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[Page 267 - Yiddish] [Page 51 - Hebrew]

The Town

 

My Little Town Krasnobrod

by Efraim Lochfeld, Haifa

Translated by Moses Milstein

It is hard to find any consolation in the terrible tragedy that was inflicted on our people, and especially the Jews of Poland. A large Jewish community, rich in spiritual and material worth, was cut away. Desolate and lonely now are the Jewish cities and shtetlach where for hundreds of years the Jewish people lived and grew.

I accept the decision to publish this book, which will perpetuate the memory of the Jews of Krasnobrod, with thanks. I return to my childhood years, and I gather them into my memories as I remembered them, and I see myself again on the streets of our shtetl.

* * *

On an ordinary weekday, the shtetl was humming with workers and the pursuit of a living.

At dawn, the shammes went around waking everyone up for “avoydes haboireh”, interrupting the sleep of those who were slow to get up. Soon after, shutters and doors began to swing open. The streets filled with young kids and old folks who were hurrying to the beit hamidrash for Shachrit. The uniquely religious melody of the prayers in the grey dawn would escape the houses and fill you with Yiddishkeit for the whole day.

After davening, came a day of business and labor. The storekeepers at the entrance to their stores, the tradesmen in their workshops, the dorfsgeyer[1] in the villages looking for businesss in goyishe farms, and the timber merchants in the forests where they would–from morning to night–measure and select wood.

In the evening, people would get together again in the batei midrashim, and collectively daven Ma'ariv. After prayers, there was no rush to go home, some stayed to study a portion of Mishnah, others to catch up on “politics.” A newspaper used to arrive in town two to three days after its publication, and those who read it were the “experts” on the latest political goings–on. From politics, they would pass on to gossip and take to task the wealthy of the shtetl.

The shtetl took on a completely different appearance with the coming of Shabbat.

The preparation to welcome the Sabbath as an important guest began as early as Friday after lunch. Representatives of institutions would go around to the houses to collect the donations from the “pushkes[2].” Organizations such as Linat Hatzedek, Hachnasat Orchim, Tikkun Soferim, and others. The god–fearing Henieh, wife of Leib Cohen, collected chalahs and other food that she distributed to the poor. Work was still being done when the bath bell began to ring announcing that the bath was heated.

The schwitz–bath where buckets of water were poured onto red glowing stones were crammed with Jews. They would spread out on the steps and groan with pleasure as they beat each other with soft brooms. They left the schwitz sweaty and red as beets but with a feeling of lightness as if they had cast off the burden carried on the shoulders of the Jewish people.

Soon, the shammes's call to “Light candles!” is heard, and the women hurry to end their preparations for Shabbat. Suddenly, one remembers that she had forgot to buy something. Swift as an arrow she flies to the store and begs the storekeeper to sell it to her, and he, the crook, even though he is afraid to desecrate the Sabbath, he accommodates her, not wanting to lose the money.

Finally, the shtetl became quiet and calm. The workweek had ended, Shabbat is coming.

Shabbat candlelight sparkled from the houses, and winked to each other. The people in shul are welcoming the Sabbath, and the voice of the cantor singing “Lecha dodi” is heard through the windows. And the voices of the congregation respond.

The crowds go slowly home, loudly wishing each other “Gut Shabbos.” Everyone goes home to a clean house, sits down at the Shabbos table, and enjoys with pleasure the dishes prepared by his wife, the good housekeeper. The zmires sung by the sated, Shabbesdikeh singers carry on late into the night.

Shabbos at dawn, the swifter ones would go to the mikvah and from there to the first minyan. There were some “experts” and music lovers” for whom one ba'al tefila wasn't enough, they had to go to several batei midrashim to hear others. Others would get up early in order to study a little Mishna before going to shul.

After eating the fatty cholent and kugel, the older people used to retire for a nap and the young people would go outdoors to enjoy Shabbos their own way. In the winter they used to see each other at various youth lectures, and in summer they would go out for walks in the surrounding forests.

There was a Jew in town called R' Shmuel Zainvel Melamed, z”l, who undertook the mitzvah of maintaining the eruv. It was his custom to walk around and check the eruv every erev Shabbat to make sure there were no, god forbid, breaks. Early Saturday morning, he would go out to see if anything had happened to it overnight. He did not deviate from his task even on Yom Kippur.

