In its early days this party was very weak in Poland. The professional unions of the workers were mainly held by the Bund, and a few of them were overseen by Poalei Zion Left. The flirtation with Soviet Russia and the left wing phraseology dominated the Jewish street, and methodical, in-depth public relations work was necessary in order for this party to acquire any professional organizations at least locally in order to give the new party a minimal base for class activity.
There were several young men wandering around Kielce at the time, dreamers and fighters, whose souls had given up on general Zionism and its methods of work, which were based upon a superficial household approach, without any Zionist-pioneer public education, without going to the working classes which were the human reservoir which was likely to build the country.
These young men, headed by Awraham Kirszenbaum, who had always been attracted by the Poalei Zion movement in America which was devoted to building the land of Israel, felt that now, with the split, their hour had arrived. Together with several fellows (notably Josef Zinger), who left the Poalei Zion Left because it was turning away from practical Zionism; they founded the party branch in Kielce.
Not many days passed and the party got the meat workers union on its side, as well as various groups of members of other professional unions which were in the hands of Poalei Zion Left (the Bund, the Siemists and various haters of Zion had no base in our city). A study group named for Borochov was founded whose members studied there regularly, as well as evening classes in Yiddish, Polish, scientific subjects and others that gained a reputation in the city. They conducted methodical professional activity on the one hand, and on the other hand, work devoted to the Zionist Funds.
Eventually they joined up with the Socialist Zionists (after the split in Tzi'irei Zion [Youth for Zion]) and this gave them renewed impetus for intensive activity, especially in the area of preparing youth for moving to the land of Israel, founding the Chalutz branch and more.
There are many names of members who were notable in their efforts. I will attempt to mention several of them here (in alphabetical order); with a description of their profession when they arrived in Israel.
Borkowski, Szmuel, Tel-Aviv, member of the Executive Committee of the General Labor Union in Israel. Borsztajn, Aharon, Haifa, a clerk in one of the General Union institutions. Ginzburg, Dow, Tel Aviv, Driver. Ginzburg, sisters: Jochewed, married to Sz. Borkowski; Towa, married to M. Dzjura; Jehudit, married to J. Rozenwald; Chana, married to A. Lerer, Tel-Aviv. Dzjura Menachem, Tel-Aviv, shoe manufacturer. Zinger Josef, party founder, Tel-Aviv, stone mason and manufacturer of artificial stone. Tenenwurcel, Aleksander, kibbutz member. Tencer, Lajb, mosaic manufacturer, died in Tel-Aviv, Sivan, 5716 (June 1956). Lewensztajn, Josef, Bnei Brak, construction carpentry contractor. Mordokowicz, Kalman, Tel-Aviv, works at the Executive Committee of the General Labor Union. Machtynger, member of Moshav Tzofit. Strawczinski, Szymon, perished in the Nazi Shoah. Pachel, Ester, coordinator of the female workers group in Petach Tikva. Piwko, Awraham, Tel-Aviv, mosaic manufacturer. Kirszenbaum, Awraham, party founder in Kielce, Tel-Aviv, agricultural manufacturer. Rozenwald, Josef, Tel-Aviv, shoe manufacturer.
If we wanted to note what made the Poalei Zion Socialist Zionists unique compared to other parties in our nation, then we must say: realizing the goal of Aliya. There were hardly any active members in this party who did not move to the land of Israel and did not take their place among those doing the work and holding the weapon.
Kielce, a relatively young city, did not have deep historical roots. Neither did Jewish Kielce. The Jewish settlement in Kielce was young, the community was young, its social life and cultural life were still young. A special sadness surrounds us when we recall the past; memories from this city, while we were a part of its life, with all of our being and with the fire of our youth when we remember that all that was has suddenly gone with the wind gone never to return
The city had a special charm. Truly, nature had granted it an abundance of color, surrounded by forests and hills, groves and a wonderful park. The lack of industry saved it from noise, soot and ugliness and added a slower pace to life, dreamy and romantic. The Christian population, religiously Catholic and nationalistic, was noted for its anti-Semitism. The break between the groups was very deep, and this tightened the communal and cultural relations within the Jewish group.
