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Yom HaShoah ceremony and service, Jewish Federation of greater Rochester, New York, April 15, 2015. 700 folks come out on a midweek night. From an audience member: ‘The most beautiful, inspirational Yom HaShoah service I have ever been to.’

It was indeed a moving service and I was honored to have a part in it.

We stop and we pause, to reflect and remember.

Key take-aways from my presentation:

 

  1. The American Army was involved in a shooting war. More soldiers would die in the days to come. But they stopped. They helped these people. And some carried the trauma with them for the rest of their lives.
  2. People need heroes. But few of the liberators would like to be remembered this way. Maybe we should all take a moment to think about our own obligation to humanity.
  3. For every one person who was liberated on this ‘Train Near Magdeburg, nearly 2500 persons, keep close the reality that another 2500 perished in the Holocaust.
  4. Finally, the voices of the eyewitnesses need to always be with us. We need to keep them close. Or forget at our peril.

***

Carrol Walsh, liberator: Our lives were joined at that moment on April 13, 1945, and now we meet face to face and recall together that moment when my tank reached the train.

Steve Barry, survivor:There is no other army in this world that would stop and help 2500 lice-ridden, emaciated Jews, to save them. What army would stop, except the American army?

Steve Barry: Mounted SS troops came around, rode by the train, and started to yell ‘Raus, Raus, get out of the train!  Get out of the cars!’  And we saw them putting up machine gun nests. So obviously, even at that last moment, they were still trying to murder us.

Carrol Walsh: I had no idea who they were, where they had come from, where they were going – nothing. No idea. All I knew: here’s a train with these boxcars and people jammed in those boxcars. No idea. No, I had no idea.

Steve Barry: Very shortly after that we saw the first American GIs.  Well, actually there were two tanks.  I still get tears in my eyes. Right now I have tears in my eyes and I always will when I think about it.  That’s when we knew we were safe.

Letter  from Carrol Walsh to Steve Barry, 2008: ‘You are always expressing gratitude to me, the 743rd Tank Battalion and the 30th Infantry Division. But I do not believe gratitude is deserved because we were doing what we, and the whole world, should have been doing- rescuing and protecting innocent people from being killed, murdered by vicious criminals. You do not owe us. We owe you.  We can never repay you and the Jewish people of Europe for what was stolen from you: your homes, your possessions, your businesses, your money, your art, your family life, your families, your childhood, your dreams, and all your lives.’

Steve Barry:  Is this a beautiful person?

Carrol Walsh:  I think, I cannot believe today, as I look back on those, on those years and on what was happening, I cannot believe that the… world almost ignored those people and what was happening. I cannot believe it. How could we have all stood by and have let that happen? We owe those people a great deal. We owe those people everything. They do not owe us anything. We owe them for what we allowed to happen to them. That is how I feel.

 

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April 17th. (1945)

Dear Chaplain;-

Haven’t written you in many months now, its funny how a few moments are so hard to find in which to write a letter way past due; it’s much easier to keep putting it off the way I’ve done. I’ll try to make up for it in this letter.

Today I saw a sight that’s impossible to describe, however I’ll try. Between 2400 and 3000 German refugees were overran by my division during our last operation; most of them were, or had been, inmates of concentration camps, their crimes the usual ones, – Jewish parentage, political differences with der Fuhrer, lack of sympathy for the SS, or just plain bad luck. Not one of these hundreds could walk one mile and survive; they had been packed on a train whose normal capacity was perhaps four or five hundred, and had been left there days without food.

Our division military government unit took charge of them, and immediately saw what a huge job it was going to be, so they sent out a call for help. Several of our officers went out to help them organize the camp they were setting up for them. The situation was extremely ticklish we soon learned; no one could smoke as it started a riot when the refugees saw the cigarette, and we couldn’t give the kiddies anything or they would have been trampled to death in the rush that would result when anything resembling food was displayed. The only nourishment they were capable of eating was soup; now the army doesn’t issue any of the Heinz’s 57 varieties, so we watered down C-ration[s] and it served quite well.  It was necessary to use force to make the people stay in line in order to serve them. They had no will power left, only the characteristics of beasts.