 

Kra270.jpg
At the boarding house of R' Itche Rath

In the center, seated is the Razdititsher rabbi, and next to him is Moishe Diamant, A. Rind, B. Sushchak, Sh. Broder, Z. Broder, and a group of children

 

And if something did happen to it, R' Shmuel Zainvel went into action and informed all the batei midrashim, and minyanim, that the eruv was torn and that it was forbidden to carry anything. On such a Shabbos, the daveners returned wrapped in their talissim. More than anyone, the youth rejoiced at this, walking around in their best, with snuff boxes in their pockets, and large, colorful, kerchiefs around their necks.

During my childhood in Krasnobrod, there was no modern shul. The children studied in the cheders under R' Shmuel Zainvel, and R' Bonimel Melamed.

In those small, dirty rooms we spent entire days, until late in the night. We were constantly in fear of the rebbe's little whip. How we yearned to be out in the fresh air! If someone arrived late, he had the honor of meeting the rebbe's little whip. We must however, acknowledge that from these little dirty rooms emerged some scholars and goanim of Torah and wisdom.

There was also R' Yoel Lehrer's cheder where Yiddish reading and writing were taught. This school differed from the others in terms of progress, but was exactly the same in terms of sanitation. R'Baruch Yokel's (Glistman) opened a modern cheder where they also taught grammar and Hebrew.

When I got older, I transferred to the beit hamidrash. I was immediately given the social activities job and became a bit of a “leader.” I joined the Tikkun Seforim group, and every Friday I would go around soliciting donations for the group and for Linat Hatzedek. And Gemilut Chasidim as well. Through my visits to the houses, I got to know our Jews more closely. I saw them as they were “opening their wallets.” There were those who gave little even though they had a lot, and there were those who would give you their last piece of bread. And how could one not give? This noble streak also finds itself among our brothers in Israel. At the first assembly in Haifa on 6.11.49 a gemilut chasedim fund was established named after “The martyrs of Krasnobrod” which aids over 80 people from our shtetl.

Who among us remembers the welcoming home of R' Moshe Greenboim–“Kutche, as he was called–whose house was always full of visitors from elsewhere, who stayed and ate there. beit hamidrash boys would also go there for a bit to eat.

 

New times

After World War I, new winds began to blow through our shtetl as well, and plans were made for a people's library. Thanks to the enthusiasm of the youth, the library was established, and books of modern Yiddish literature began to push aside the Gemara. A reading room was established which was full every evening with young people thirstily drinking at this freshly opened well. Later, a drama circle was established under the leadership of Asher Handelsman and Yehoshua Babad.

 

Kra272.jpg
One of the performances of the drama club
Seated, center, Yehoshua Babad, hy”d

 

At the head of the cultural work was a committee of 11 people. At the first meeting the following were elected: 1. Gitl (Tentser) Barg–chairman ) now in Israel); 2. Yehoshua Babad–vice–chairman; 3. Yakov Zimmerman–secretary; 4. Yehoshua Gortler–vice–secretary; 5. Yehoshua Shnur–treasurer; 6. Reuben Kramer–vice treasurer; 7. Abraham Borg (now in Israel); 9. Moshe Kam–relief librarian; 10. Chaim Leib Germanhoz (now in Argentina); 11. Yakov Papir.

The spirit of the times dominated our town. Cultural movements taking place in larger cities came to us. The youth began to organize in parties and youth movements, joined the central bodies, and began activities of their own.

Agudat Israel founded a branch headed by R' Chaim Untzig, and Baruch Eli Broder.

The Mizrachi party also had a fine chapter headed by R' Israel Babad, Leizke Gortler and R' Shraga Feivel Frumerman (now in Israel). The Mizrachi branch also had a youth wing called Hashomer Hadati.

A wide–ranging, active program was brought by the Poalei Zion party and its youth organization Freiheit. At the head of party work were the active doers: Yehoshua Gortler, Zvi Arieh Briks, Shalom Aharon Rendler and Yehoshua Babad. At the head of Freiheit were the young members: Zob Gortler, Malke Schlegl, Shlomo Babad, Shimon Kupiec (now in America) and Shikeh Gree.

The General Zionists had a small branch with Yakov Zimmerman, Mendl Farber, Aliyahu Dimand, and Eliezer Gortler at the head.