The city was young. The young Jewish community grew from the unending stream of Jewish arrivals from nearby towns, bridegrooms who were leaving their father-in-law's tables arrived at the growing and developing city. Young men who felt hemmed in in the villages and whose souls yearned for culture and experience, to fulfill ambitions and desires. It was no surprise that such bubbling material created a varied Jewish life in cultural and social terms, a specific life, though closed within the ghetto walls, since the national Catholicism of the Poles did not allow normal contact and relations. The Polish culture penetrated Jewish life indirectly, via osmosis; strained and distilled it penetrated in the form of romantic adventures from Polish heroism via the literature of Mickiewicz, Sienkiewicz, Rymont and Zyromski
Revisionism which caused a revolution in the international Zionist movement and pushed it into the political arena, was the cause of a revolution in the life of the nationalist youth in Kielce. It activated them, gave them a goal in life, made the Zionist movement in Kielce the lot of the masses of all ages and all classes.
Jewish youth in Kielce read and absorbed a lot, were influenced by Hebrew and Jewish literature, and also by romantic and heroic Polish literature, whose heroes suffer the pain of the nation defeated and humiliated under the Russian boot, which is a recurring motif, in several variants; the internal battle between Gustaw the romantic and Konrad the active warrior for his people's liberty and independence
Until Jabotinsky appeared in Kielce and founded the first Revisionist cells in this city the nationalist Jewish youth was like Gustaw romantic, Byronic, full of energy Revisionism took the heroism of the youth from the realm of potential to the realm of action.
Jabotinsky and his teachings charmed the doctrine of political Zionism acted also upon the youth of Kielce, the wave of enthusiasm that attacked the youth with the appearance of a leader did not die down it became fruitful. The activation of the nationalist youth began and with it came increased activity of the other classes of Jewish Kielce.
The beginning was modest: founding the Massada. It was natural that Jabotinsky's doctrine found its first expression in the hearts and souls of the school children, who felt that indeed ideals and heroism were not just for other nations, that courage beat in our hearts as well, that our liberation depended upon the liberation of the homeland and that a Hebrew state was not just a Messianic dream, but an ideal we were commanded to realize in our own generation. This idea was like a spark in the hearts of the youth that carried the torch.
Around the writer of these lines (Y. Kopf [Yiddishe Kopf]) a small group of youth who were students in Kielce formed. The students: Jakob Zloto, Szmuel Jura, Chaim Haller HYD, Izrael Dzialowski, E. Lewartowska, Dora Herszkowicz and Jechiel Alpert - may they live a long life - were the very ones who established the foundation for the Revisionist youth movement. Wide concentric circles formed, which included nearly all classes of nationalist youth in Kielce.
Massada was the union of students, the younger generation organized into its ranks, students, boys and girls, who dreamed about a Zionist state, great Zionism, which would instill in youth the consciousness that they were descendants of the Maccabees, and that it was incumbent upon them, with new acts of bravery to reconnect the past to the future. The first Massada members in our city began to think in new concepts, these concepts infused them with an ideal that they had to turn into a reality. A Hebrew state, a Hebrew army, a national discipline, festive ceremonies and the willingness to make sacrifices.
Massada attracted the student intelligentsia, felt itself a pioneer in paving the political road for masses of others.
The student youth, which had the capacity for intellectual thought, knew how to absorb the political romanticism of the historical past of the Jewish nation that had lived upon its own land the echo of the struggle of the judges of Israel who saved it in times of trouble the honor and glory of the kingdom of Solomon and Alexander Yannai. Felt the courage and sacrifice of the zealots of Jerusalem and the heroes of Bar-Kochba. They were also impressed by the heroism and romanticism of small nations in Europe, who had known to fight for their own independence. The members of Massada, even after they had finished their Gymnasium studies when they traveled to universities, became loyal emissaries spreading, at the universities, the nationalist doctrine they had forged among their schoolmates.
We now see standing in front of us dreamlike figures like Cwi Leszec, ZL, who had a spiritual fluid streaming from his eyes Mosze Klingbajl, noble and pleasant, Lajb Rudel, HYD, talented journalist, hero and martyr, one of the commanders of the Warsaw Ghetto, the tender young women Luba Aharonowicz, Rozszka Tenenbaum and Dora Kopf; the gifted teacher Master M. Witlin and the idealists, the brothers Wajnsztok, HYD. This was a society that fired many hearts and due to its influence, the political Zionist camp in Kielce grew.
