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Chapter Three:

The Jewish Worker of Bialystok up to 1900


א    A

Information About Jewish
Textile Workers In the Year 1828

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

We possess very little reliable information about the number of Jewish workers in the textile industry in the twenties and thirties of the 19th century. However, it appears that even then there were more Jewish workers than one thinks. It turns out to be the case, according to research by A. D. Judicki[1]. that he built on the basis of Russian archival material. Judicki presents a chart about the number of Jewish workers in Jewish textile factories. We see from this that in 1828 there were 940 Jewish workers in Grodna gubernia, who represented 30.10 percent of all workers in the textile factories. One hundred workers are specified for the Bialystok region.

However, it is difficult to determine the number of Jewish workers in the textile factories because the official statistical information does not provide the nationality or the faith of the worker. We have only found in one place[2] an indication that in 1828, 674 workers worked in 19 Jewish cloth factories and among them, 562 were Jewish. It means that 83.4 of the workers in Jewish factories were Jewish.

We further know that 404 Jewish workers worked in the 14 talisim [prayer shawl] factories in Mohilow, Minsk and Vitebsk gubernias.[3] However, the question is if Jews worked in the non-Jewish factories?

The workers can be divided into three categories: 1) the first category was mainly German, French master craftsmen, technicians, who

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were only in the large factories and in a smaller number; 2) the second category was of peasants in servitude, who worked mainly for the landowners or in capitalistic factories who were bought or were leased along with the factory; 3) the third category was called “free-hired” in the official sources. The latter worked mainly in the capitalistic factories in the cities and towns.

It is assumed that a large number of Jewish Wolyn factories employed Jewish workers. According to an official report, in 1828 there were 1,469 workers in all of the 40 Jewish factories in Wolyn gubernia; of them, 339 were serfs who transferred from landowners to Jews and the remaining 1,130 were freely serving workers. Naturally, we can assume that in the Wolyn cities and shtetlekh with dense Jewish masses they were Jewish.

This premise is confirmed from another official source. This is the report received at the end of 1827 from the official, who was entrusted to investigate the western gubernias as to the situation of the manufacturing industries.[4] Certain information appears in his report about the number of Jewish workers in Wolyn and Grodno gubernias.

The report states about Wolyn gubernia: “For a very long time there was no trace of manufacturing industry; only recently, a happy coincidence opened a wide field of activity in it. The government wanting to give employment to the factories in the fatherland demanded that all who have the desire should provide cloth for the uniforms for the Lithuanian corps. Many capitalists who were enticed by the earnings from supplying [such uniforms] began to found factories. From year to year they expanded their activity and in a short time they will be comparable to the largest ones. Some of the manufacturers are Jews. Of 3,285 workers, up to 1,000 were Jewish.”

The same official writes about Grodno gubernia: “The rules of the manufacturing industry in Grodno gubernia are compelling to note. The spirit of industry even has penetrated to the Jews. There are 10 cloth factories that belong to Jews, adequately large and well arranged, mainly it is notable that in them work more than 500 Jews, among them master craftsmen: cutters, mechanics, carpenters, dyers.” The information from the correspondent from the manufacturing council agrees that

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562 Jewish workers are found in the Jewish factories in Grodno gubernia.

The correspondent from the manufacturing council of 1828 provides information about two non-Jewish textile factories in the Bialystok region: of the factory of Count Grabowskaya in the shtetl Orla, where a factory was founded in 1827 in order to give employment to its Jewish residents and to be able to sell the wool from its sheep. Forty-one workers were located at the factory. The same correspondent tells about a factory that was created by the Count Niesiolowskaja in the shtetl of Haradok in 1828 in order to give the residents of the shtetl good employment and to better their conditions. “Jews” are not mentioned here. However, the residents of the shtetl were Jews. The correspondent from Grodno gubernia reports that in 1824 a textile factory was erected in Slomin by the privy councilor Novoseltsev in order to find a market for his good wool and to give the poor population a means of feeding themselves. The factory employed several German and French master craftsmen and 150 free-hired - in such a Jewish center as Slonim, free-hired should be understood to be Jews.