 

Kra274.jpg
A group of General Zionist youth with their counselors

 

There was also a branch of Hechalutz Haklali which sent a few members on hashkara, and some of them went on to make Aliyah to Israel. Of those who did not live to make Aliyah, I want to mention the young people: Eliyezer Liebl, Blume Tentser, Yosl Kupiec, Simcha Broder, Shmuel Yosef Entner, Devorah Langer, Zob Gortler, Ita Margalit, and others killed by the Nazis.

The anti–Zionist workers parties, the Bund and the communists, also had their branches in our shtetl. The executives of the Bund were the comrades: Yehoshua Shnur, Reuben Kramer, Yakov Geistat. The communists were led by the comrades: Yakov Kramer, Aharon Rofer, and Yakov Shnur (Today in Poland).

It was not easy to break the opposition of our parents. There were some who alerted the authorities to our activities and received a welcome reception such that the library was to be closed.

But help came to us unexpectedly. There was no rav in our town, and in the meantime, questions were referred to a dayan. As soon as it was decided to get a rav, two opposing camps formed. One camp, headed by R' Eliyahu Zimmerman, and a second camp by the Ger and Radziner Chasidim. A quarrel developed which drew in everyone in the shtetl. Oaths and curses were exchanged. One side banned the kosher slaughter of the other and so on. In the fire of the war we forgot about our Zionist activities. We had shown that we had been able to strengthen our organization and to spread our ideas more widely among the youth. And more than once the central committee expressed its recognition of our work.

After other rabbis from other shtetls mixed in, the whole quarrel about the rabbis was brought to a Din Torah before the Tarnow rav, R' Meir Arik, of the giants of the older generation. He ruled that the rabbi picked by the majority should stay in town, and the other rabbi should be made whole with a sum of money. In this way, the town acquired a rav, peace at home, and also a Zionist youth club and a library.

We, the Zionist youth suffered for years from our fanatically religious parents. Nevertheless, we did not forsake our Jewish traditions and customs. When we were finally on hachshara and working in the sawmill we would still often get to the beit hamidrash and get a page of Gamara in, until the zealots chased us out.

In 1927, the Zionist youth decided to carry out a Purim evening with a benefit bazaar for Keren Kayemet L'Israel.

Some of the fanatic parents, headed by R' Moshe Leib Borg, R' Moishele Sofer, and R' Shmuel Gortler, determined to wreck our event. They forced their way into our hall, and began to dance Chasidic dances. We did not surrender, but with a courageous effort, we managed to drive them out of the hall. The evening went off with great success and brought in a lot of money for Keren Kayemet.

As the years passed, some of the youth left on Aliyah. Their inspiring letters home opened the hearts of their parents. And following that, Jewish homes opened to the blue boxes of K.K.L., which found its place beside the pushke of R' Mair Bal Haness, Matan B'Seter, and other Jewish tzedakah boxes.

 

“Yasha Kalb”

R' Moshe Sofer once told me a story that probably also served as a motif for the play “Yasha Kalb,” by Y.Y. Singer.[3]

There was once a young man in Krasnobrod, an orphan by the name of Yosef. He was an odd person, a fool, and they called him “Yasha Kalb” because for every question he answered only yes, or no. The local Jews used him for various jobs and paid him with a token[4]. Most of the time, he could be found in the cemetery where he sometimes helped the gravedigger dig graves. In return, he received bread and tea and a place to sleep.

With time, he was taught by R' Moshe Sofer to write psalms in mezuzot. He did not, however, devote much time to it, and as before, did all kinds of jobs hanging around cemeteries. When the gravedigger drove him away, he slept in the beit hamidrash.

And this was the way Yasha Kalb lived, lost and in tatters, and crowned as the town fool. And then a plague broke out in town. The town began seeking atonement, and monitoring the actions of its own people. Then they remembered Yasha Kalb. In order to stop the evil causing the plague, they honored Yasha and married him to the orphan daughter of the gravedigger. They erected a chupa in the cemetery and conducted the marriage according to the custom. The rich gave dowry furniture, and the shtetl celebrated happily and enthusiastically, because in the meantime, the plague had passed.

A short time after, Yasha disappeared, and no one knew where he was. Some said he left with the missionaries; others claimed that the peasants had murdered him. After a while, Yasha Kalb was completely forgotten.

