Christ: Our Shield Against Evil

About a month ago, up at 2am with a sick baby, I found myself watching a documentary about the modern-day descendants of prominent officials of the Third Reich. Entitled Hitler’s Children, it examined the lives of modern-day descendants of high-ranking Nazi officials such as Hermann Goring, Heinrich Himmler and Rudolf Höss. None of them Nazi sympathizers, the featured interviewees had all in different ways endeavored to come to terms with the fact of being closely descended from moral monsters.

They certainly had my sympathy. Like so many others, the children of Nazi officials lost their fathers in the Second World War (or shortly thereafter), but they weren’t permitted to grieve in the usual way. No one will ever try to comfort them with the polite fiction that Daddy or Grandpa was an honorable man.

In one of the documentary’s more memorable scenes, Rainer Hess, grandson of Rudolf Höss (the infamous “butcher of Auschwitz”), visits the house at Auschwitz where his father grew up. Charming and spacious, the family’s home was just a short stroll away from the ovens where millions were exterminated, but it had been carefully situated so as to keep the death camp from view. Höss stands in the garden talking to Jewish journalist Eldad Beck as he struggles to wrap his mind around the horror of what happened here. It is difficult, and a modern American audience can easily understand the reasons: to the younger Höss, the horror of Auschwitz is literally incomprehensible. He wants to acknowledge it so that he can denounce his malignant ancestor and put the past behind him, but these depths of human depravity are simply beyond his grasp.

Thus, we are treated to a rambling soliloquy in which Höss rails against the insensitive inhabitants of the house who, as he indignantly notes, enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle without ever acknowledging the labors of those workers (presumably prisoners) who supported them. “Did they think that this garden planted itself?” Höss asks angrily. Beck, a descendent of Holocaust survivors, does not reply. I wondered whether he was tempted to point out that the crimes of Rudolph Höss, the butcher of Auschwitz, were considerably more serious than a failure to adequately compensate his gardeners.

Rainer Höss has the particular misfortune of being descended from an infamous war criminal, but in every other sense he struck me as entirely unremarkable, a typical product of his time and place. Citizens of prosperous and peaceful Western countries have trouble making sense of extreme human wickedness. They easily fall into the language of exploitation, not only because it has a Marxist history, but also because it makes more intuitive sense. Everyone sees the appeal of living exactly as you please without having to say thank-you. Very few can relate to the desire to slaughter millions of innocents, and in trying to comprehend this monstrosity we are reduced to repeating empty platitudes like “never again,” although the sad truth is that the horror of Auschwitz was far less singular than many would like to believe.

I thought of this scene again when reading Ross Douthat’s “Ideas from a Manger.” Reflecting on the significance of the manger scene, Douthat divides Americans into three classes, all of which take something different from the Bethlehem scene. Some of us (including Douthat and myself) still want to take everything, wise men and angels and shepherds and all, as historical truth. We actually believe that the manger contained the Messiah, the Word made flesh, God’s own literal Son. A second group focuses more on the “spirit” of Christmas, feeling that it would be beside the point to get hung up on the specifics of what the shepherds actually saw when Christmas is really about generosity, niceness, and delighting children with fantasy fairy-tales. Finally, there is a group of people who reject the Biblical worldview entirely. In America today, most of this last group still tries to maintain a kind of secular ethics, but they want it to be as divorced as possible from its Judeo-Christian parentage.

In sheer numbers, this last group is probably fairly small. But it is disproportionately represented among academics and the elite, and as Douthat observes, this group is in the unhappy position of having no secure bridge between its metaphysical and ethical commitments. Comfort and a tenuous, ill-defined sense of good-will may, for a time, stave off the more hideous manifestations of a nihilistic worldview; after all, almost nobody really wants genocide in America today. (Although we do have something of a sustained assault on the unborn, most Westerners are not actively hostile to this group so much as indifferent to their fate.) Humans are always susceptible, however, to the desire to dominate and destroy. It is disturbingly possible to persuade the greedy and the power-hungry that whoever stands in the way is somehow less human, and less worthy of life, than they and their friends.