Beitar was established after Massada, and its establishment was due to Massada, which prepared the ground for founding a popular legion of pioneer youth.
The Jewish youth of Kielce, intelligent, blessed with a fondness for culture and esthetic values, was in an emotional and economic crisis. Outwardly, life appeared to be going on as usual. The fathers pulled the yoke of livelihood, and the sons who grew up were helped by them or made efforts in the existing circumstances to build themselves an economic base and family nest, something that became more difficult from year to year. The economic sensation of Jewish youth in Kielce was the younger generation was going to have to look after its own future, and this should not be on Polish soil. They needed to emigrate but to where?
Jabotinsky gave the solution, Avocation. At first glance the plan seemed cruel and aroused a wave of protest from the overt and covert assimilation, and also from the Zionist circles of little faith to uproot tens of thousands of Jews from their apparently peaceful existence. It seemed absurd then and the bitter reality proved the reverse
The Beitar was organized according to the needs of the time. It was organized and lived its organizational life in accordance with the needs of the time. Beitar consisted of young people who had made Herzlian Zionism their life's purpose. Here in Kielce, they needed to receive their national political training. They learned marching drill, military discipline, the ideal of sacrifice as was appropriate for future members of the IZL [Irgun Zva'i Leumi National Military Organization]. The young people of Beitar saw what was coming and prepared for the future and many of them were able to move to the land of Israel in time. The life in Polonia appeared to be quiet and calm, aside from hooligan's riots and the movement to restrict Jewish economic life. Life was quiet, but the nationalist youth felt that the earth beneath their feet was starting to tremble. The quiet before the storm, which wound up sweeping away the Jews of Kielce entirely, as it swept away all of Polish Jewry Those fellows who were commanders of Beitar are remembered: J. Gros, Sz. Mengel, B. Zalcman, Ch. Opatowski, Master M. Witlin, Mendel Wajnsztok, HYD and Dawid Lewartowski. They are remembered in their fevered activity, filled with energy and vision, who prepared themselves and others for the great goal redeeming Jewish honor in the ghettos or battle with the British enslaver in the land of Israel.
The revisionist movement in Kielce was a movement of circles whose center was Massada since it had established the intellectual cadres and grounded the ideology and inspired the youth with enthusiasm. Beitar made up the second concentric ring the creme de la creme of the petit bourgeois youth. The third concentric ring was Brit Hachayal [Soldier's Covenant].
Brit Hachayal had a special influence. Anyone who has read Men of Shklov by Shneiur and Well-Built Aryeh by Bialik, can understand and appreciate these fellows. Physically strong, released soldiers, from the Horopsznik classes wagon owners and porters, who were ready at any moment to take on anyone who injured the body or honor of a Jews. The Revisionist movement, which was making waves in Kielce, penetrated these classes as well. They were especially taken with Ze'ev Jabotinsky, founder of the Jewish Legion, and the doctrine of physical strength that together with the eternal spiritual strength of the people of Israel, paved the way to its national and political liberation. We remember fondly the devoted commanders: Adolf Lewi, Szlomo Zelinger, Alter Renkoszynski HYD, and Icak Albirt, may he live a long life.
The fourth circle was the Tzohar it could be said that the Tzohar covered the entire Revisionist movement in Kielce in its many hues and personalities such as: Dawid Rozenberg, Dr. Jakob Szac, L. Rudel, Master M. Witlin, Mejer Zloto and Josef Rachum. The Tzohar was a combination of people of middle age, intellectuals from all classes, who dreamed the dream of redemption, devoted some of their, spirit, culture and capital to the movement.
Once upon a time, there was a glorious and varied Revisionist movement in Kielce. It was active, and prepared hearts for redemption and struggle it was and it is no more. It passed, the way glorious Polish Jewry passed with its entire spiritual and cultural splendor. It is impossible to forget all of the noble spirits who so enriched our lives in exile. They created values which still nourish us. Those who passed, the dreamers and pure fighters like a dream and they live in our souls like the heroes of legends, and thus will remain in our memories forever
There was no Zionist activity in which the women of WIZO did not take a notable part. Distributing the Zionist shekel, collecting commitments to the 'Keren HaYesod', collecting subscriptions to the golden book of the 'Keren Kayemet', collecting funds for 'Keren Ezra' [Aid Fund] for the victims of the riots in the land of Israel in 1929, and collecting equipment and traveling expenses for pioneers who were moving to the land of Israel; in all these activities the WIZO women took a prominent role.
