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Schoolgirls who defied the Stasi (theguardian.com)
131 points by NeedMoreTea 71 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 46 comments

If you find this era interesting, I recently read the book "Burning down the Haus"[0]. Most histories I've read of the region and era focus a lot on the mechanics or politics of it, but the book was interesting to me in that it made you aware of the changes, the ebbs and flows of the East German security-state over time as they fought against even harmless "dissidents" and the abuses (and to a lesser extent incentives) to address those. Now I'm not bleeding-heart, but a lot of the tactics really start to look familiar. Modern America isn't that far removed from the Stasi.

[0] - https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/how-east-g...

>American journalist and author Tim Mohr admits that when he first arrived in Berlin in 1992, he was clueless to the reality of what the post-Wall city would look like. “I thought all of Germany was Oktoberfest basically,” he told punk writer Legs McNeil at Brooklyn record store Rough Trade last week to celebrate the release of his new book Burning Down the Haus. “I was shocked when I got off the plane and everyone wasn’t wearing lederhosen and holding giant beer steins.”

And that person, with that knowledge of global culture, was a journalist?

At least in this case, traveling did broadened the mind!

If you liked "Burning Down the Haus" you'd probably like Ian Walker's "Zoo Station" which was written actually at the time -- Walker was a British journalist who lived in Berlin for a time and spent time on both sides of the Wall, and was particularly interested in the East German music scene.

The bus had stopped under an archway, sheltered from onlookers. Tina and the others asked the driver to open the back door for fresh air. One of them chatted to the driver, while the others let Bernd in through the back. The teenagers stood in the aisle to block the view. Bernd folded his almost 2m frame into the hidden space, and the girls piled their coats on top.

This is astonishingly brilliant.

Some 20 minutes later, one of their friends picked up the onboard mic and announced: “Our guest today, live in our show: Bernd Bergmann from the GDR!”

This is where they went wrong. They should have kept quiet about it after pulling it off, not announced it like they expected everyone to approve of what they had done.

They should have tried to sneak him off the bus. At most, they should have talked to their teacher or another adult to find out what they need to do now. They may not have known to take him to a police station so he could formally and officially "enter" the system/country.

All their lives they had been told to be brave in the face of injustice. Now they were being treated like criminals.

Well, duh. That's why it requires bravery to begin with. If everyone was going to pat you on the head for it, the problem wouldn't exist to begin with.

It would have helped some to keep this quiet.

The Stasi would have still found out that he fled the republic as long as he entered in West Germany under his real name. His girlfriend would still have been interrogated etc, perhaps a little less since it would have been easier to feign unawareness with her boyfriend just disappearing out of the blue.

The real beneficiaries would have been the students helping him and the teachers. They would have been able to travel to the GDR (to see their friends/family) since they likely wouldn’t have been connected to the escape.

The bravery the girls displayed was for defying the East German dictatorship. It could have ended much worse for them had they been found out before crossing the border. They did put their fellow students and teachers at risk, no doubt. But after the fact it seems pointless to punish them for helping a fellow human being escape dictatorship. Aside from maybe discouraging future travelers from such actions.

I don't disagree with any of your points.

If you don't feel like a criminal in today's society, you are complicit.

My mother actually escaped East Germany in her teens.

I have plenty of criticism of what's wrong with the US. For example:


But I don't actually agree with your assertion, nor with other comments suggesting that the US is currently about as bad as East Germany was.

After she escaped, my mother helped multiple relatives get out. Family stories indicate that part of the process was sending enough cash to help them cover bribes to get their papers. My dad was an American soldier. The exchange rate was 4 West German marks to the dollar and 4 East German marks to the West German marks, or 16 East Marks to the dollar. My father's relative wealth and pragmatic attitude facilitated a lot of this.

You didn't have any means to wire it or whatever. You sent cash. Sometimes it got to the intended recipient. Sometimes it didn't.

It took tremendous faith, willingness to trust and callouses to keep sending help in the face of that and not just accuse desperate people of lying, etc.

My dad was a remarkable man.