This is the kind of dehumanization that opens the door to monstrosities like Auschwitz. It is frightening to realize that, for all the apparent civility of our comfortable American life, we are mostly in the position of Rainer Höss, which is to say, ill-equipped to vanquish something that we cannot even comprehend. Most modern people have been habituated, not to virtue, but rather to a shallow niceness that prioritizes comfort and pleasure above any serious understanding of the good. Morally immature people tend not to have much understanding either of evil or of good. They may reject the teachings of organized religion, not for serious reasons of conscience, but rather because they see no need for it. Why put up with the inconvenient and judgmental demands of orthodox religion when we can all just agree to be nice?

Unfortunately, adherents to the religion of niceness tend to be mowed down like grass before the ruthless and bloodthirsty, such as will eventually arise wherever Christianity’s influence wanes. As W.B. Yeats explained in his chilling poem, the center cannot hold without the Babe in Bethlehem; mere anarchy is loosed upon the post-Christian world. Properly speaking, The Second Coming is a Christmas poem, though a less sentimental tribute to the Holy Child could hardly be imagined. Vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle twenty centuries ago, the monstrous Spiritus Mundi is loosed upon us in figures like Rudolph Höss, over whom the unfathomable beauty of the Madonna and Child has ceased to have any humanizing influence. Godless materialists (Douthat’s third group) are its eligible recruits, and milk-toast proponents of niceness are powerless before it. If we hope to look courageously in the face of true evil, we must be prepared to make our stand behind the manger in which the true and ever-living God has given himself to the children of men.

Rachel Lu

By

Rachel Lu, a Catholic convert, teaches philosophy at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota where she lives with her husband and four boys. Dr. Lu earned her Ph.D. in philosophy at Cornell University. Follow her on Twitter at rclu.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    It is a cliché for much of the European Right, who hate Christianity and Liberalism with equal intensity, that one is a secularised version of the other.

    “Actually, one finds in Christianity the seeds of the great mutations that gave birth to the secular ideologies of the first post-revolutionary era. Individualism was already present in the notion of individual salvation and of an intimate and privileged relation between an individual and God that surpasses any relation on earth. Egalitarianism is rooted in the idea that redemption is equally available to all mankind, since all are endowed with an individual soul whose absolute value is shared by all humanity. Progressivism is born of the idea that history has an absolute beginning and a necessary end, and that it unfolds globally according to a divine plan. Finally, universalism is the natural expression of a religion that claims to manifest a revealed truth which, valid for all men, summons them to conversion. Modern political life itself is founded on secularized theological concepts.” (Alain de Benoist and Charles Champetier)

    • Randall Ward

      The quote you supply, tells us nothing except the mind of man can pervert anything. Satan always uses the good. to blind the mind of man to what he is really doing. Christianity is communal, not individual; this fact is why we have the Church and not worship at home by yourself. The commandment of Jesus is to Love one another, first, but to love everyone. Hard to love one another when you aren’t in contact with them. Love in the bible means – doing something, not thinking about doing something.

      • Adam__Baum

        Especially since the article discusses Nazi’s , or National SOCIALISTS.

        That’s right, Hitler was a socialist, a man (Or more correctly, A monster) of the left.

        • Bedarz Iliaci

          Hitler was no more of socialist than FDR was. Some socialism was the world-wide trend then. State control and coordination of economy and business was everywhere recommended and also increasing in practice.

          Hitler is not decried for being socialist. His infamy is because of his racial ideas and policies.

          • Adam__Baum

            What part of “National Socialist” don’t you understand?

  • ForChristAlone

    “They may reject the teachings of organized religion, not for serious reasons of conscience, but rather because they see no need for it. Why put up with the inconvenient and judgmental demands of orthodox religion when we can all just agree to be nice?”

    I sometimes wonder what those human conditions would be that would alter their experience of having no felt need for organized religion. Knowing what these conditions are would help in evangelizing said individuals. What makes people ripe for conversion? What conditions prompt one to acknowledge that, on his own, he is without hope and indeed desperate. The operative questions to be asked by those of us who have found Christ to those who have not would seem to me to be, “What are you looking for and have you found it?”

    It’s doubtful that just being nice satisfies the deepest longings of our human hearts.