A few weeks of decent food will change them into a semblance of normal human beings; with God willing the plague of disease that was already underway, will be diverted; but I’m wondering what the affect of their ordeal they have been through, will be on their minds; most will carry scars for the rest of their days for the beatings that they were given. No other single thing had convinced me as this experience has that Germany isn’t fit to survive as a nation. I’ll never forget today.

I was going to write mother tonight but thought better of it. I’ll be in a better frame of mind tomorrow. I’m only a few dozen miles from Berlin right now, and its hard to realize the end is in sight. I’m always glad to receive your scandal sheet. You perhaps missed your calling, as your editorial abilities are quite plain.

As ever,

Charles.

March 11th, 2009

Dear Mr. Rozell:

My father-in-law was 1st. Lt. Charles M. Kincaid. He was a Liason Officer with the 30th. Division Artillery.  He was honored with an Air Medal in the battle of Mortain and a Bronze Medal in the battle of St. Lo.  In the battle of Mortain he won his Air Medal by calling in artillery adjustments while flying in a Piper L-4 over 4 panzer divisions on August 9, 1944.

first-lt-chuck-kincaid-sept-1944He rarely wrote home. He did write home to his minister about one event that evidently really caused him to stop and think. Attached is a copy of that letter that his sister transcribed – making copies for others to read.  The letter describes the Farsleben train and his experience there.

I need to thank you for your website and work. You and your students work enabled me to connect the letter with the actual historical event. It further enabled me to show my children the pictures and to make their Grandfather’s experience real, not just an old letter – that this event so affected him that he needed to tell his minister before he told his mother.

Thank you,
Mark A.

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TWELVE YEARS A SLAVEThe power of history speaks to us. In this post from November, I’m reminded of the force of narrative history and the twists and turns of the ever present “story behind the story”, that become so important to the story itself. In his Academy Award acceptance speech a few nights ago, director Steve McQueen acknowledged this when he thanked Dr. Sue Eakins, whom I noted, and wrote a short speech about, shortly after the film came out. It’s just an award, but maybe mainstream America will give a crap after all.

Heartening. Inspiring. What a twelve year old girl did with Twelve Years a Slave.

17 Nov. 2013

I have been thinking a lot lately about Solomon Northup and Twelve Years a Slave.

I always knew about him, as a kid I played and explored in the abandoned graveyard where his father is buried. He grew up on his family’s farm in Sandy Hill-today Hudson Falls- a couple stones throw’s away from my classroom, and roomed a few hundred feet in Fort Edward  from some of my greatest archaeological discoveries. All true. But until all the hype, can you believe that I had never read his book?

Fort Edward historian (and friend) Paul MCarty shows a damaged gravestone for Mintus Northup, father of Solomon Northup, who is buried in Fort Edward, on Monday, Oct. 14, 2013. The Northups lived in the Fort Edward area for many years. A new feature film portrays the freed slave's story from free man to slave and back to a free man. (Derek Pruitt - dpruitt@poststar.com)

Fort Edward historian (and friend) Paul MCarty shows a damaged gravestone for Mintus Northup, father of Solomon Northup, who is buried in Fort Edward, on Monday, Oct. 14, 2013. The Northups lived in the Fort Edward area for many years. A new feature film portrays the freed slave’s story from free man to slave and back to a free man. (Derek Pruitt – dpruitt@poststar.com)

So I searched it up, and discovered that it was a twelve year old girl in the 1920s who rediscovered this man and devoted the rest of her life to him, publishing a major work at age 88. It was her efforts that led to Solomon being re-discovered. I was so inspired that I wrote a speech on scholarship for our new National Honor Society members, borrowing heavily from her website.

My observations. Man’s capacity for evil never ceases to amaze….But also his capacity for goodness.

Read the book-his autobiography is just 99 cents. Get this version. For an additional 2 bucks Louis Gossett Jr will read it to you.

I saw the film 2 weeks after I completed the book. Overall thumbs up. No spoilers here, but the book has been verified. The film stays fairly true, though Henry Northup’s intense role in Solomon’s freedom maybe could have been spelled out clearer. Whether mainstream America gives crap is a fair question, but I’m fairly jacked up about it. Which means some students will be, too.

