Thursday, 11 October 2018

Presentazione Panzer-Grenadier Division Waffen-SS " Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler" 21.10.2018 Villa Giulia, Pallanza

Breve storia del I battaglione Panzer-Grenadier Regiment 2 della divisione Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler prima e dopo gli eccidi di ebrei sul lago Maggiore. 

La presentazione che si tiene Domenica 21 ottobre 2018 presso Villa Giulia a Pallanza  introduce un mirato appronfondimento alla formazione delle Waffen-SS responsabile degli eccidi di ebrei avvenuti sulle sponde delLago Maggiore nell’autunno 1943.

La presentazione, a cura del ricercatore svizzero Raphael Rues, rappresenta la sintesi di una più ampia ricerca, ancora in corso, condotta dall’autore nell’ambito della sua tesi di Dottorato in Storia Moderna presso la University of Leicester, Inghilterra, relativa alle attività delle formazioni tedesche e fasciste nella regione dell’Ossola e del Verbano dal settembre 1943 all'aprile 1945. L’autore può essere contattato a questo link.

 Il cinegiornale nazista “Die Deutsche Wochenschau” con il filmato “Deutsche Truppenverstärkungen in Italien - 'Panzervoran'! (September 1943)” riporta alcuni spezzoni di filmato che riprendono soldati della Leibstandarte a Reggio Emilia. Fonte: – . I tre ufficiali che sfilano a partire dal 1min18sec sono da sinistra verso destra: primo tenente Paul Gühl (1916-1997), maggiore Joachim Peiper (1915- 1976) e primo tenente Werner Wolff (1922-1945). A partire dal 1m31sec - 1m33sec l’ufficiale con la tunica
bianca e berretto è con tutta probabilità il capitano Hans Krüger.

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Wednesday, 26 September 2018

74esimo Anniversario "Repubblica dell'Ossola" - Presentazione del libro SS-Polizei

In occasione del 74° anniversario della "Repubblica dell'Ossola", l'A.N.P.I e la città di Domodossola organizzano la presentazione del libro"SS-Polizei" di Raphael Rues, venerdì 12 ottobre alle 17:30 in Cappella Mellerio, piazza Rovereto Domodossola.
SS-Polizei. Ossola-Lago Maggiore. Rastrellamenti e crimini di guerra edito, in edizione trilingue (italiano, tedesco e inglese), da Insubrica Historica (Minusio, CH). Saggio che rappresenta un primo contributo all’interno di un lavoro più ampio di ricerca sulle formazioni tedesche e fasciste che operarono nell’allora alto novarese tra il settembre 1943 e l’aprile 1945 e che mette in luce aspetti in gran parte non noti. Questo primo lavoro è dedicato ai reparti delle SS-Polizei (reggimenti 12, 15 e 20) che operarono nella zona.

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Thursday, 16 August 2018

Buchveröffentlichung: „SS-Polizei Ossola - Lago Maggiore 1943 - 1945“

Raphael Rues - aus dem Schweizer Kanton Tessin mit Abschluss in Wirtschaftsgeschichte – recherchiert seit vielen Jahren die Einsätze der SS-Polizei in der Region Ossola und Lago Maggiore. 

In seinem im Juni 2018 veröffentlichten Buch beschreibt er den Weg einiger Polizeibataillone und einzelner Ordnungspolizisten in diesen Bataillonen von den blutigen Massenmorden im Osten über Norwegen nach Nord-Italien. Detailgenau berichtet er von einigen Einsätzen dieser Einheiten gegen PartisanInnen und ZivilistInnen in der Region zwischen 1943 und 1945. Beispielsweise über das Massaker in Fondotoce und die Zerschlagung der freien ParisanInnenrepublik im Ossola-Tal. 

Das Buch ist dreisprachig: italienisch, deutsch und englisch. Es enthält seltene Fotos der SS-Polizisten und einzigartige Karten. Susanne Pauli vom Verein „NS-Familiengeschichte – hinterfragen erforschen aufklären e.V.“ hatte die Ehre, das deutsche Vorwort zu schreiben. „SS-Polizei Ossola - Lago Maggiore“ von Raphael Rues (ISBN-13: 978-88-31969-00-0) ist erschienen im Verlag Insubrica Historica und ist online direkt beim Verlag für 7,99 € bestellbar (diese Seite ist englischsprachig). Beim Verlag ist auch eine englische Übersetzung einer Rezension in der italienischen Tageszeitung La Stampa zu lesen.
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Tuesday, 10 July 2018

List of living traditions in Switzerland

With the ratification of the UNESCO Convention on the Preservation of Intangible Cultural Heritage on October 16, 2008, Switzerland started to develop, maintain and periodically update an inventory of its intangible cultural heritage.

The «List of Living Traditions in Switzerland» was created as a part of the implementation of this UNESCO Convention. The list is conducted in cooperation and with the support of the cantonal cultural institutions.

The list is available in the form of a comprehensive documentation of the intangible cultural heritage of Switzerland in word, picture and sound on It currently comprises 165 traditions selected by experts, representatives of the cantonal cultural institutions and the Swiss Commission for UNESCO under the direction of the Federal Office of Culture on the basis of proposals by the cantons.

The «List of Living Traditions in Switzerland» forms the basis and prerequisite for nominations of living traditions for the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage. The nomination process will be based on the tried and tested example of world heritage.