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      Pascal sums up the human condition very neatly and it has not changed in 400 years, “Let us imagine a number of men in chains and all condemned to death, of whom some are butchered each day in the sight of the others, and those who remain see their own fate in that of their fellows and wait their turn, looking at each other sorrowfully and without hope. It is an image of the condition of men.”

  • john

    This is a very insightful essay, and it made me wonder something. I think the presence of so monstrous, so amoral, and so powerful a state gave/still gives Germans a soothing moral lozenge against feeling PERSONALLY guilty for not doing more to stop the holocaust. Who could, after all, oppose such a powerful force for evil? I wonder if Americans–me included–are uncomfortable with the idea that OUR state is still (supposedly) pliable to the public’s moral will, and ought to respond to our attempts to stop such horror as the abortion holocaust. We do what we can politely do to stop abortion, but secretly envy ordinary Germans who knew they were powerless against their state because history demands less of them, morally, than it will of us. This is a vague musing, but the article made me wonder…

    • Adam__Baum

      “so monstrous, so amoral, and so powerful a state”.

      But you repeat yourself.. (:

      For decades, Germans were conditioned to accept the power of the state to do as it wished. Generations unquestioningly accepted the edicts of the state, no matter how exacting, arbitrary or voluminous. Until World War I, the rest of the world looked to Germany as the model of effective public administration.

      If you want to see how this intellectual and moral emasculation happens, consider Cardinal Dolan, who recently embarrassed himself by telling the whole world that he wanted to be a “cheerleader” for Obamacare, even after being lied to about the “you gotta pass it to find out what’s in it”, Obamacare.

      http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/290661/archbishop-dolan-betrayed-obama-patrick-brennan

      (soon to be featured in the Stupak/Dolan Wing of the Hall of Fame of Political Naivete.)

      I’m beginning to think some in the Episcopate would issue a purchase order for a truckload of matches to a notorious pyromaniac, as long as the pyro promised to fires for the poor.

  • jpct50

    Beautiful (and chilling).

  • Vinnie

    We are called to love in our earthly life to such a degree that our life means nothing.
    Faith, it’s the toughest thing ever.

  • AcceptingReality

    “Most modern people have been habituated, not to virtue, but rather to a
    shallow niceness that prioritizes comfort and pleasure above any serious
    understanding of the good.” No truer statement about the state of our culture could be made. And so well put. Thank you, I will quote you often.

  • poetcomic1

    “Spiritual not religious” is a perfect description of Lucifer. Most educated young people I know describe themselves thus.

    • Adam__Baum

      Educated or indoctrinated?

      • poetcomic1

        I just edited it to put in quotes around ‘educated’. Thanks.

        • Adam__Baum

          No problem. I rather imagined you meant to do so, originally.

  • hombre111

    Nicely done. But along with thinking about the never-ending tragedy of abortion, I could not help but think of the never ending assault on the poor.

    • Adam__Baum

      Just can’t resist twisting an otherwise coherent comment to the service of your political idiocy.

      • Objectivetruth

        Good one.

    • Glenn M. Ricketts

      Father, seriously, would you describe in more detail the “never ending assault on the poor?” As it stands, it’s little more than a slogan.

      • Adam__Baum

        Think Hombre, think Marx meets Madison Ave.

    • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

      You mean the “never-ending assault” on the waistline of America’s obese poor? Seriously, Hombre, have you ever even seen anyone living in public housing? The poor in America live on Doritos, beer, and free satellite television. It is a diet of cultural poverty and caloric excess.

  • James

    Aren’t the sins of the father also blamed on their offspring and multiple generations later according to the bible?

    These sons and daughters of these Nazi monsters need help and understanding, perhaps therapy and an apology. They must be totally, psychologically messed up. Imagine if your father was Hitler but you thought you were normal but surrounded with people constantly reminding you how evil your father was and by association you yourself?

    • Randall Ward

      In the OT, God tells us that the sins of the father are no longer visited on the children. In the NT, Jesus tells us that everyone is responsible for their own sin. But you can be blamed for someone elses sin if you do not tell them the truth about Salvation thru Christ, if you have the chance to tell them and you don’t.

