felt that the overwhelming moral imperative to save lives outweighed the laws and regulations, and sought and found different ways to bypass those laws, as Zuroff himself acknowledges. The aid that finally came from the Joint was meager and far less than what was needed.

Rescue that Turned into Guilt

Everyone recognizes the miraculous work of Vaad Hahatzala and the American Agudath Yisroel movement. They were the only ones who did not shrink from taking action, while the large, powerful, prosperous Jewish groups not only did nothing to help the Jews in Europe but even tried to block the Aguda efforts; such as by setting up stands in protest next to the Agudath Yisroel offices in America and asking to stop the sending of food packages to the hungry Jews who were stuck in ghettos, because this broke the embargo on all communication with Nazi-occupied countries.

Why didn't large organizations with a lot of money take action to save lives? Here Zuroff suddenly feels that he is in a certain "bind," and he generously contributes to his interviewer a real "historical revelation":

"This point (financial) awakened another problem. In the United States at that time, there were strict laws regulating money transfer to other countries, and the Joint was careful not to violate those laws. Vaad Hahatzala did not have these inhibitions, and it should be said, to their credit, that they were ready to circumvent any law in order to save lives. They understood, before the Joint did, that the situation is such that it was not right to let those rigid laws prevent emergency rescue work.

"But even in this matter, a typical Jewish quarrel arose. The Joint complained to Vaad Hahatzala, `You are endangering us with your methods.' You have to understand that in that period there was a lot of antisemitism in the United States, and Jews were worried about being accused of disloyalty to America!"

The interviewer: "Non-chareidi Jews did not go out of their way to save Jews and they were particular about tax and money laws -- while their brothers were being transported to gas chambers?"

Zuroff: "It is correct that the chareidim understood before the non- chareidim what was going on. But . . . in the end the chareidim did not manage to raise enough money to finance the Vaad Hahatzala's activities, and actually most of the chareidim who were saved by Vaad Hahatzala were rescued because of money that had been transferred by the Joint, and most of the Joint's contributors were reform or conservative!"

When Zuroff "markets" himself as an enemy of chareidim, he is assured a place of honor in the chiloni public targeted for his book's distribution. But we suspect that he will later need more interviews in order to explain why his book does not supply the sought-after anti- chareidi merchandise, because as we already wrote, there is almost no comparison between his book and his interviews.

Agudas Yisroel's Policies Encouraging Aliya and the Zionist Policies Against Non-Zionist Aliya

For many years, anti-chareidi propagandists have been spreading the false claim that chareidi Judaism and Agudas Yisroel opposed Jewish aliya to Israel and stood against the development of the land, and that because of this policy the rescue of masses of Jews from the Holocaust was prevented since, if they had gone to Israel, they would have survived.

This slander was even recounted in the Mafdal newspaper. An editorial said, "If chareidi Judaism, which opposed the Zionist movement and aliya to Israel, had not displayed apathy for the process of redemption, and misunderstanding of the historical process of the establishment of a Jewish state, many Jewish lives could have been saved. Chareidi Jewry opposed the building of the Land, did not understand what was taking place, and thus determined the fate of thousands who could have been saved by making aliya to Israel during the times when it would have been possible to enter Israel without much effort (Hatsofe, 13 Iyar 5744).

The Aguda Desire to go to Eretz Yisroel

The bitter truth is that besides the British, who closed Israel's gates through their "White Paper" policy of admitting only a limited number of Jews every year, the policy of the whole Zionist movement was to prevent chareidi Jews and Agudists from entering Israel. For one thing, it actually preferred to work within the limits of the White Paper in cooperation with the British government, including the British High Commissioner in Israel, thus controlling who gets in and limiting the aliya, instead of allowing in a larger, mass aliya that certainly would have brought in many not to its taste and that, according to their understanding, would not help to ensure the fulfillment of its Zionist goals.

Agudas Yisroel, had a clear policy of promoting settlement in Israel and it called upon the Jewish people to materialize, "Es ahavoso le'Eretz Hakodesh bemida mugdelet al yedei hismasrus atsmis ve'avodoh ma'asis (the love for the Holy Land in greater measure through self- sacrifice and dedication to practical work)." One could learn more about this from the official announcement of the Vaad Hapoel Ha'olami of Agudas Yisroel, of the 8th of Cheshvan 5691 (1930), signed by its three leaders, in Vienna, Warsaw, and Frankfort: by Rabbi Dr. Pinchas Cohen, Rav Yitzchok Meir Levine, and Morenu Rav Yaakov Rosenheim.

The message was published in the Ha'aretz newspaper on the 22 of Cheshvan 5691, when previously, on the 14th of Cheshvan that year, that newspaper published an interview its journalist held with Agudas Yisroel's leader in Eretz Yisroel, Rabbi Moshe Blau, who said regarding this issue that Agudas Yisroel was deeply hurt by the changes in British policy in matters of aliya and buying land. "These [policies] are in complete contradiction with the spirit of the Mandate and they bring about a halt of Jewish aliya and of the sale of land to Jews in Eretz Hakodesh, and they turn the Balfour Declaration into a farce."