I agree it is not as bad as the DDR was, but it is way more decadent and that may end up being every bit as effective as a police state. No one wants to tip over this apple cart under some vague notion of ethics or actual equality - my goodness no, we want to keep on being entertained and to buy crap we don't need and have stuff. We have more attachment to stuff than we have to any sense of rights let alone normative behavior for leaders. It's a classist system of neo-feudalism and any attempt to moderate it is communism/socialism. Who needs a police state when most people believe the propaganda willingly and repeat it?

I gave up my car more than a decade ago. I spent nearly six years homeless. I have lived in an SRO for about 18 months or so.

Since getting divorced, I have mostly not owned a TV. I think I have been to one movie at a theater in the many years since my ex moved out.

I'm aware it is a classist, sexist, racist system in many ways.

I also seem to be the only woman to have ever spent time on the leaderboard of Hacker News. I hit the board under my original handle of Mz about a month or so after finally getting off the street, so a lot of the upvotes that got me to the leaderboard were gotten during the years I was homeless.

I bitch regularly about the classism and sexism both in the world and on HN. But I'm not really the right person to aim your remark at. Because if you imagine you are "talking about me," then you have absolutely no idea whatsoever who the hell I am.

>Because if you imagine you are "talking about me," then you have absolutely no idea whatsoever who the hell I am.

Making a point in a discussion is not about the personal circumstances of the one we're talking to. Doubly so if they're an outlier, and triply so if we don't know their circumstances to begin with, because the discussion happens in an online forum.

A. I made that inference based on the framing of the remark, not based on straight up stupidity.

B. Plenty of people here know plenty about my circumstances. I know because they routinely use that against me.

So it is not unreasonable on my part to assume some people here do have some idea who I am and what I'm about. I was, in fact, very recently told I'm full of shit if I assume they don't: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19776469

Well, I for one, never even knew the backstory. I wouldn't assume most do.

Could be a few that have grievances against you or something.

I've noticed that some people, on online forums, get an obsession with another they had a dispute with (and felt wronged or whatever), and follow them from post to post, gather intelligence, and act like stalkers. Then again, some people are cuckoo with no personal lives and compensate in all kinds of bizarro ways online. Best to ignore those kind of people...

I'm not assuming most do.

I would thank you to stop trying to police my participation here. You have something of a history of treating me like an idiot.

If you want to engage some point I've made in a good faith manner: awesome.

If you want to continue your pattern of talking at me like I have no fucking clue how public discourse on HN works, please stop doing that. I view it as a form of harassment.

If you are not consciously aware of doing that, well, consider yourself notified that I have noticed a pattern of behavior here and it's something I don't like and don't want done to me.

And if you are suggesting I simply "ignore" jacquesm, I assure you I've tried. He's impossible to ignore. He's extremely influential here.


No, I don't know you well at all. No, I don't have any wish to control you or silence you. With that out of the way, I've read a large amount of your comments on HN and you seem to have a habit of turning basically any discussion into a discussion about you. Not only a discussion, but one framed as "attacking" you.

It's why I initially didn't respond to your comment. I was a bit confused at how to relate your anecdote with my own post and eventually gave up.

It only related with a single sentence where you disagreed, and the rest was autobiographical stuff with which you put me in a position where I would have to disregard in order to move the conversation forward. I smelled a potential argument and moved on.

Just because someone has their own opinions doesn't mean they're trying to silence your own. And when you shift the conversation away from the topic at hand and act like a victim towards every single person that replies, it really just doesn't get anywhere at all. It just leads to cyclic, inflammatory posts.

I would suggest maybe reflecting upon this for a while, before replying to me with the standard, "you have no idea who I am". It's often said we can learn quite a lot about ourselves just by spending a few minutes with a stranger and asking them their thoughts.

To quote an esteemed member of HN:

If you are not consciously aware of doing that, well, consider yourself notified that I have noticed a pattern of behavior here

You have a defensive streak that gets in the way of constructive conversation, and that doesn't make you a crappy person. I myself have a problem with getting aggressive at times when I engage in discourse. But we owe it to ourselves to consider advice from others before disregarding it.

I engaged you in good faith elsewhere: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19891676

You have chosen to not respond to that and then you come here to describe me as basically playing the victim card every time I open my mouth. You further go out of your way to make sure that if I defend myself or disagree with your accusation, that's just further proof of how I'm the problem and I'm in the wrong and so forth.