This, at least, is Judicki's inference. However, while it may be partly correct with regard to other places, it is surely false concerning Slonim, because there was not yet a non-Jewish weavers guild at the beginning of the 17th century. As a result, there were non-Jewish weavers there. In Horodok, too, there were always non-Jews as well as Jews. Only the non-Jewish factory in Orla employed Jews exclusively. This is an exceptional case. However, it is not entirely correct to deduce from this that where “free-hired” is mentioned, it means only Jews. There could also have been free-hired peasants. True, Jewish workers, without a doubt, were called free-hired.

Shabbos and holidays in those old, pious times certainly prevented the Jews from working for non-Jews and also prevented non-Jews from hiring Jewish workers for their weaving workshops. I, too, did not hear of such cases in Bialystok and in its region during my time of almost 60 years ago and before my time, according to the tradition of 100 years ago. Just, the opposite - Christian workers always worked and still work today for Jews.

True, it is found in the old lists, for example, that with Sopieha, 77 workers worked in his factory in Wisoka-Litowsk, of them 72 were Jews and 3 non-Jews. But there, the actual

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owner was Leib Warhaftig; Sopieha only was the founder of the factory. And this was how it was in all of the non-Jewish factories in which there were Jewish workers; the true owners were Jews; they had non-Jewish names for the government, the names of those who had once established the factories.


ב    B

General Characteristics of the Jewish Textile Workers

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

We learn a great deal of information about the Jewish textile worker when we approach the 40's and 50's of the previous century [19th century]. Here we can build on local Bialystok tradition according to which it appears that there were only printed calico weavers and printed calico weaving mills in the 1840's. Their production was for local use.

The first Jewish weaving specialists were later recruited from them. One of them, Tzalel NOWAK, already was working in 1844 in Dovid Avraham KEMPNER's weaving mill for wool overcoat cloth. It was maintained that several later large manufacturers, such as Ahron SURAZSKI and the like, were printed calico weavers.

The number of Jewish textile weavers began to increase together with the Jewish textile factories.

Jews also worked in the earlier hand spinning mills. Spinning and finishing masters also were Jewish not only in the Jewish factory towns, but even in Bialystok, because their work was not physical.

All of the Christian factories were free of Jews, but the workers and masters in the Jewish factories were mainly Christians. Jews only worked in their weaving mills and there mainly with Christian weavers. I speak here only about handlooms; we will see further on about the later mechanical weaving mills. In any case, a concept emerged that all mechanical work belonged only to Christians and the Jews were excluded from it.

The work in the weaving mills also attracted more Jews because learning hand weaving was easier. One needed only up to a month to train in this work, while one had to have more information for spinning and finishing and longer to gain experience with them. Moreover, they were paid better for their work: the spinners were the greatest earners in the factory.

Since they could learn weaving easily and quickly and it was not required, as with other trades, to also go through seven levels of hell of humiliation during the school years with the master craftsman artisans, most of the time the adult Jews and well-educated

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[young men] from the middle class families therefore became weavers. In their youth, other trades were a disgrace for them, but because they were not capable of [working in] business or they had already been expelled from it and, as a result, lost their dowries, they had to seek a way of making a living from a trade – they had to become weavers. However, hand weaving is a difficult trade and not a healthy one. Until 1900 it provided weekly earnings, with continual work of 12 hours a day, from 7 to 12 and sometimes up to 15 rubles a week.[5]

At that time, the Jewish weaver was mainly a developing man. Found among the weavers were those who attended the house of study, learned men, Hasidim and followers of the Enlightenment. The Jewish weavers stood on a much higher cultural lever than their colleagues, the Christian weavers, who were recruited from the lower peasant and worker strata (their “Blue Monday” after their drunk Sunday was well known).


The Relationship of the Jewish Weaver to His Boss

The Jewish weaver developed a particular consciousness in the factory and developed into a particular type. The factory was his second home. He spent approximately 12 hours a day in it, excluding Shabbosim [Sabbaths] and religious holidays. Each factory and workshop was for its Jewish weavers, who worked together in a large, long room, a separate closed club. They ate there (the midday meal was brought by the wives or the children), drank tea or spent time talking.