 **********************************************************************
~Scholarship~



In the mid-1920s, a 12-year-old girl in central Louisiana reached upon the library shelf of a plantation home and discovered a dusty copy of the book that would determine her life’s path. The autobiography that the future historian Dr. Sue Eakin became fascinated with also reverberates with us today, thanks to her drive.
Most of you know by now the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who lived in this area and who was kidnapped in 1841 and spent twelve years in captivity in the Deep South. When he was rescued, his supporters urged him to write his narrative to help reveals the horrors of slavery in the United States. The book was an immediate sensation, and along with Uncle Tom’s Cabin, probably did much to hasten the coming of the American Civil War and the end of slavery. You may also know that Solomon’s father is buried in the Baker Cemetery in Hudson Falls. But did you know that his compelling narrative Twelve Years a Slave was essentially lost to history by the time of the early twentieth century, when it could not be located by libraries, stores or catalogs?

Sandy Hill. Today, Hudson Falls.

Sandy Hill. Today, Hudson Falls.


Growing up near the Louisiana plantation that Solomon was held at, Professor Eakin went on to write her master’s thesis about his story, and after decades of research, produced the first authenticated edition of the book in 1968. In 2007, at the age of 88, she completed her final definitive edition. Dr. Eakin also authored over a dozen other acclaimed history books and became an award-winning history professor, Hall of Fame journalist, civil rights leader and internationally recognized authority on antebellum plantation life.
After her passing at age 90 in 2009, her priceless historical archive was donated by her family to Louisiana State University. The Smithsonian Institute is creating a permanent exhibit featuring her Twelve Years a Slave research materials, and her family carries on her work.

In a sense, a twelve year old girl’s curiosity brought Twelve Years a Slave back to life, just as the American Civil Rights movement was dawning. May you too have the passion of the scholar, and cherish the importance of your vision and your work, and realize the impact that your actions may have on others.

http://twelveyearsaslave.org/

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My son, brother, and I were up at our camp retreat in the Adirondacks, begun by our dad 36 years ago.  Just six miles away is one of the most famous forts in colonial America. After breakfast, for fun, we thought we might see if it was possible to re-visit the fort, having heard that a few things had changed since our last time there.

the books.

the books.

Sure enough, there was now a new entryway, complete with an admission booth. I pulled the truck up to it, and inquired whether we might proceed to the bookstore, which had always stocked a fair amount of titles, where one could peruse the stock, before deciding whether today would be the day to pay the full admission to check on any updates in the exhibits inside.

Not today. Not anymore. No  money up front, no visit to the bookstore.

Having served on an authentic historical site as a board member, I understand the desperate need to raise funds, but I did not have the $52.50 in my pocket that morning. We had not planned to spend the entire day there.

As the nice woman shrugged and turned us away, my brother said, “you should have told them who you are”.

Ha. He was having fun with me, and joking, of course. But it kind of brought forth  a sense of wonderment about my experiences this summer the authentic historical sites I visited all over the world.

I thought some about it. The bookstore that I had wanted to visit this morning stocked titles that featured my work as a history teacher and avocational archaeologist. I’m actually written about in some of the books.

I remembered I had a similar experience at our first major stop on the Holocaust Resistance  tour in Europe a few weeks back. As twenty five educators toured the site, all of my colleagues chose to give up part of their lunch hour for a private introduction by a key staff member who took the time to explain my role in helping that museum/memorial site create a special exhibition on the evacuation transports that left that concentration camp in April 1945.  As we boarded the bus at the end of the day, someone opened the Bergen Belsen official guidebook they had purchased in the bookstore (which in my excitement I had overlooked)- and there was the Benjamin photo, and summary of my work.

Later in the tour at another authentic site, concentration camp Ravensbruck in Germany, after an intense day I spied a different title and pulled it off the shelf, and showed it to another colleague. It’s the story of a survivor that I know, and this book probably would not have been written had it not been for the efforts that I had made in my teaching career.