Your comment is a personal attack and it's rather nastily framed to ensure that whether I reply or not, anything I do is agreeing with your ugly framing. Suffice it to say that I don't think it consitutes any kind of good faith attempt to be helpful to me and I have no plans to try to take your claimed "help" seriously.

>I would thank you to stop trying to police my participation here.

I'm not policing anyone, I'm offering my opinion. Likewise, I would thank you to stop being paranoid, and either respond to what I said or ignore it. Not respond on some imagined "intentions".

>You have something of a history of treating me like an idiot.

Actually, I have absolutely no recollection of who you are, and of having treated you like anything. I don't even remember the name "DoreenMichele" or having had a history of discussing with you, or whatever.

If I indeed have a history of treating you like an idiot, it's not because I go out of my way to treat that particular username (which I don't recognize and don't follow across threads) as an idiot.

It's either because I treat almost everybody like an idiot (which I might tend to), or because your individual (non-connected as belonging to a single person to me) comments over threads pushed the same kind of buttons on my responses (e.g. because you tend to make comments that I tend to disagree with and respond in a certain way to).

In any case, I don't go around keeping tabs. For most people I talk with on HN, I only ever remember the names/opinions of a few frequenter commenters which tend to commend often and on the same things so end up as identifiable, e.g. pjmlp has a soft spot for older languages, research compilers and so on, dang is one of the moderators, tcpatec is a security boffin, and so on. I only recognize as specific people on HN something like 10 persons or so, the majority are just opaque aliases that tell me nothing when I see them, even if I have engaged in threads with them at various times.

>If you are not consciously aware of doing that, well, consider yourself notified that I have noticed a pattern of behavior here and it's something I don't like and don't want done to me.

Well, the problem is I seldom ever check who I respond to. I mostly check what's written in their comment and whether it triggers a "somebody is wrong on the internet" / "I must respond to this" sentiment. I might glance at their username, but in most cases I wouldn't even remember it.

I could do some effort to check for your name and not respond in the future. In fact, if there's something like "block" I could use that and spare us the drama.

Well, this comment casts a lot of light on why you behave the way you do generally on HN. I will offer my opinion that it's a pattern of behavior that comes with an inherent set of problems.

If you aren't going to pay any attention whatsoever to social details, such as whether or not you have ever spoken to this particular person before, it's generally a best practice to refrain from any kind of personal commentary at all concerning their behavior. Behavior is influenced by context and you are making no effort whatsoever to understand context at all, so your opinions about such things are going to tend to be uninformed opinions that go bad places.

>Well, this comment casts a lot of light on why you behave the way you do generally on HN.

Well, you first accuse me on following you on HN and treating you this or that way repeatedly. And when I tell you I don't keep tabs, and I seldom know who is who I'm answering to (I'm just answering when I think some comment warrants an answer), you write the above that implies that you, instead, keep tabs on me and "how I behave generally on HN" (and, logically, on others too).

To me that's akin to stalking.

I'm not here talking with my friends or expecting long term camaraderie and rivalries, and going into who said what when. I'm on an open online forum with hundreds of users. Each new post is to me a new discussion, not a picking up from where we left, with animosities etc on what someone said.

>If you aren't going to pay any attention whatsoever to social details, such as whether or not you have ever spoken to this particular person before, it's generally a best practice to refrain from any kind of personal commentary at all concerning their behavior.

Well, I don't feel I offered personal commentary. I wrote a generic commentary on what you wrote to the grandparent, that can apply to anyone:

"Making a point in a discussion is not about the personal circumstances of the one we're talking to. Doubly so if they're an outlier, and triply so if we don't know their circumstances to begin with, because the discussion happens in an online forum."

>Behavior is influenced by context and you are making no effort whatsoever to understand context at all, so your opinions about such things are going to tend to be uninformed opinions that go bad places.

Sorry, the context here is technical, hacker-oriented discussion, and being informed (as in "informed opinions") rests on the technical, historical, etc knowledge of the issue in each TFA.

It's not about social subtleties, who is who, who said what in some earlier thread, etc. This is not Livejournal.

I don't keep tabs on you. I've just been here nearly ten years and you participate enough to be on the leader board. I made a mental note to try to avoid you due to a run in with you under my previous handle.