The official statement of the Vaad Hapoel Ha'olami of Agudas Yisroel, which was published, as we said, in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz (November 13, 1930), says:

1. Worldwide chareidi Jewry, which is organized by Agudas Yisroel, has a negative feeling to the Zionist movement and its organization, with its cultural ideas which deny the internal nature of the Jewish people. [Agudas Yisroel] saw the Balfour Declaration right from the start as a possibility to fulfill, in a very broad way, the obligations of the nation that was sanctified by Torah statutes, namely, the settling of Eretz Hakodesh and its fruitful development.

2. Agudas Yisroel is, therefore, deeply hurt and disappointed by the new, basic terms that were published that are in direct opposition to the spirit of the Mandate regarding immigration and property policies. In fact [this approach] leads to a prohibition of aliya and settlement of Jews in the Holy Land, the Land of their forefathers, turns the general principles of the Balfour Declaration into nothing, and because of this draws a sharp protest [from Agudas Yisroel].

3. Agudas Yisroel bases its relationship with Eretz Hakodesh on eternal foundations, independent of changing governmental policy. Under all conditions it will continue the positive work of spiritually and physically building the Holy Land in every possible way. It invites the Jewish people not to become disappointed and, like the forefathers, to actualize its love for Eretz Hakodesh in an even more through self-sacrifice and dedication to practical work.

4. Together with this, Agudas Yisroel insists -- overriding all political values -- with all firmness on the principle of complete freedom of public life in Eretz Yisroel according to Torah and law. In this spirit, it demands again equal rights and official recognition of the chareidi communities of Eretz Israel, who recognize the authority of Torah over them.

5. Organized Judaism, faithful to its heritage of thousands of years, is prepared at all times and in any way that preserves the basic interests of the Jews, to work together with the Arab nation, which should not be held responsible for the incitement to murder and robbery of a few amoral politicians. It is waiting for all the Jewish factions to be prepared for this.

6. Agudas Yisroel turns again, at this grave moment, to our brothers from Bnei Yisrael who are united in the Jewish Agency, with a demand, for sake of the honor of Hashem and His Torah, to remove the work [in the areas of] culture and education that causes divisiveness among brothers from among the tasks undertaken by the Jewish Agency, [and] to place its economic work under the guidelines of Torah, and to put an end to public Shabbos desecration by national groups. Only then will the Jewish efforts in Israel bear eternal fruit and be a brochoh for the Land and a true brochoh for all the coming generations.

(signed and dated) -- Vienna, Warsaw, Frankfurt, 8th of Cheshvan 5691,

The Vaad Hapoel of the World Organization of Agudas Yisroel,

Rabbi Dr. Pinchas Cohen, Yitzchok Meir Levine, Yaakov Rosenheim.

Keeping Chareidim Out

Amazing details about the Zionist leaders' efforts to prevent chareidi Jews from making aliya are included in a research paper by Moshe Musak, a member of the Institute for Modern Jewry of the Hebrew University, as quoted in the book Pirkei Mechkar Betoldot Hatzionut ("Research Papers in the History of Zionism") published by the Zionist Library of the World Zionist Organization, Jerusalem 5736.

Musak entitles his paper: "Herbert Samuel and the Shaping of the First Patterns of Aliya Policies." On page 992 he describes the aliya situation in the year 5680 (1920). "The stream of immigrants was hardly linked to the legal and bureaucratic patterns that Samuel had created for aliya visas." Many visas were given by the British consuls without paying much attention to the official criteria for granting visas. Samuel, who had his own doubts, asked London whether the size and makeup of the family accompanying an immigrant should be limited. The British Foreign Ministry decided to accept the broadest interpretation of British Law possible and not to set any limits in this matter.

Samuel had reservations about these instructions and wrote London:

"This policy stands in contradiction to the policy that you approved regarding limitation of aliya in accordance with the country's economic capacity to absorb [immigrants], and with arrangements that were made with the Zionist Organization regarding limited quotas of immigrants and the responsibility (of the Zionist Organization) for the people that it recommends."

Indeed, Musak points out, the officials of the British Foreign Ministry actually did see in Samuel's request an attempt to protect the interests of the Zionists -- that is, to limit non-Zionist immigration to Israel -- and that is why they did not accept his opinion.

On page 300, in the chapter "Attempts of the Zionist Organization to Minimize the Dimensions of the Immigration," Musak says (at the beginning of the chapter on Leonard Stein, the political secretary of the Zionist Organization in London) that Stein asked the official British agencies and offices in London to reduce the immigration quota that had been approved for the first year of 16,500 and to set it at only 1000 people!

On page 301, "In order to restore its control of things, the Zionist Organization developed, albeit late, a complicated system of supervision of its branches, with the goal of bringing about a reduction in aliya. This method included an allocation of a limited number of certificates to each branch and requiring official recommendation forms that were distributed only through the office of the Zionist leadership in London."