Their conversations included various local and world questions, according to newspapers, which their enlightened ones would read. However, the main theme of their conversations was the manufacturer as a man and merchant and his manufactured products. The weavers would calculate their income from the completed work exactly against their debts and prepare the manufacturer's balance. They would critically analyze all the possible details and even his private life. The criticism was always bad. Jewish weavers always thought themselves better than manufacturers, because they were the most productive in the manufacturing. Compared to a manufacturer, an ignorant man, which was not a rarity, the Jewish weavers considered themselves higher and more important than him. In any case, as the manufacturer, whose better material and economic situation was still only

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an accident, which also could come to each weavers through good opportunities. And when the manufacturer would exhibit a bad relationship to the weavers, they began to hate him. As a result they developed an opposition to capitalism and searched for means to better the position of the workers. They did not have to learn this from anyone.

But conversely, the difference between the Christian German manufacturer and his weavers was much greater. The German manufacturer mainly was a qualified professional with a certain intelligence, from which the usual Christian weaver was distant. Therefore, the Christian weaver acted with respect to the Jewish manufacturer and thought of him almost as a higher creature. Therefore, they obeyed him more and were submissive to him. As a result, the Jewish manufacturer preferred to employ the Christian weaver before a Jewish one.

A large manufacturer described to me the difference that he felt between the two kinds of weavers in his weaving factory: when he came into his weaving factory for the first time, returning from a trade trip, he would go to the looms of the Christian workers and it would be mouse-quiet. They began to weave more fervently. Their heads were down as if a fear had descended on them. However, as he went to the Jewish weavers, they stopped working, left the looms and they put out their hand in a great “Sholem Aleykhem” [traditional greeting – hello]. This Jewish manufacturer did not understand how much higher, intellectually and morally the Jewish weaver stood compared to the Christian and to he himself. Consequently the average Jewish manufacturer had a greater desire to take in Christian workers with whom he never had any conflicts. It turned out that a large number of the Jewish manufacturers would divide their weaving factories into Jews and Christians, while the Christian manufacturers did not employ any Jewish weavers and workers and not only because of Shabbos [Sabbath] on which many Jews could not, in any case, work.

There were also women in the weaving factories, who comprised 25 percent of the weavers. They were bobbin threaders, nuperkes [whose job was to ensure that the threads moved at a steady pace], thread cutters (there were also men who were thread cutters). Only Jewish women worked in the Jewish factories.


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ד    D

About the number and condition
of Jewish workers in Bialystok in 1900

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund


Before we talk about the subsequent struggle and confrontations, let us become acquainted with the general condition of Jewish workers in the main trades and present information about their number,[8] according to the trades in the year 1900.

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Textile Workers

The number of weavers who work in Jewish factories reaches approximately 3,000 men. Of these, 1,242 work for manufacturers and 1,600 are spinners for loynketnikes [working with customers' materials]. To them must be added 1,000 shpoliarkes [people who work with the bobbins to keep them from being overloaded], 200 nuperkes [people who keep thread moving to the bobbins], 100 shererkes [clippers, people who splice and cut the threads] and up to 40 shnelerkes [expeditors who keep the work moving smoothly], in total approximately 4,400. Two-thirds of this number are Jewish; this means close to 3,000. No Jews work at the very large factories, which belong to Christians.

The workers are employed in 70 factories and with about 200 working loynketnikes. The largest number of looms in the Jewish factories is 67; the smallest – 5. With the loynketnikes, the largest number of looms is 28; the smallest – 3. On average, each factory has 17 looms and the loynketnikes have eight and a half. In this way, the loynketnikes play a large role in the fabrication. The loynketnikes do not buy their own materials. They take the material from the manufacturers or from the merchants and bring back to them the finished pieces of woven goods.

The loynketnikes exploit the workers much more than the manufacturers. They pay less and the working conditions with them are much worse.