I haven't bothered to read your entire comment and may not bother. I got to the ugly and ridiculous accusation against me of stalking and stopped there.

I don't plan to continue engaging you.

> If you don't feel like a criminal in today's society, you are complicit.

Which society exactly are you referring to? What crime are you claiming that every single member of this society is complicit in? How does feeling like a criminal itself absolve someone of complicity in this crime? You seem to be saying we should take on guilt for something precisely in order to free ourselves of this guilt. This seems like a paradoxical admonition. Could you please clarify?

“Show me the man and I’ll show you the crime” - Lavrentiy Beria

Essentially, in modern society, if you do not feel like a criminal, it's because you are walking on eggshells around your government. Just about every modern government has laws on the books which are just plain ethically, morally, or constitutionally unjustified.

The DMCA, the PATRIOT act, the listing of cryptography under non-exportable munitions, the War on Drugs, the US foreign drone strike program, whistleblower laws, same-sex marriage laws or even death penalties, (soon to be) Article 13, social credit systems, mass surveillance, threat of ostracization/deplatformization if you fall outside of or in the middle of the now-split Overton window, the militarization of police in some developing countries coupled with a growing propaganda-driven movement to disarm citizens in order to increase the power gap, neoliberalist consumerist lifestyles propped up by military coups, dictatorships, and pollution sinks in developing countries.

I could keep going. But what it boils down to, is that if you don't find yourself at odds with the way things are being run in most parts of the developed world (not just the US) then you're either living under a rock, or complicit. If you're in the UK, it also means you like your sex without salt.

And, as ignorance is not an excuse in a society where you have plenty access to such information, you are still complicit.

I think a bit of guilt over the way our lifestyles impact the health of the earth and the lives of other people is certainly in order. I think some guilt over allowing our brand new rebel government to turn into the world's largest bully and largest perpetrator/denier of climate change, some guilt over not participating in activities which put you directly at odds against your government for the sake of knowledge or ethics, is entirely in order. Guilt gets things done.

You are projecting your personal framing of a particular problem space onto all other people and then further framing it as some kind of objective and irrefutable truth.

I spent a lot of time in therapy, so I don't suffer a lot of existential guilt. I've generally walked the walk on things I believe in, so I don't have a lot of guilt of the type you are describing.

I'm not unaware of the fact that anyone can potentially find themselves tossed in jail over basically bullshit reasons. This happens at times to tourists who are doing nothing wrong according to the law of their country, but it's a serious offense in the country they are visiting.

My last boyfriend spent three years in prison in his youth for his political activism. He also was trying to talk me into illegal activities that would have benefitted him and not particularly endangered him. He tried to justify this with reasoning similar to yours.

So I've had plenty of opportunity to think about such things and my mental framework is likely not anything I can adequately explain in a single comment on HN.

But perhaps an anecdote will have a modicum of value.

I had food stamps for part of the time that I was homeless. Food stamps cannot be used for non food items and it is illegal to convert them to cash by, for example, offering to buy groceries for someone in exchange for cash for a portion of the value.

There is one loophole that I know of: food stamps cover the CRV, a charge on cans and bottles in California. You can then take the cans and bottles back for a cash refund after consuming the contents.

A lot of homeless people break the law regularly as a matter of course merely to survive or merely by existing. I no doubt was breaking the law every single night by sleeping someplace I wasn't supposed to be.

But I didn't use that as an excuse to justify doing any damn thing I wanted and to hell with the law. I did my best to find legal ways to get my needs met to the best of my ability.

While homeless, I was repeatedly offered money for sex in a state where prostitution is illegal. I have zero moral qualms about the idea, but was celibate for medical reasons, so wasn't tempted to take the money. I also had it hinted to me that I could potentially get scads of money from some guy I knew if I would launder some of his money. I ended our so called friendship.

Among other things, I run several blogs to put out useful info for homeless Americans. I do this in part to try to point them to practical legal solutions that have some hope of actually working.

I also do my best to put out good information on what we can do to actually improve things in a way that will help address the issue of homelessness. I'm aware that it is a genuinely hard problem. I have done a lot of research and I try to educate people while keeping the information accessible in a way that conceptually simplifies a complex issue without distorting it or watering it down.