On page 302 Musak recounts that in November 1920 a circular was sent to the branches, explaining that it had been decided to shrink the quota from 16,500 to 1000 immigrants and that all the immigrants had to be single. A month later the Zionist Organization sent an additional circular that demanded, among other things, agents in the branches to encourage only the aliya of "young, brave people, full of idealism and of the pioneering type, who are not afraid of hard, physical labor."

Towards the end of his essay, Musak brings a quotation from a letter that Samuel wrote about Chaim Weitzman on January 20, 1922, as if sharing a secret with him. He writes the following:

"Had I not made strict quotas in the last months thereby arousing against me a large measure of criticism from the Zionist world, the Zionist Organization would have had to go in that direction itself and would have thus aroused the criticism against it. I hope that you appreciate my loyal service!"

The Contribution Made by Holocaust Survivors in the Israeli War of Independence

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Yisrael Granstein, a Holocaust survivor from Poland, emigrated to Israel after World War II. Toward the end of 1947 he and a few others who had emigrated in the same group enlisted in the Haganah, the precursor to the Israel Defense Forces.

The person who recruited them was Ariel Sharon (whose first wife, Margalit, knew this group of Holocaust survivors). In April 1948 the 18-strong group of soldiers participated in battles to liberate Jerusalem; the 18 were divided into two battalions in the elite Palmach strike force.

A member of the group, Michael Klein, was killed in one of the battles, in the Nebe Samuel area north of the city. A Holocaust survivor, Klein had immigrated to Israel alone (one other family member subsequently made it to the country, Granstein recalls).

Later on, the group of 18 was involved in fierce fighting in the Latrun area. The fighting took its toll on the group: "Out of 18 members, seven or eight were wounded during the Independence War, and there was one death," Granstein recalls.

Ha'aretz correspondent Yair Sheleg writes that these statistics deflate popular perceptions that Holocaust survivors had a relatively easy time during the War of Independence compared to the other soldiers.

Hebrew University Professor Emanuel Sivan, a renowned scholar of Arab history and culture who a decade ago completed a study about the 1948 generation, has concluded that out of 104,000 Jews who enlisted in the war, 23,800 were immigrants who arrived in Israel between 1940-1947 (and most had fled Europe during the Second World War).

Another 21,755 were immigrants who came during 1948, Sivan showed, and the vast majority of men in this group who were immediately conscripted were Holocaust survivors.

In other words, close to half the Jewish soldiers who fought for Israel's independence were newcomers. In contrast, just 22,100 soldiers had been born in the pre-state Yishuv, in Mandate Palestine.

The newcomers' casualty rates were also exceptionally high. Some 5,682 Jews died during the war, of whom 1462 (35 percent) were immigrants who arrived in the country no earlier than the start of the Second World War.

Of the total losses, 4,434 were arms-bearing soldiers, the rest were civilians. Most of the newcomers killed were Holocaust survivors.

In contrast, 1,239 (29 percent) of the casualties in the War of Independence were men who were born in the yishuv (the pre-state Jewish community). The remaining casualties were persons who arrived in the country before the start of the Second World War.

According to Sheleg, these statistics refute a popularly held native Israeli myth, according to which the majority of fighters and casualties in Israel's Independence War were the tanned and handsome, but rough-edged, products of yishuv upbringing.

This contribution of Holocaust survivors in the Independence War is being documented in a new project headed by Zvi Gil, a member of the umbrella group "the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel," in conjunction with Kibbutz Tel Yitzhak's Holocaust Research Center.

"I never thought that this [50 percent] is the representative figure for Holocaust survivors who fought in the war," Gil says. "I too believed in the popular myth, which held that the [Holocaust] survivors were just a small proportion of the fighters."

Dr. Hannah Yablonka, of the history department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, has in recent years researched the experiences of Holocaust survivors in Israel.

She has developed a theory concerning the mistaken view of survivors' involvement in the war. The root of the problem, she argues, involves a distinction between two groups of survivors.

"Between the end of the world war and 1948," she explains, "80,000 survivors came to the country; and most were absorbed into the ranks of the Palmach [underground strike force] and the Haganah. And so during the War of Independence people had already gotten used to viewing them as `veteran' members of the Yishuv.

"The only people who were directly regarded as survivors were those who were drafted into the Gahal unit [which recruited displaced persons from Europe]; these recruits came during the year 1948 itself. The number of these Gahal soldiers who became casualties was, in fact, relatively low, since they arrived at late stages of the war.

Granstein suspects that the contribution of survivors has been downplayed for ideological reasons: "The establishment kept quiet, because people didn't want to believe that those wretched youngsters, who had come alone from the Holocaust, were worth something."

Yablonka doesn't stress the survivors' own silence as a factor which accounts for Independence War misperceptions. "Recent studies prove that the survivors didn't conceal their Holocaust past. They talked about it quite often. Thus I believe that the reason they didn't fight to upgrade their status in society is that for them complaints about discrimination were a luxury, when viewed in light of the life they had known in the Holocaust."


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