      • James

        So if you’re Jewish (OT) you are pretty much screwed but if Christian (NT) you are OK??? Which is it? Am I reading what you said correctly that your God is wholly discriminatory based on which bits of his book you sign up to?

        • Adam__Baum

          Your original post really looked like a wry parody about the modern therapeutic excuse state. Apparently, it’s just a rant.

        • Randall Ward

          I don’t believe you read my short post. No child is responsible for the sins of the father. The father might be held responsible for the sin of the children if he was a believer and failed to teach salvation through Jesus to his children.

    • Glenn M. Ricketts

      James, seriously, the book I recommend that you read first and foremost is Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” As you’ll see, his views on Christianity are not exactly those of a believer.

      • James

        Dear All

        I have seen the posts above and have to apologise. My account has been misused in my absence. I left my laptop open and someone has posted comments without my authorisation or knowledge.

        Please trust me this will not happen again!

        All the very best
        James (the real one this time)

        • Art Deco

          OK, but disqus locates only four comments under your handle. All but this one appear to be from the village atheist.

  • Stephan_Naro
  • Stephan_Naro

    “It will not do to say that the Nazis were anti-Christian. It won’t even do to say the Jews died for racial reasons, not because of their religion. The Nazis were able to do their evil, destructive work because they were so good at playing on myths, the myths which lurk in people’s minds. And this myth was that the Jews were the killers of Christ, the enemies of Christian civilisation. In that sense, Christianity is implicated fatally in the murder of the Jews.” – BBC: A History of Christianity, ep 6: God in the Dock, Diarmaid MacCulloch.

    • Randall Ward

      I hope you are not depending on the BBC for “History”. The Jews were not removed, forced to leave the country, and murdered because they were “christ killers”. Read the “Iron Kingdom” for a good history and understanding of Prussia , Germany and the Jews. The leaders of Germany from 1932-1945 could have cared less about the Christ.
      The BBC is anti-Christian and will promote anything that tears down Christianity.

      • Stephan_Naro

        MacCulloch is a professor of the history of the church who has in fact written an 1100 page book under the same title. He is an ordained minister of the Anglican church. But I guess he’s anti-christian?

        • Adam__Baum

          He is an ordained minister of the Anglican church.

          So?

        • Art Deco

          He was only ordained to the diaconate and is a very public pooftar.

          • Adam__Baum

            “very public pooftar.”

            Sounds like the Grand Poobah of the Royal Order of Water Buffalo.

    • cestusdei

      Hitler hated Christianity. Already secularization was beginning. There is where you will find the real culprit. But I guess that would be too pc eh?

      • Adam__Baum

        Did the BBC get around to investigating the occultism of the Reich?

        • cestusdei

          I don’t watch BBC much. I prefer my news unbiased. You might read Hitler’s table talk and see what he really thought about Christianity.

          • Adam__Baum

            Funny thing about BBC. Their comedies aren’t funny, but the news is occasionally good for a laugh.

    • Adam__Baum

      In that sense, Christianity is implicated fatally in the murder of the
      Jews.” – BBC: A History of Christianity, ep 6: God in the Dock, Diarmaid
      MacCulloch.

      That sense is nonsense.

    • michael susce

      When one ACTUALLY reads European literature, philosophy and history from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (I have nearly 200 books on the subject), one comes away with the clearly defined belief that riding humanity of Christianity and depending solely on science and the residual ethics of Christianity will save humanity. And the result? Hitler, Stalin and Mao…… And to those who would hold to this secular belief, Nietschze said….fools. In other words, atheistic secularism was the religion of choice. As Solzhenitsyn asserted, The twentieth century was the first atheistic century in human history. THAT is the real reason for the holocaust.

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  • Dominic

    Dr. Lu—well done.

    However, the part about good men not standing up to the evil before them is not focused upon. Whether leading children or full grown men the training and focus is on doing the right thing at each step—making corrections as needed. When you see the horror of death camps, slave labor and killing for a social reason—you will find that there has been a failure of good men to stand up and resist.