The following week in Poland, the same thing happened to me with another title. I was able to open the book and point to my name in the credits and acknowledgments, and show where my work made a significant impact for the author and his thesis.
Pretentious bragging? I really, really hope not.   In fact I wrote this post weeks ago, not at all anxious to share, but as I process what has happened this summer, I figure stunned realization is more like it .

To visit authentic historical sites, some halfway around the world where I have never been before, and see the impact of this passion on others, is something both profound and humbling. I feel it has been transformative at some base level, yet I have not even completed my own book yet (it just keeps changing in my head- and believe me, it is up there). So it goes up to be added to the archive of happenings that occasionally knock me on the head.

In the end, getting turned away from the bookstore didn’t matter at all, except maybe to kindle a flame… though it is always a thrill to hold the book in your hands, and thumb to the page with your name on it.

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World War II infantry veteran Carrol Walsh, top, hugs Holocaust survivor Paul Arato at a reunion in Queensbury, N.Y., on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009. Walsh’s unit liberated a Nazi train carrying 2,500 Jewish prisoners, including Arato, from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany during the war’s waning days. (AP Photo/Tim Roske)

I am reposting this today to honor both of the men below. Paul Arato passed away this week in Toronto, Canada and his memorial service is today. Carrol Walsh, his liberator, died in Dec. at his home in Florida and his memorial service was last Friday in New York.

Paul and Rona would also check in annually for dinner with the Walsh family when they passed through our town. The last time I saw both of them together was in 2011 at one of these dinners in a local restaurant. They sat together and laughed and joked like old pals. Paul told the story of how he arrived in Detroit after the war as an eager late teen anxious to find work designing fast cars in the automobile industry and was driven to the bridge in Canada by law enforcement and pointed to the bridge to Canada, as he did not have the proper documentation. Picturing the scene in his mind, Carrol would laughed outloud and slapped his knee. Both men were so happy to have found each other.

Rest on, friends.

Holocaust Survivors Reunite With US Veterans

NY high school reunites Holocaust survivors liberated from Nazi death train by US soldiers

By CHRIS CAROLA

The Associated Press

HUDSON FALLS, N.Y.

The Holocaust survivor was 6 on that spring day in 1945 when he last saw the U.S. Army soldiers outside Magdeburg, Germany.

Paul Arato was among 2,500 starving and sickly Jewish prisoners from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, their train abandoned by its crew and Nazi guards as Allied forces advanced. Two U.S. Army tanks on a scouting patrol — one of them commanded by Carrol Walsh, then 24 — came upon the stopped boxcars.

Arato, now 71, and Walsh, 88, met again this week.

“Please give me a hug. You saved my life,” Arato told Walsh in an emotional reunion of concentration camp survivors and some of the veterans of the 30th Infantry Division who liberated them.

Arato, an industrial designer from Toronto, and Walsh, a retired state Supreme Court judge from Hudson Falls, came together for a Hudson Falls High School history symposium inspired by history teacher Matthew Rozell’s original World War II project in 2007.

“You were all kids on that train,” Walsh told the survivors, most of them in their early 70s, as they and their families greeted the veteran. “I was an old man. I was 24 years old!”

Those arriving early for Wednesday’s opening session gathered Tuesday night for an impromptu reunion before having dinner surrounded by the faux Adirondack decor of the nearly deserted indoor water park. Four of the five Nazi train survivors at the dinner had never met Walsh.

Walsh’s tank patrol discovered the desperate Bergen-Belsen survivors on April 13 — hundreds of emaciated Jewish prisoners who had been herded aboard one of three trains leaving the camp a week earlier to keep them from being liberated by advancing Allied forces.

Walsh’s patrol stayed for a time, handing out candy to some of the children, then moved on after reporting their discovery. Frank Towers, a 27-year-old first lieutenant in the 30th Division, led a convoy that took the newly liberated prisoners to a German town where they were given food and shelter.

For weeks, the men of the 30th had heard of Nazi atrocities against Jews and dismissed the stories as propaganda, Towers said. That all changed when they encountered the train.

“Then we believed,” said Towers, 93, of Brooker, Fla.