When the poet Bistricki visited Kielce on behalf of the 'Keren Keyamet' it was these WIZO women who went through the city like a storm, held wonderful receptions for him, public meetings and helped him in his work to collect many more donations and subscriptions for the golden book in Kielce than in other cities he visited.
Aside from political and Zionist activities, the WIZO women also developed social activity among their membership. Every Friday evening they arranged tea parties for members (who were allowed to bring their husbands with them). Every week a party like this took place at the home of one or another of the members.
Various lecturers were invited to these parties to speak about matters that were then at the top of the Zionist and political agenda of Polish Jewry, and after the lectures arguments took place regarding the subject, as well as ordinary conversation of friends.
The WIZO organization was actually the vibrant center of the women of Kielce, which acted in all areas of public and social life in the city.
In general, the Aguda [Association] developed widespread activity in all areas of public life. They tried to gain an important place on the community committee, in the municipal authority and council. In the elections to the Siem and the Senate the Aguda people appeared on their own special lists. The Aguda in all of its activities tried to curry favor with the government; the government, on its part, would glance sideways towards the Aguda. Among the Aguda members were also active public workers who knew a chapter of the ways of politics.
In order to strengthen the ideology of the Aguda they would bring in outstanding speakers from other places. Natan Birnbaum, the philosophical author who became orthodox, came to Kielce, and in his two-hour speech he proved that according to logic and according to the history of our nation the main principle of our existence in the world was observing the values of the Torah and the commandments, the minor with the major.
After him the Admor of Sokolow came to Kielce and spoke in the Viennese Hall. An excellent speaker, with warm emotion, he influenced a sizeable portion of the Jews of Kielce; after them other activists and speakers came and did not allow the Aguda people to drowse in their four cubits. Later their tendency to participate in the building of the land of Israel as well became noticeable; according to the instructions and opinion of the head of the Aguda the Admor of Gur; but they had time to spread this idea only a little bit among their supporters, until the ax came and cut off the tree with its branches.
At the head of the Aguda in Kielce stood Rabbi Mordechai Fiszel Kaminer. The Kaminer family was famous all over Poland. The court of the Gur Chassidim and the Kaminer family were connected by marriage. The Admor of Gur, author of the Sfat Emet was the son-in-law of Rabbi Judel Kaminer, who leased a large estate near the town of Checiny from a Russian general. This estate, called Podzamcza was in the hands of the Kaminer family until after World War I. Independent Poland appropriated all of the properties and assets that had belonged to the Russians for itself. In accordance with the law of the state, the Kaminer family was dispossessed of the estate that had been in their hands for over five decades.
This Rabbi Judel had seven sons and three daughters. Among his sons, Mosze Chaim Kaminer was notable in his public work, and for many years he was the head of the Kielce community, also Mordechai Fiszel Kaminer, the chairman of the Aguda. In Warsaw, Rabbi Judel's grandson, Meszulam Kaminer, was known when he became head of the Aguda there, which published an Aguda newspaper that fought for the viewpoints of its party.
M.P. Kaminer came to Kielce in 1906. He was the son-in-law of Bels, one of the heads of the Jews of Warsaw and the brother-in-law of Daniel Sirkis, later the head of the community committee of Tel-Aviv. As a capitalist, M.P. Kaminer lived off the income from his capital. Over time, when his family grew larger and his expenses grew, he was forced to try his hand and commerce. During the days of World War I he brought textiles from Lodz. The textile trade stayed with him after the war as well. He opened a large shop in the city market for all sorts of textiles and, apparently, succeeded at this trade, for his store was open up to the outbreak of World War II.
His oldest son, Judel Kaminer, married the daughter of a wealthy man from Opatow. During the period that cooperative banks were being set up, which were basically private banks, and public on the basis of cooperatives only in the eyes of the authorities, the father and son, Mordechai Fiszel and Judel, founded such a bank which existed up to the outbreak of the war. This bank was called the Loan Bank and functioned as an Aguda bank.
M.P. Kaminer aroused respect in his appearance and his personality. His home was the home of a leader in Israel. His wife Brajndl was a delicate and polite woman. His daughters were educated at Mrs. Wolman's Gymnasium for Girls, and his sons were entrusted to melameds to teach them Torah and commandments.