One day, news arrived that the Zhinever rebbe's son–in–law, R' Moshe Chaim Kaminer had disappeared a short time after his wedding. For a while, the news was the talk of the town, until it too was forgotten.

About a year later, R' Moshe Chaim Kaminer returned home. His father–in–law welcomed him with great joy and arranged a big banquet to which the rebbe's friends and Chasidim were also invited. The feast took place in the home of the Belzer rebbe who was a brother–in–law of the Zhinever rebbe. Present at the Belzer rebbe's at the time were his Krasnobrod Chasidim, R' Moishele Sofer, R' Mendel Fuchs, Elhanan and Eli Shuster, and Berish Grinboim. That's how they ended up being invited to the feast.

After some generous wine drinking, when the crowd was festive and happy, the son–in–law was brought in. The Krasnobrod Chasidim were stunned to see that R' Moshe Chaim Kaminer, the rebbe's son–in–law was really Yasha Kalb from their shtetl! R' Eli Shuster immediately arose and let loose with a fiery slap. A terrible scandal broke out. The Krasnobrod Chasidim shouted that he was Yasha Kalb, the son–in–law of the Krasnobrod gravedigger. On the other side, the Zhinever Chasidim were ready to tear them to pieces, “You hear? What a libel! And on the son–in–law of their rebbe?” Only Yasha Kalb was silent as a fish in water, and did not utter a word. The riot increased and the scandal even more. Finally, it was decided to bring the whole matter to a Din Torah of the greatest rabbis and Torah scholars.

R' Moishele Sofer, and the gravedigger and his daughter, the agunah, came before the Bet Din and laid out their claim–that they see Yasha Kalb who grew up in their shtetl and was married to the daughter of the gravedigger. The Zhinever rebbe and his followers showed that he had given certain signs that were known only “between a man and his wife,” and further that he was able to remember the page of Gemara he was studying with the rebbe the night before his disappearance. Both sides presented logical arguments. The Din Torah went on for months.

The ruling, attended by thousands of Jews from the whole region, decreed that Yasha Kalb/Moshe Chaim Kaminer, must divorce both women following which he had the right to marry whichever of the two he desired.

That was the end of a story that disturbed the Jewish community of the time, and that found its expression in Jewish literature and the Jewish stage.


Translator's notes

  1. Ones who buy and sell with the villagers. return
  2. Pushkes are little tin boxes for depositing coins from a benevolent society, present in most homes. return
  3. Also a novel in Yiddish with the same title by Y.Y. Singer return
  4. a “token” can be exchanged for a bit of food return


[Page 279 - Yiddish] [Page 71 - Hebrew]

My Home

by Yocheved Gurtler-Nuss

Translated by Moses Milstein

From my earliest years, I can recall that our home was the first in the shtetl to host gatherings where people would get together to discuss various social and political issues.

Shtetl youth felt stifled in the confines of the fanatically Jewish religious homes. The besmedresh ceased to be the source of meaning in the lives of the young. They were beginning to be drawn to a new life, to other sources. But all doors were closed to them. Their parents did not permit them to think differently than them, and they certainly did not permit us to gather together and, God forbid, deviate from the “right path.”

They found the appropriate place for get-togethers was our house. Maybe it was because my father was no longer alive, and my mother, in her loneliness, agreed to it. Years later I learned that my father, soon after WWI, had given my brother a sum of money to found a library. So it was no wonder that our house became the place for social gatherings. In this way my whole family got drawn into social and political life. I also remember the shelf of books in our house that we used to lend out to people.

I remember the first plays the drama society put on and prepared in our house. Among others there were: “Der Batlen,” “Der Vilder Mentch,” “Der Man Untern Tish,” etc. Troupes from out of town that used to come to Krasnobrod, also stayed in our house.

I saw everything, I went everywhere, and not coincidentally, I was drawn into the current of social life before I even finished school.

[Page 280]

I was especially active while my brother, Velvl, went on hachshara with the intention of making aliyah to Israel. Unfortunately, it was not to be. He got sick on hachshara and died.

After finishing school, I joined the “scouts” organization along with my girlfriends Tzipeh Gurtler, Baltche Krelman, Libeh Alboim, and other boys and girls.