    Just as now we have within the Church leadership a willingness to accommodate evil in fundamental view of political implementation of health care — the lesser of two evils rationalization has been a paramount strategy. What’s factual in all the historical examples of this dilemma of human evil is that the butchers bill is paid for by the innocent.
    Teaching good men to fight back vigorously is not a view that is accepted by Church leadership in this country. Humanae Vitae uses a phrase when admonishing church men to deal through the sacraments with the faithful that has always resonated with good men —Christ was intransigent toward evil. No deals. It’s the only way to resist evil in a Christlike way–to be a good man.

    Never again most properly speaks to the not being prepared to resist with full commitment. Not preparing, not realizing and not acknowledging that men will do evil — is to naively think that never again means there will be no more bad guys or that good countries won’t make deals with morally corrupt leaders — be prepared and be ready to clean our own house first. Be prepared to resist, stop and then seek redemption of our fellow man.

  • slainte

    One recognizes the full dimensions of Evil by its entrails, the despair, injury, and destruction experienced by it victims, While it is unfolding, evil does so as a matter of routine, with a cache of normalcy, and often with societal approval or merely indifference.

    “The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.”
    ― Hannah Arendt

    • Adam__Baum

      And decades of centralized control, with the state erecting endless programs to corral and direct the person was the petri dish of the Nazi Pathogen.

      Let’s not forget too, that American statists went there to study the temple arts, including people like Henry Carter Adams. In return, the eugenic gene was implanted In Germany (by others, Adams was too busy screwing up railroads to be at Sanger’s disposal) and the Nazis explicitly thanked them for the agenda that served erase millions of human beings.

      Here’s a witness from Austria. The money phrase is that Hitler sounded like an American politician.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TvLdRz5pF7s

      • slainte

        The tyranny that happened in Austria is happening again…now… right in front of us. Wow.
        History does repeat itself.

        • Adam__Baum

          http://nowherewithme.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/change-hitler-obama-lenin.jpg

          I especially like the caption. It makes me thing of Hombre111 and his occasional fawning hagiographies of certain politically ambitious (greedy for power, a form of greed that is never evil) types.

          Of course the artist perfectly captured the pursed lips barely containing the seething rage of our beloved POTUS.

  • Randall Ward

    The most dangerous belief of all; to believe that the Germans that took part in bloody deaths of innocents during WWII are different from anyone else. To avoid repeats of the bad things done by both sides during WWII, we must realize that the same tendencies are lurking in all of us and are only awaiting the correct situation to be revealed.
    The USA has murdered over 50 million children since RvW, not to gain more land, but to enjoy more pleasure (mostly). But we in the USA still see the bad ole Germans as somehow different from the rest of civilization.
    I don’t blame US citizens for believing the Germans were different from us. The “history” of WWII is so distorted that it is nearly impossible to see WWII with clear eyes. A good new book to read that will help understand Germany and Prussia is “Iron Kingdom”. Learn the truth instead of the myth.
    Just to make myself clear to you; the bad things the Germans did, are real events, the events are not what I am talking about. I am speaking of the people that do such things. Those people are potentially,all of us, and it is important to keep that in mind.
    As the state grows in power, here and around the world, the possibility of more bloody killing becomes closer and closer, after all, it is the state that always makes the killings possible.

    • James

      Indeed just like the Holy Roman Empire also known as the Second Reich driven by Christian Dogma. Funny how the pagan First Reich (The Old Roman Empire) killed fewer than either the Second or Third. And BTW, Hitler was a keen Catholic and all WW2 German Soldiers had belt buckles emplazened with “Gott Mit Uns” or “God with Us”. Awful when facts get in the way.

      • Augustus

        “Hitler was a keen Catholic…”

        Oh yes, he was so keen on his Catholicism that he persecuted its members, both laity and clergy, promulgated an ideology that violated Church teachings and even conspired to abduct the pope from the Vatican. Your willingness to believe lies reveals all too clearly your hatred for the Church. You are a joke and a disgrace.

        • Adam__Baum

          He’s… baaack. Must of gotten back in the employ of the Soros Troll Brigade…

        • Stephan_Naro

          Do you need to perform a Google image search on “catholics nazis”?

          • Augustus

            The issue in dispute is whether Hitler was “a keen Catholic.” Whether or not there were Catholics who were duped by the Nazis is completely irrelevant. We know what Catholicism is and it’s not compatible with Nazism. This fact seems to escape your grasp.