The workers everywhere achieved a 12-hour workday through strikes (12-hours including a mid-day meal time). The wages averaged from six to eight rubles a week at the factories, four to six rubles with the loyntetnikes; the nuperkes received two-three rubles a week, the shpularkes one and a half to two rubles a week, the shnelerkes and shererkes three to four rubles a week.



The tanning industry began to develop here at first in the 1880's starting with two not too large factories in Bialystok and in the shtetl Krinek [Krynki]. Each year more tanneries arrived in Bialystok, Sololke, Krynki, Sziszlewic,

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Zabludowa. The tanneries grew into large undertakings. Before wartime around 200 leather manufacturers with around 6,000 workers were located in Grodno gubernia [province].

The center of the entire leather industry was in Bialystok. This happened because of its large financial institutions that took care of money matters for all of the factories in the city and in all of the neighboring towns. Therefore, Bialystok also grew as a large center for the sale of raw leather, which came here from deep Siberia, Kavkaz as well as from Germany, Austria and France and directly from America, Argentina and Chile. Because of this the businesses for buying the materials – hides, tanning supplies and extracts that were received directly from Argentina – were opened by the manufacturers in Bialystok.

Bialystok also served as a market for finished leather. The buyers from southern Russia and the central gubernias would come here.

The monthly volume of business of the Bialystok leather market is estimated to have been about three-quarters of a million rubles.

The foreign exchanges would also be interested in the business spirit of the leather market in Bialystok.[10] In Bialystok there were then 14 tanneries in which 320 men worked (of them 100 were Christians). There were 50 middlemen. The workday for the Jews was a 12-hour day, 13 hours for the Christians. The wages were from four to six rubles a week. They worked for the market, not for orders. No mechanical methods were in use then. Six strikes took place among the workers during the last three years of the 19th century. Three hundred workers took part in the last strike, that is, almost all of the tanners. The main demand was that there not be any work for a flat rate, and for a shorter work day. They prevailed in all of the strikes.


Cigarette Makers

Three hundred and seventy Jews worked in JANOWSKI's cigarette factory: 200 cigarette makers, 70 cigar makers, 50 female wrapper makers, 50 female packers and others. No mechanical methods were used. The wages for the women were up to two rubles a week; the men, who made the better kind – from five to six rubles; [those] who made the worst kind – four to four and a half rubles a week.

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They worked for the market and [to fill] orders. Seven strikes took place during the last three years of the last century [19th century]. A varied number of workers, up to 200, took part in them. The strikers demanded that they be treated better and [receive] higher wages. The owners fought with the workers through the police; arrests took place.



In 1900, there were 80 bakeries in Bialystok. Four hundred and fifty Jewish bakery workers worked in them. They were divided into bread bakers, roll bakers, cake and bagel bakers. Fifty women aged from 15 to 25 worked in the last two trades.

They worked in the bakery 18 hours a day. The workers would not come home during the entire week, with the exception of Monday and Tuesday for four to six hours. The only pleasure they had was… to come to the baker's house of study early and to ask that they should once be asked to read the Torah from their Torah scroll which they had provided years before with their hard-earned groshns. This was a truly remarkable form of class warfare: to demand of the boss that they also should read from their Torah scroll! The school of education of the young boys in the bakeries lasted three years. The apprentices were paid from 30 to 50 kopekes a week. They were put in their proper place with all kinds of harassments on the part of the older workers and of the members of the baker's family.

The bakeries were in the worst hygienic condition. The most beloved talk of the adult workers at work was: girls and cards. Friday at night they would carry their hard-earned rubles to the taverns after 100 hours of work a week.

This description[11] can apply only to a portion of the Jewish workers. The Jewish working class, taken in general, was then religiously disposed. The delinquent element quickly became the exception to the rule. Pious Jews and Torah scholars came out of these bakery workers, such as

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for example, Rabbi Dovid BRAJNSKI, who in his old age was the shamas [synagogue caretaker] and rabbi of the Piaskower House of Study and was the author of the book, Minchas Dovid [David's Commentaries].