However, of all his sons, the only one to follow in the footsteps of his ancestors was his eldest, Judel, whom we just mentioned. He hewed to his father's path and was one of the pillars of the Aguda in Kielce.
He learned Hebrew, Russian and Polish from private teachers. He was especially interested in medical texts. He would acquire popular medical books for himself and would read and study them very diligently. During World War I, when there were many injured and sick people crowded in the city with no place to put them, and every single hour they were bringing additional wounded from the front, and caregivers were needed from among the local inhabitants, Judel Kaminer volunteered to care for the war wounded in the local hospitals. This interest of his in medicine and the experience he gained caring for the sick and wounded gave him a certain degree of knowledge in anatomy and also in therapy and from then he began giving advice to sick people, first in the circle of his family, and afterwards also in his circle of friends and acquaintances.
Not long had gone by before Rabbi Judel Kaminer became known and an outstanding doctor, and even other inhabitants of the city came to ask his advice; and he, as a specializing doctor would write them prescriptions according to which the pharmacists would concoct the medicines for those who requested them. His fame as a doctor reached such a point that many preferred to go to him in emergency cases than to an official doctor. In truth, it must be said that he didn't take any money for his advice, and didn't do his medical tasks for any reward. In many cases he was doing a favor to the ill. Poor people who were sick, for instance, who could not afford to pay a doctor's fee, would turn to J. Kaminer, and he would visit the home of the poor sick person and appear like a redeeming angel, care for the patient, give advice and medicines and infuse a spirit of hope in despairing hearts.
The women, in particular, would shower him with amazing blessings. First of all, it was considered a great honor that the son of Kaminer from a family with such lineage was willing to step over their doorstep and grace the patient with his presence, and secondly, it was all done for free.
In this manner, he became a great favorite. In the elections for the municipal council, Judel Kaminer stood for the Aguda at the top of its list. Although he wasn't elected, his non-election was not the fault of the Jews, but of the anti-Semitism that was growing in those days in all the Polish circles. The Jews came out in their masses to the ballot box; however, the Poles, who looked upon the Jews with disfavor, attempted with all the means at their disposal, kosher and not kosher, to keep them away from the municipal councils. They removed the names of many Jews from the voting lists; they purposely distorted the names of Jews, so that they could disqualify them at election time. In places where the majority of voters were Jewish, they stood their own thugs in line who would push and hit the Jews to discourage them from standing in line in the heat and receiving even more blows. The Jew who insisted, and in spite of all the persecutions arrived at the ballot, left in despair. His name was not found on the voting lists or his was disqualified because his address was wrong or because his name had been misspelled.
Such a Jew who left the ballot waved his hand in despair towards the Jewish voters waiting in line, as if to say: It is not worth it, my brothers, to crowd here and receive kicks and blows, for in any event you will not vote, these evil ones will no doubt find something wrong with each and every one of you.
In the face of such persecutions that even the government looked upon favorably, it is no wonder that the number of those elected from the Jewish population went down to nil.
In the Aguda Benjamin Lew, a well-known public worker from the Gur Chassidim was very active. He was an egg merchant. Outwardly, he appeared to be a regular type of Jew. But a holy flame burned in his heart, the fire of religious zeal, and it propelled him towards the Aguda camp, where he became its spokesman, its representative and its proxy at all of the municipal and public institutions. In his heart also dwelled a love for the land of Israel. When the Mizrachi was founded in Kielce, he also participated in its early meetings. However, apparently, his soul did not find enough satisfaction in the Mizrachi and he joined the Aguda camp. Yet his love for the land of Israel did not change, it continued to grow, to deepen and broaden in his soul until it forced him to leave his dwelling place in the Polish exile, leave the honorable roles he had in his city and to set out on a journey, to move to the land of Israel with his family. In Kielce he was a member of the council of the Jewish community, a member of the municipal authority, a representative of the merchants of the city of Kielce at the government chamber of commerce, and many, many more all of these respectable positions were not enough to keep him in his place.