I believe the solution to the issue you are wrapped around the axel about is twofold:

1. Educate people about what they can do to get their needs met that is legal.

2. Increase the availability of viable, legal solutions.

I do my best to walk the walk on that conceptualization of the problem space. I'm aware I'm only one person and there is only so much I can do, so either the road rises up to meet me or I'm doomed anyway.

I'm plenty frustrated at the fact that the road mostly does not appear to be rising up to meet me when it comes to certain things. But that's not on me. That's mostly on other people and their shit.

My websites don't get a lot of traffic, nor do they make much money. Other people mostly are not promoting nor supporting my work.

In fact, I get actively stonewalled. For example, I was thrown off of Metafilter, nominally for "promoting my websites." It's basically a cesspit of classist asshats, so my real crime is probably something more like "having the ridiculous expectation of being treated like a human being."

The world has hung plenty of it's baggage on me already, thank you. I have no plans to agree to accept more of it. That includes yours.

If you worked on your framing, you might find that we agree on a lot of things. Of course, you aren't obligated to do that. I am equally not obligated to agree with how you choose to frame it.


I did not approach you first: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19889103

I'm not your ex-boyfriend, honey.

Also, don't call me honey. You aren't my ex boyfriend, nor my future boyfriend. That's both overly personal and generally dismissive.


Keep launching vollies instead of being actually respectful. Eventually someone other than me will notice it.

I'm done talking to you. None of this is remotely good faith engagement.


I'm sure you weren't doing it on purpose, but your comments have crossed into personal attack in this thread. Lines like "That's why you will stay the exact same and never progress as a person" are not acceptable here. Calling someone "honey" is worse, and calling them both "honey" and "sweetie" is harassment and a bannable offense. I'm glad that you edited one of those out, but it's absolutely not ok to treat anyone like that here.

I just had to ask you not to break the site guidelines a couple days ago. If you post like this again we are going to have to ban you. I don't want to ban you, so if you'd please adjust, we'd be grateful.

Here's one way to avoid that and do better on HN: let go of situations where someone else is commenting in a way that annoys you or pushes your buttons, and focus instead on places where your curiosity is being gratified. If you can't find that in one commenter's comments, there are many others to look at. That's the intended use of HN, and you can't go wrong that way.


Sorry again, dang. I know you don't like having to read an entire long-winded discussion because someone decided to flag every single comment they didn't agree with.

Any chance you can lift the posting limit you've placed on me? It's impossible to participate even in worthwhile discussions. This was just two strokes of bad luck, I promise that you won't be having future problems from me regarding unnecessary flaming. I will be more mindful of my language as well.

The most inspiring story along these lines that I know of is that of Sophie Scholl[1], who (along with other members of the White Rose[2]) was beheaded by the Nazis for distributing anti-war leaflets.

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophie_Scholl

[2] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Rose

This makes me wonder what the legacy effects of the Stasi today and one gauge of that would be a measure of age demographic uptake of social media for people who grew up under the Stasi and compare that to west german's of the same age demographic.

A quick dig into this and: https://www.internetworldstats.com/europa.htm proved a bit insightful, whilst this only has the data for Germany (as a whole as it is again with no East/West) it does show in contrast to other EU members a lower uptake of social media when you factor in internet access. Whilst Poland does show lower, if you scale in internet access you see that Germany per population is a lower uptake. You could also see some impact in previous communist countries, though for many, internet penitration is lower and that plays a factor. Bulgaria shows low usage but in relation to those with internet access - it is pretty high. So hard to see any true correlation. A better set of statistics would enable some true analysis. But on a quick glance, it would seem to of had a legacy impact upon people who grew up in that time who may well have a predisposition towards - not sharing personal information.

One of the clearest indicators that correlates with a difference in mindset is to look at Google Streetview. Most places it's fairly uncommon to see a property opted out. In Germany, it's really common to see properties blurred.

When it was first rolling out there were articles with pictures of streets where more was blurred than not. Not sure if acceptance has increased much in the years since then, but I'd assume the current young generation may be less bothered.