There were 50 tailor workshops with 200 workers. No mechanical methods had yet been applied. There were 20 middlemen, 50 apprentices. They worked [based on] orders and for the shops. The workday was 12 hours. The wages were from four to five rubles a week. Six strikes took place during the years 1898-1900. In the first three strikes, a total of 200 workers took part and in two strikes 400, in the last strike 100 men. All of the strikes achieved their goals, except the first one in which the owners were strongly united and they denounced the workers.

Three categories of workers were employed in the tailor shops in Bialystok: the first category manufactured men's clothing, the second manufactured women's clothing and the third – seamstresses. The manufacture of men's clothing was elevated to a craft with a workshop, with an owner, six to seven junior journeymen and one to two apprentices and work to orders. Capitalistic development also had an effect here; the warehouses of finished clothing began to take more of a part in the production; there were warehouses that employed from 15 to 20 workers and large artisans' workshops. The products were only sold here and in the surrounding areas. There was work for the entire year, but there was much work only for seven and a half months a year. At that time there were almost no tailors in the city who did not have work.[12]


Key Makers (Locksmiths) and Tinsmiths

There were 50 locksmith workshops with 100 workers. There were no mechanized methods. The wages were five rubles a week. They worked to orders. Eleven strikes took place in the course of the last three years of the 19th century. The workers won eight strikes. They had mainly demanded a shorter workday. There were 75 apprentices.

There were 25 tinsmith workshops where 40 workers labored. There were no mechanized methods used. The workday was 12 hours; the wages were five rubles a week. They worked for the market. There was only one strike during the entire time (in

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1899). The strike achieved its goals. Mainly they had demanded a shorter workday. There were five middlemen and 30 apprentices.


Furniture Makers

There were 50 furniture workshops in Bialystok. Seventy workers worked in the 50 workshops. No mechanized methods were used. The workday was 12 hours. The wages were five rubles a week. They worked for the market and from orders. Five strikes took place. Fifty men went on strike. All of the strikes achieved their goals. They mainly demanded a shorter workday and higher wages. There were no middlemen. There were 100 apprentices. Denunciations and arrests took place.


Building Crafts and Others

Jewish workers were in many other trades that we do not have the occasion to present. There were many Jews among the building workers. Of the 250 masons who were officially counted in the workers movement, 150 were Jews. Of the 200 construction carpenters in the movement the greatest majority were Jewish. There were approximately 100 painters.

As for other trades, cap making was almost only in Jewish hands, about 70 men. Bookbinding was a Jewish trade. Twenty-five bookbinding workers were members of the workers movement.


Mechanical Workshops and Metal Industry

WIECZOREK's was the largest among the mechanical workshops. W. WIECZOREK's mechanical workshops were founded in 1865 outside Bialystok by MAYNER and GITNER and they were moved into the city in 1888. In 1901 WIECZOREK's factory employed 400 workers with an output of goods [worth] 220,000 rubles.

The workers in the workshops were exclusively Christian.

There also were small Jewish mechanical workshops.

Among the workshops, the one (on Bielosczanski Street, in his house) belonged to Moshe CZICHOCKI, a son of Berl Leib the mechanic with his workshop on Waszlikower (Sienkewicza) Street. Moshe CZICHOCKI was the best mechanic in the city to repair boilers

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and steam machines and all parts of machines. Even in his deep old age, when he relinquished his workshop, he would be called to repair machines that had broken, to show their faults and how to repair them. – The mechanical workshops of Ayzyk SZTURMAK, Moshe AYZNSZMID and Chaim Dovid FARBER were also well known.[1*]


Steam Mills

The first steam roller-mill in the entire region of Bialystok was founded at the end of the 1860's or the beginning of the 1870's by Reb Moshe BACER in his courtyard, which today belongs to the Artisans School The mill stood on the spot on which today is found the First Hebrew School; the mill later burned.

The second steam mill, a one-story brick building, was erected by Leib PERELMAN, near JANOWSKI'S tobacco factory. Today it belongs to the government alcohol monopoly.