His secular education was meager, but in spite of this he influenced his audience when he spoke and not with his speaking abilities, but with his Jewish intelligence. He would instantly grasp the matter that was up for debate in its full breadth and knew how to discuss it with his considerable logical strength. His reasoning and evidence, which he brought to bolster his ideas and viewpoint, were solid enough to convince not only those who shared his opinions, but also his rivals and opponents, not only the Jews, but also the Gentiles. And many of them came to consult him regarding important city affairs.
When he arrived in the land of Israel, the travails of absorption and acclimatization were his lot. During the riots, it was difficult for a person to manage. He didn't have time to look around and find himself in the local conditions and to make commercial ties, before a dangerous disease, appendicitis, attached him. He was taken for treatment to Hadassah hospital and after an unsuccessful operation he died.
People from the city, who knew him and his deeds, his activities and his public work, mourned the loss very much. Lew was a public worker who knew how to respect his opponents. When he was in a debate, he would argue with great fury and contradict his rival's and opponent's words with force and didn't want to give up as much as a smidgen of his opinion; but afterwards, when the debate was over, and spirits calmed he was once again the friend of his opponents and would walk with them as a friend and a brother, as if nothing had occurred between them.
In the Aguda camp another very active public worker who was famous among the Jews of Kielce was Mosze Dawid Ajzenberg, Mosze Eli' Naftali's, as his fellow citizens of the city called him. He was also from the Gur Chassidim; he was a public worker from birth and before. He spent more time on public needs than on his own. Even before the Aguda was founded, he was the gabbai of the Chevra Kadisha [Burial Society] for many years. In spite of his many businesses he owned a furniture factory and a leather factory he also found time to deal with public matters. He was the Aguda representative to the community's executive committee, was as expert in community matters as he was in his own affairs. He spent more time sitting in the community office than at home. He found a special pleasure in his activism; this was truly activism for the sake of heaven. A person could not suspect that he had a vested interest in things, or that he was involved in public work for his own benefit; everyone saw that he neglected his own businesses for the community's needs. And indeed he did not acquire wealth, and was not overly ambitious to be wealthy like others, whose main goal was acquiring assets and property. For him, movement and activity were more important than wealth.
(Mosze Eli' Naftali's)
The land of Israel was his heart's desire. When he saw that his sons were beginning to leave him and move to the land of Israel, he too wished to follow them. He had a certificate, and was already prepared for the journey, but fate intervened to delay him, obstacles stood in his path, external ones and family ones, and his travel was delayed. Afterwards riots broke out in the land of Israel and he said: I will wait until the fury passes. Meanwhile, World War II broke out and the borders were closed.
I will bring here the content of a conversation I once had with him on a summer evening while we were walking in the market among the pillars.
This conversation took place before I left for the land of Israel, it was a farewell conversation, and for this reason it was serious and things were said very openly. Therefore, it is worthy of being remembered.
We began to discuss something regarding the state of the Jews in Poland, about the anti-Semitism that was spreading all over the country, about the dispossession of the Jews of their economic positions, about the assaults upon solitary Jews, about the stink bombs that were being thrown into Jewish shops, about the smashing of display windows, and finally we also arrived at the matter of the riots in the village of Przytyk, which had taken all Jewish circles by storm at the time. And we both came to be of the opinion that the Jews had no future in Poland; the ground was slipping out from under their feet. Hitler's methods and his faction were being transferred to Poland. The riots that had occurred in Przytyk, were not an isolated phenomenon, but the result of the oppression and the libelous words of the anti-Semitic press, which filled its pages, day after day, with slander and false libels against the Jews.
Agudat-Yisra'el Kielce, on the occasion of the trip of our comrade,
Mr. Benjamin Lew to the land of Israel.
Sitting (right to left): M. Horberg, I. Rapaport, Mejer Ajzenberg, B. Lew, M.P. Kaminer,
Mosze Ajzenberg, R. Rafalowicz, and J. Prajs
Standing (in the second row): Jakob Kaminer, L. Lew, J.M. Giefilhauz, B. Kaminer,
Judel Kaminer, J. Szajnfeld, Eli' Justman
(in the third row): Mosze Lew, Josef Enach, J. Kaminer and others
We finally reached the conclusion that a Jew who wishes to exist, who wants to be secure of his life and property has no other path before him but to leave his birthplace, which had become a step-mother to him, and to head for the ancient homeland, the land of the patriarchs, which was our only hope, and the ambition of every Jewish soul, towards which all eyes were gazing.
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