That's very interesting as it shows an active pursuit of privacy above and beyond policing themselves, but also others in regard to themselves. I also found https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Street_View_privacy_con... interesting, and thought the perspective from this quote "At a forum on privacy held in Berlin by the Green Party, a member of the audience asked whether future historians would blame the current generation for leaving German cities in digital ruins as bombs did the real landscape in World War II", to be one aspect many would overlook and equally a most elegant way of putting across a point that cuts thru the generation divides.

I suspect you are right about younger generations, but reading about an historical event and experiencing it are two different experiences. Whilst it is possible to learn from both, only one is a reinforced lesson.

As interesting is that English language Wikipedia chooses to pick out that minority, but more US-typical, view - I suspect German language Wiki may emphasise it differently, whilst being equally neutral. :)

The Abwehr and SiPo, later Stasi and NKVD/KGB habit of adding people to lists - of elites, of jews, of defectives that are to be corrected, reformed or exterminated may be thought far more responsible than the current generation. As someone who was thought privacy conscious even prior to Snowden, I'm astonished the Dutch, Poles, British etc haven't turned out as strident on privacy as the Germans. There was a SiPo list, and Gestapo list of British elites and trouble makers to be eliminated on invasion, the Poles and Dutch had their lists actioned etc. All the former Eastern bloc had their own oppressive security apparatus just as long as the GDR.

> Whilst it is possible to learn from both, only one is a reinforced lesson.

As an aside that is why I am vehemently against the modern trend for professional politicians - that gave us mainly wealthy elites playing at it. Even if still young I want politicians with experience of a stint of war or at least in the military, of extreme poverty, of manufacturing, or healthcare etc. Those types of things used to be the reason one went into politics.

I don't have numbers, but West Germany has string privacy culture. On the one side deriving from Nazi/Gestapo rejection as well as being different from GDR/Stasi. With many political debates.

See for instance https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Informational_self-determina...

Thank you; That ties in so well with my train of thought and feeling from what I was seeing that I can put this one to bed and not spend all night pondering it. Thank you so much for that.

The stasi exists now. When east Germany fell all citizens could walk into their equivalent of the pentagon and look up their file. They had files on almost everyone. This was 1989. Imagine what you could look up on yourself today if the governments fell.

Although I'm sure that the NSA do their best, I would bet that Facebook and Google have a much more accurate profile. Not sure if there is a point in making this distinction, though.

Precisely, when it comes to public companies and government entities, lines can blur and governments do have a track record of introducing laws and regulations to enable access.

Another way of thinking about it is - if the NSA wanted coca-cola's or KFC's secret recipe; They would already have it.

But social media as a whole, is for governmental security services, the greatest invention they never made.

That's likely a large party of why the NSA prioritized gaining access to their data through various programs, some of which have been exposed over the years. And when you're talking about nation states, even minor Hail Mary efforts have access to extensive resources sufficient to represent an entirely new sort of threat model to those companies. I doubt anyone at Google was worried about the risk of the NSA digging up their private fiber cables in the middle of nowhere with a backhoe to tap their internal communications prior to revelations about the program.

In the US you can send a FOIA request for your FBI file:


Someone said their friend did that and got back a single sheet of paper with the words "An artist of no repute"

For an artist, this might ironically be the most damning thing they could receive.

That would make an excellent title for a book for film: "An Artist Of No Repute".

Not sure about now but used to be 99% of Americans had no FBI file. But if you asked for your file they would have to create one.

My bank knows a huge amount about my finances, addresses, purchase history of almost everything and I'm sure lots else.

I guess what matters is what data holders do with it.

>I guess what matters is what data holders do with it.

If only that was what mattered. What also matters is what they're going to do with it in the future, along with what the people they're going to give it to will do with it, and what the people who steal it will do with it. (Not to mention what they're doing with it right now but not telling you).

My personal theory is that because injuries tend to heal eventually and also because they tend to physically hurt, people have a psychological tendency to underestimate the infinite future and also to underestimate anything that doesn't immediately result in physical pain.

Not so much "walk into" as "storm", and not so much "look up" as "dig out of the shred/burn pile". There's a fascinating bit of tech history in the attempts to reconstruct shredded files.

It's a sad story that the East German Stasi and Communist party thugs avoided any type of punishment for their actions.

They should've been arrested, tortured, crippled, blinded and thrown on the streets to beg so the people that suffered their action can spit on them at will.

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