We were kids from poorer homes, and we wanted to be part of a movement that fought for a better tomorrow in a socialist Eretz Israel.

Other girls in my group like, for example, Raizel Reif, Blume Glickman, Rivke Holzberg, Roise Dichterman, Rivke Freiman, Leah Fuchs, etc.

 

Kra280.jpg
A group of Krasnobrod girls

[Page 281]

joined the General Zionist youth movement, Hanoar Hatzair. Nevertheless, we remained good friends, going on walks together, taking pictures together, and carrying on our lives together.

The beautiful days of our youth are unforgettable. Every moment, every event is memorable. I remember so well, the May First celebrations in the forest, together with Sroltche Goldgrober, the regional get-togethers, the summer colonies in our forest. I can't forget the interesting discussions with chaver Shike Gree. How much energy our educators like Esther Kamm, Ruchel Kupiec, Laizer Libel, devoted, and taught us to be proud and free workers.

How beautiful the days of our youth were. Our feet never tired of dancing the horas, and our songs flowed like a river. Everything we did was done with heart, faith, and spirituality. Every activity of the movement filled us with pride, every May First celebration led us to believe that we were partners in the great Socialist movement, every shekel contributed gave the certainty that you were building your own homeland with it.

I remember still today, the departure of Esther Kam for Eretz Israel. I remember the singing of Iteh-Chaye Rechls that captivated us and woke up the shtetl:

“We are young,
and that is beautiful…!”

The years went by quickly, and we followed along. From “Freiheit” in the scouts, and later in the Poalei Zion party. We were active everywhere, and everywhere we found a spiritual freedom.

Krasnobrod my dear little shtetl how strongly we loved you! How dear you were to us with your blooming trees,

[Page 282]

your forest, your kind, simple, Jews who all knew each other, celebrated together at simches, and helped each other out in difficult times.

 

Kra282.jpg
The “Freiheit” organization in 1930

 

I can see before me Getzl Erlich and his wife Matl Elke's. I learned tailoring from her, and I knew what kind of people they were, with warm Jewish hearts, always ready to help out with an act of charity, a kind word, and material help in cases of need. They never bragged to anyone about it, weren't arrogant, but quietly and honestly they shared their love with people.

And Itche (Mendele's) Fuchs. How much goodness he possessed. Never refused to lend money to the needy, even borrowing from someone else when he did not have enough, and never demanding repayment of the debt in order not to, God forbid, humiliate a fellow Jew.

And Tcherneleh who tried to support my mother when she left in fear of the oppressor.

[Page 283]

She never lost her faith in God, and was sure that he would not forsake his people, that He would listen to her constant prayers, and that he would protect her. Why Tcherneleh, for what sins did your faith fail you?

* * *

1939–the horrible year of destruction and misfortune–drove us from our homes, forced us to become refugees, wandering in strange cities and countries.

Thanks to Shikeh Glatter who convinced us to flee, we survived the plague of Hitler.

But none of us imagined that we were leaving our homes forever, that we would never again see those who remained behind, that we would become alone and orphaned.

My sister Perl and her family perished, as well as my brother Moishe and his family, my dear Reiske Holzberg and her family, and Shikeh and his family. They are all gone, those who were a part of my life, who granted me love in those beautiful youthful days, heartfelt friendship, and belief in mankind.

After years of homelessness and wandering aimlessly, we arrived in the free homeland that we had dreamed about and sung about for so long.

* * *

Twelve hundred souls whose blood sated the earth of Krasnobrod, that is the tragic end result of our shtetl. Our best years lie trodden underfoot beneath this cipher, the most precious hopes and longings, the most intimate feelings that nested in our hearts.

Within this number is a web of death containing my dearest girlfriends

[Page 284]

who like doves, stretched out their necks under the knife, before they even had the chance to have even a taste of life. Tzipeh, Baltche, Libeh and all the others, precious and innocent, who were brutally crushed under the boots of the Nazis, and their accomplices, the Polish degenerates.

Krasnobrod my Jewish shtetl, who can forget you!

Haifa

 

Kra284.jpg
The “Freiheit” organization–1936

 

[Page 285 - Yiddish] [Page 67 - Hebrew]

The “Freiheit” Movement in Krasnobrod

by Esther Kamm

Translated by Moses Milstein

The large majority of the youth of Krasnobrod belonged to the “Freiheit” movement in spite of the opposition from their parents who were against any youth movement that distanced its members from piety, traditional ways of life, and which provided alternate goals in life.