This week’s reunion is the fourth since 2007, when Walsh was joined by three of the train survivors at Hudson Falls High. History teacher Rozell’s World War II project included an Internet posting of Walsh’s account of the train liberation.

An Associated Press report of that first reunion prompted more survivors to come forward, some from as far away as Israel, Rozell said. In all, he has confirmed that more than 60 survivors are still living and has been in contact with about two dozen of them.

Nine survivors of the Nazi death train are participating in this symposium, along with Walsh, Towers and four other veterans of the 30th who fought in Germany. Rozell said this week’s gathering is likely to be the last such event of its scope, given the advanced ages of the veterans and survivors.

For Arato, Tuesday night’s reunion with Walsh brought back a flood of memories. He recalled getting candy from one of the soldiers and a handgun to play with.

“I remember it was a Tootsie Roll,” he said. “The gun wasn’t loaded.”

Arato fretted over one detail. He recalled seeing a Jeep along with the American tanks, but fellow survivor Fred Spiegel of Howell, N.J., didn’t remember seeing a third vehicle. Later, Walsh said his patrol consisted of two tanks — and a Jeep.

“There WAS a Jeep,” Arato said, a smile breaking out on his face. “I remembered it right.”

———

On the Net:

Hudson Falls High School World War II Living History Project: http://www.hfcsd.org/ww2

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wires/2009/09/23/holocaust-survivors-reuni_0_ws_296673.html

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3781062,00.html

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This is from last evening’s PBS NewsHour. Book is on my summer reading list. April 1945 a focus of my studies.

‘Bad to the Very End’: Author Reflects on the Long, Deadly Road to WWII Victory

In honor of the 69th anniversary of D-Day, Ray Suarez talks to historian Rick Atkinson about his new book, “The Guns at Last Light,” which chronicles the brutal fight for victory at the end of World War II.

JEFFREY BROWN: Finally tonight, we mark June 6, D-Day.

Ray is back with book conversation he recorded recently about World War II.

RAY SUAREZ: The war that had a hand in cementing U.S. status as a superpower and created the map of the modern world ended almost 70 years ago.

You could fill a library with books about the Second World War, yet historians still find new things to say and new ways to say it.

Award-winning author and historian Rick Atkinson has just completed the third book in his “Liberation Trilogy,” “The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945.” And he joins me now.

And, Rick, if nothing else, this book is a reminder that, with D-Day, there was still some of the worst fighting of the war left to go.

RICK ATKINSON, author, “The Guns at Last Light”: That’s certainly true, Ray.

I think the horror of it is difficult to imagine 70 years later. And it continues really after D-Day, almost to the last gunshot. There were almost 11,000 Americans killed in Germany in April 1945, the last full month of the war in Europe. And that’s nearly as many as died in June 1944, the month of invasion.

So the bloodletting continued right to the end. The notion that many Americans have that it was bad on the beaches, and then something bad happened during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, and then it was kind of sweeping into Germany and the war was essentially over is actually quite incorrect. It was bad to the very end, almost to May 8, 1945, when the war in Europe ended.

RAY SUAREZ: Terrible, ferocious, deadly fighting through Northern France, through Holland and Belgium, and finally into the German homeland.

Then you bring us to one British officer who says, “Why don’t the silly bastards give up?”

What was the German calculation in those last months, when it was clear they could no longer militarily prevail?

RICK ATKINSON: Well, there are several things at play.

Part of it is terror. Hitler had a police state of the first order. And those who showed any sign of being weak-kneed faced prison or often summary execution. That prevented a lot of people who knew that the war was not going to turn out well for Germany from giving up.

In other cases, you have to say that 80 million Germans tended in large measure to be true believers, that they believed in the fuhrer almost to the bitter end. You would see parades, for example, on Hitler’s birthday, April 20, 1945, in Berlin — this is 10 days before he kills himself — of young girls, young boys who are too young to go into the military carrying flags and singing patriotic songs, people cheering along the streets of a badly battered Berlin at that point.

So, the German psyche was such that they’d been heavily influenced by propaganda. And they were just generally disinclined to give up.