After Moshe's water mill on Mill (Palacowa) Street burned, he erected a two-story steam mill on Piaskes [sand]. ZAKHAJM and DAWIDOWSKI'S (a Christian) steam mill was located on Mill Street. All of the mills burned. One of the largest roller mills was a stone mill that the Russian government burned before its withdrawal.[2*]

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Today (in about 1935) are located in Bialystok: a two-story roller mill on Mazowiecka Street owned by Shmuel SZTUPLER, in addition to Christian windmills around the city and a Jewish [mill] down from Khona the miller on Piaskowa.


A Jewish Beer Brewery

There was a Jewish beer brewery in Bialystok owned by Sender MIODOWNIK on Legionowa Street, which was liquidated after the [First World] War.

  1. A.D. Yuditsky, “Yevrei v tekstilnoy promyshlennosti XIX veka,” Istorichesky Sbornik Akademii Nauk SSSR [“Jews in the Textile Industry of the 19th Century,” Historical Collection of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR], 1935, IV, pp. 107-133. Return
  2. Zhurnal Manufaktury i Torgovli [Journal of Manufacturing and Trade], 1831, IX. Return
  3. In his report, Arszenovski explains that the Dubrowner talisim manufacturers, Shlomo Ginzburg and Shimkha Edelzon, who manufactured tailism at 29 work stations, deserve attention because earlier talisim were bought in Turkey and today Russian Jews and even German [Jews] buy only [talisim made] in Russia. In the previous year, they manufactured 24,623 arshin [Russian measure of length equaling 29 inches or seven tenths of a meter] of talisim. Return
  4. Zhurnal Manufaktury i Torgovli [Journal of Manufacturing and Trade], 1828, IV. Return
  5. An energetic weaver who worked with me became a moneylender and later a house owner. Another became a spinner working with customers' materials and later a manufacturer. Return
  6. I provide here the statistics according to the Bundist newspaper, Der Yidisher Arbeter [The Jewish Worker], number 10 from the year 1900. The number agrees with the reality of the time. Return
  7. Because the tanning industry played a great role before the [First World] War in Bialystok and in its region, I provide here the contents of the article of the deceased Leymo EPSZTAJN who was one of the most educated men born in Bialystok. The article is in Sprovotshni kalendar po gorodu belastoku [Guide to the City of Bialystok] in the 1913 publication of Krasnyi Krest [Red Cross]. Return
  8. Der Yidisher Arbeter [The Jewish Worker], no. 10, pages 60-61. Return
  9. The describer of the bad conditions is the former Bialystok bakery worker Bentsl ZALEWICZ, who today lives in Tel Aviv. He wrote it in the Bundist Folkszeitung [Peoples Newspaper] in Warsaw; see the excerpt in Unzer Lebn [Our Life] 1930, numbers 236, 237. He exaggerates, since the same bakers who created their own Torah scroll and built a large, beautiful house of prayer could not have fallen so low morally and, at the same time, had their enjoyment in coming to the house of prayer early to pray on Shabbos [Sabbath]. Return
  10. Der Yidish Arbeter, no. 17, p. 47. Return

Publisher's Footnotes

  1. In 1898 Elyokim DOLIDSKI founded an iron foundry under the firm, DOLIDSKI and DOBRICKI. In 1905 he leased it to MAZUR and SZKURNIK. His son, Leon DOLIDSKI, took over the factory in 1918 and founded a factory for nails and wire where he employed 120 workers. Return
  2. The largest mill in Bialystok was “Cerera” which was on the small Piaskes. The mill was known as “the officer's mill” because a Russian officer, who had been the commandant of the military provisions warehouse had built the mill on Wasilkowska Street that was torn down before the First World War.

    The mill was built around 1900 with all of the modern facilities of that time with the hope of grinding grain for the Russian military. However, nothing came of this. The mill had to be transformed into a commercial undertaking for the Bialystok market. Without the necessary capital, the mill had to close. Around 1908 the mill will taken over by the Bialystok private bankers, Samuel GOLDBERG and Aba MILECKI along with a third partner who was the actual manager. During the war 1914-1918 the mill failed. – Return

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