The youth, hungry to start living, thirsting for freedom, and new ways of living, overcame the resistance of their parents, broke down the walls of old ideas, and found their way to the youth movement.

 

Kra285.jpg
“Freiheit” instructor's course in Krasnobrod forest

 

The Freiheit organization grew. Its ranks were bigger and fuller, its work more diverse, broader and deeper. Every evening, the Freiheit locale echoed with singing, and the enthusiastic footsteps of the hora dance. Sometimes, the walls of the hall could not contain the numbers, and they poured out onto the street. The respectable people were angered by this, and the pious were beside themselves at such “wantonness.”

If we tired of dancing, we would sit in a circle around Hersh Leibl, and he would narrate “From Zion , her land and her holy soil.” We would listen to him with mouths and ears open, with longing in our hearts, absorbing his inspired descriptions of a new way of life being built by the new Jew, in the land of our fathers. His call to personal development, to readiness for any sacrifice for the people and the land, became so clear and understandable then. He awakened in us love and friendship to all people, belief in a new world, in a just, socialist order.

We spent our evenings like that, and also Saturdays, and holidays—the most beautiful and unforgettable years of our youth.

Later, we founded a drama circle under the management and direction of Yehoshua Babad. He was one our best and truest comrades as well as being a talented youth worker. Neither he, nor Hersh Leibl Briks, lived to reach Eretz Israel, and perished under the Nazis. Their memory will be forever etched into our hearts, along with the memory of all the dear comrades who gave their utmost for our freedom movement.

We used to take kids from the street, teach them to read and write, tell them about the role of our movement, and they would listen to us, be inspired and pay attention, and understand. We led them to a new way, planted hope in their young hearts, and gave them omething to strive for.

Who can describe the strong friendship and unity that reigned among the youth in the ranks of Freiheit, and also in the ranks of other youth movements? We used to light a torch in the night, take each other by the hands with true affection, throw ourselves into dance, and sing whole-heartedly:

“Arum dem fayer
mir zingen lieder…”

There once was a shtetl, and in her, young people, full of life, brimming with energy, a youth that had its hopes and dreams, its aspirations and fantasies. A youth that filled us with pride and confidence gave courage and endurance, assured a certain continuation for the Jewish people, and provided reserves for the chalutz camp in the rebuilding of Eretz Israel.

Where is this youth that was exterminated by dark powers, the murderers of our future!

Only a few came from the ruins. They came to the dreamt-of land, saved from death and annihilation by a miracle, and brought us the terrible news of destruction and death.

From this precious youth, this wonderful youth movement, only a small bundle of memories remain, like an open wound that burns with any motion, and deepens the pain.


[Page 288 - Yiddish] [Page 67 - Hebrew]

The Hachshara [pioneer training]

by Gitl Knebel-Belman, Haifa

Translated by Moses Milstein

Whenever I think of Krasnobrod, the memories come pouring out.

From the mountain of memories, I want to single out and describe hachshara in kibbutz Dror in which a big group of young people from Krasnobrod participated.

The first steps in the hachshara kibbutz were difficult. Hard, unaccustomed work, hunger and deprivation, greeted us, and tested our zeal and faith.

 

Kra288.jpg
Members of HeChalutz on hachshara
First on the right, A. Lochfeld

 

At first we worked in a greenhouse in Zolkow. After that, we went to Kamianka-Stromilowa where we also discovered the bitter taste of unemployment and hunger.

But we were young: our faith—a torch; our love, a flame; and our will, unbending. From this we drew strength and endurance for the new life that awaited us.

After a year of hachshara, we returned home to prepare ourselves for aliyah.

Those were wonderful, joyous days. Hope grew in our breasts. The hora dance stirred our blood, and our joyful singing pierced the heavens, awakened the youth from their apathy, and the shtetl from its sleep.

Joyful too was the evening celebration of our leaving on aliyah to Eretz Israel. We were truly drunk with our good fortune. Those who remained behind envied us, the ones who were worthy enough.

The heart weeps for all those who did not make it, for all those who were cut down in the bloom of their youth in a foreign, savage land.

Holy and precious is their memory.

 

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