RAY SUAREZ: Rick, you also remind us that the war got deadlier as it went on, because both sides were innovating, inventing new ways of killing the other side practically until the last day of the war.

RICK ATKINSON: That’s true, Ray. The lethality increases as the war goes along, and it — it’s extraordinary how brutal it is.

We Americans, for example, invented something called the POZIT Fuse. That was the code name. There was a little radar sensor in the nose of an artillery shell, and it could, by emanating radar signals, determine when a passing plane or when an approaching target was just within the kill radius of the burst, and detonate that shell.

It was used for the first time in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. The Germans called it pure manslaughter. It was part and parcel of a generation of weapons that came along, napalm used for the first time around this time. The Germans had invented the V-1 and V-2 flying bombs and then a ballistic missile, the V-2, with terrifying results, most of them launched against London or Antwerp with devastating results to civilians.

RAY SUAREZ: We have in the final weeks and months of the war some moments where it’s hard to tell where moral authority existed, if such a thing any longer existed.

How could you tell concentration camp inmates not to rise up and kill their captors who were trying to surrender and act like normal soldiers? How could you put trial Americans who, sickened by the slaughter, would just turn and around pop these guys with their sidearms as they tried to surrender? It got nasty, brutal, and frightening in those final weeks.

RICK ATKINSON: This is true.

And it’s not just the final weeks, actually. There’s killing of prisoners that begins early in the liberation of Europe by American, British, Canadian soldiers, and, of course, by the Germans. It intensifies during that last 11 months from Normandy on.

But when you get to the camp liberation phase, particularly in April 1945, for example, at Dachau, American soldiers coming into this camp, tens of thousands of emaciated, horribly treated prisoners, and thousands of bodies lying around, and there were soldiers that went on a rampage. There were at least a couple dozen S.S. guards who had surrendered, had been taken into custody who were murdered, probably more than that.

This is at the same time that there are liberated inmates rampaging, tearing literally some camp guards limb from limb. There was an investigation. The investigators found that, yes, there had been prisoners murdered by American soldiers. Nothing was ever done of it. No one really had the stomach to prosecute American soldiers under these circumstances.

This is just one example of many, though, of the barbarity that war unleashes with — inside otherwise good soldiers.

RAY SUAREZ: I want to continue this conversation with you online.

The book is “The Guns at Last Light.”

Rick Atkinson, thanks a lot.

RICK ATKINSON: Thank you, Ray.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/military/jan-june13/atkinson_06-06.html

 

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American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach, the primary landing zone for Americans during the D-Day invasion June 6, 1944. (U.S. Air Force Photo)Today one of my former students emailed me to visit saying that she had a surprise for me. She brought me a present- sand from the beach at Omaha in Normandy.

This was originally posted four Junes ago, I re-post here now.

I came into school today, on a Saturday, to start packing up my room for a move to another room.

But it is the 6th of June.

Instead I am getting nothing done, mesmerized by the scenes, live from Normandy, of the 65th anniversary celebration.

The President is there and so are 250 American veterans of the battle for Normandy,  including one of my good  friends, Buster Simmons, of the 30th Infantry Division. The Greatest Generations Foundation sponsored his visit with 9 other vets and college kids. Now I’m looking for him in the sea of faces.

My son Ned and I watched him last night as a “Person of the Week” on ABC World News in a story I contributed to. If you view the clip, you can see the photograph I provided ABC with, taken by Major Clarence Benjamin, of the liberation of the train. This is the photo that Buster uses when he speaks to high school classes to tell this story.

I am hopeful that we can get Buster to come to our high school for the  liberator-survivor reunion in September.

It was twenty five years ago, on this anniversary, that I wrote an essay in the local newspaper expressing my appreciation for the veterans of World War II. And as I begin to sort through and pack up 20+ years of memories in this room, three things are becoming clear: 1) my love for these men and women and what they did only increases as time passes; 2) the rest of my career will be focused on the promotion of narrative history in the classroom, linking students, veterans and survivors together; and 3) I won’t be getting any packing done this day.

Take a minute to watch Buster in the clip and take his optimism about the future of our nation to heart. Especially if -“you’re an American.”

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