      • guest

        Propaganda.

      • Randall Ward

        I would love to have a talk with you face to face. We could have a good talk. I would bring my belt buckles and we could talk about the deep meaning of all of them.

      • Caritas06

        The bit about Hitler is nonsense: Baptized and confirmed as a child in Austria, he ceased to participate in the sacraments after childhood. In adulthood, Hitler became disdainful of Christianity, but in seeking out and in trying to retain power in Germany, he was prepared to delay clashes with the churches out of political considerations. Hitler considered Christianity as an outgrowth of Judaism and was stridently anti-Christian in public. The belt buckles are factual but shows how all nationalities and movement will harness any sentiment, including religious, to achieve their ends. (Stalin tried to resurrect the Russian Orthodox Church he had persecuted to support the war effort.) The Confessing German Protestant Church and Catholic Church members that resisted this insofar as it was possible, show where a Christian’s true duty lies.

      • John Albertson

        Read Father George Rutler “Principalities and Powers” for what went on in the war.

      • Steve

        James, i pray for your misguided soul. Did you also know that satan was an angel? Dont be blinded by the same pride that condemned him.

      • Glenn M. Ricketts

        James, where did you get this information? Certainly not from “Mein Kampf” or the Nazis’ relentless anti-Christian propaganda. And if Hitler was such a “keen Catholic,” why did Pius XI go to the trouble of promulgating the anti-Nazi encyclical “Mit Brennender Sorge” in 1937, read in all German Catholic churches on Passion Sunday that year?
        I hope that you’ll respond and enlighten us. As it stands, your comment is either strikingly naïve or perversely disingenuous.

        • Art Deco

          He didn’t get it from anywhere. He made it up.

  • The years it took to achieve your philosophy degree were well spent. I’m glad there are people like you teaching the subject.

    I’m not Christian myself, but serious followers of Christ are a shield against evil for us all. To those who also wish to live as a shield, they are true friends, despite any disagreements we may occasionally have.

  • Leo

    Although it is another story, Hoess confessed his crimes and was evidently reconciled to God and the Church before his execution.

  • Leo
  • Stephan_Naro

    Interesting to note one of the first things Hitler did when he came into power:

    “ATHEIST HALL CONVERTED

    Berlin Churches Establish Bureau to Win Back Worshippers

    Wireless to the New York Times.

    BERLIN, May 13. – In Freethinkers Hall, which before the Nazi resurgence was the national headquarters of the German Freethinkers League, the Berlin Protestant church authorities have opened a bureau for advice to the public in church matters. Its chief object is to win back former churchgoers and assist those who have not previously belonged to any religious congregation in obtaining church membership.

    The German Freethinkers League, which was swept away by the national revolution, was the largest of such organizations in Germany. It had about 500,000 members …”

    [New York Times, May 14, 1933, page 2, on Hitler’s outlawing of atheistic and freethinking groups in Germany in the Spring of 1933, after the Enabling Act authorizing Hitler to rule by decree]

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/08/23/list-of-hitler-quotes-he-was-q/

    • Glenn M. Ricketts

      Stephan, what exactly is your point here?

      • Stephan_Naro

        I think it may have been a response to Michael Susce elsewhere.

        • Glenn M. Ricketts

          Thanks for the reply, but I still don’t understand. The type of groups referred to in your comment tended to be on the far left side of the ideological spectrum, which for Hitler was probably much more significant than their religious identity. If you have the time, I’d welcome your clarification.

          • Art Deco

            The organization in question appears to have been founded by a bourgeois academic, so may have been more of an equivalent of CSICOP than an auxilliary of the Communist Party. (It should be noted that all alternative political parties in Germany – right, center, and left – were shut down in 1933, the trade unions were suborned, and a section of the Lutheran Church was also suborned). There was not much room for civil society of any description in Germany even before the War.

            • Glenn M. Ricketts

              Right, Art Deco. I don’t think that the Free Thinkers were likely Communist auxiliaries, but unless I’m mistaken, they were left-of-center in their political orientation, as were democratic socialists and some other smaller groups. That, I think was of much greater significance to the Nazis than whatever religious beliefs they espoused.

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