The Federal Office of Culture envisages various measures to publicize the list and keep the traditions alive. An increase in funding for organizations of culturally active lay people and the possibility of supporting events in the field of lay and popular culture have already been realized. The plan is to cooperate with the open-air museum and Kurszentrum Ballenberg on the topic of handicrafts as well as with Switzerland Tourism on the topic of culturally sustainable offer design.

  • Alphorn- und Büchelspiel
  • Alpinismus
  • Blasmusik
  • Decken und Reparieren von Dächern
  • Eidgenössisches Feldschiessen
  • Fondue
  • Grafik-Design und Typografie
  • Historische Milizen
  • Jassen
  • Kastanienanbau, Kastanien und Marroniverkäufer
  • Konsenskultur und direkte Demokratie
  • Martinimarkt und Jahrmarkt zu Ehren von San Provino
  • Prozessionen der Karwoche in Mendrisio
  • Rabadan und Fasnacht im Tessin
  • Schwingen
  • Sternsingen
  • Trockenmauern bauen

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Friday, 6 July 2018

Gordola: artillery fort and barrack of the First World War in Ticino

It is symmetrically positioned in the front line of the defence artillery zone of Magadino Superiore (see the article). As a matter of fact, the Swiss military forces built in the Valle Verzasca a series of corresponding forts and bunkers just before the beginning of the First World War.  The idea behind the defence elements was to block any possible route from the South (Lake Maggiore) leading to Bellinzona and further to the North to the massive of Sankt Gotthard.

It is the most easily accessible work which is a sort of the long fort, coloured in red, appropriately named today La Casa Rossa (in English: the red house), and situated above the village of Gordola. It is an infantry barrack built on the top of the hill, from where opens a spectacular view on the northern part of Lake Maggiore and Gambarogno. The number of canons originally installed is unknown till today. 

From the northern side, there is also an artillery fort built on the rock in 1913 which had the same layout of the one in Magadino Superiore which was conceived for approx. 70 soldiers. Originally, there should have been four canons of 7.5 cm firing toward Magadino, two headlights and at least two emplacements for heavy machine guns. The fort was somehow upgraded in 1941 as there has been since that date situated on the top of the Eastern entrance.

Further to the South, alongside the rail bridge, there are also two bunkers and one trench line.

  • Monumenti Militari nel Ticino (Link), pages 16-17 for Gordola artillery fort
  • Schweizer Festungen - Fortifications in Switzerland (Link)
  • Werner Rutschmann, "Befestigtes Tessin: Burgen, Schanzen, Werke, Stände", Verlag NZZ Zürich, p.115-124

  • Two objects mentioned in this article, La Casa Rossa and the artillery fort can be easily accessed as it is showed on Google Map below. The artillery fort access is protected by a gate and barbed wire.

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Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Tool: Allied aerial pictures of Insubrica region

We already wrote about online resources related to the aerial photography of the Insubrica region, particularly the resources offered by and many other examples found on the website Smapshot. While preparing the article on the bombardment of the Verbania area during 25-26.9.1944 we stumbled on a new resource.

Milan city center on 16 August 1944
The British National Collection of Aerial Photography offers a large database of aerial pictures taken during the Second World War over Europe. To access the site, simply follow the above URL. Once on the website, click for Browse NCAP, and then select the feature Map. You can then use the zoomable map to find images related to the particular region that you look for. 

Click then further on the markers to open the images or view Finding Aids for a selected area. The pictures can be downloaded for personal use or posted on a blog, as it is  the case for Insubrica Historica, as long as the publication is freely available. The pictures can also be bought.

There are surprisingly few pictures related directly to the Insubrica region. There are a couple of pictures for the area surrounding Varese, particularly Cislago, and few others around Chiavenna.

Nevertheless, NCAP remains an interesting online website and resource that gives rare views of an Europe torn apart by the conflict of the Second World War.

  • The National Collection of Aerial Photography:
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Saturday, 30 June 2018

Louis Favre: dynamite and human costs for the first major Gotthard tunnel

Louis Favre (1826-1879) was born on January 28, 1826, in Chêne Thonex (Canton of Geneva). He studied as a carpenter in Neully-sur-Marne (near Paris) and followed courses of architecture and engineering.

The epoch of the first industrialization in the first half of the 19th century  shaped innovative transport means as the railway. In a few years after the first test of the steam locomotive (1804) and the first railway sections (1825-1829), the railway spread throughout the continent. Among the works of the Railway Construction Company, where Favre worked after the graduation, there were the railway lines of Charenton (1846-1851) and Montbart-Dijon (1852-1853).

After passing through the tunnels of Augné (1855), Crédo (1856-1858), Grandvaux and Cornallaz (1858-1860), Creuzot (1863-1865) in 1871, Favre won the tender for the Gotthardbahn tunnel and started to work hardly. The work began in September 1872 and was completed ten years later in January 1882. Favre, overruned by the difficulties of the company, died on July 19, 1879, of a heart attack in Göschenen and could no longer see the opening ceremony of the tunnel.

The Gotthard Railway Tunnel (1872-1882)
The objective in the construction of the railway lines were very large, they were built for commercial or military-strategic purposes at that time. Soon, the question arose of a transalpine railway; already in 1838 people thought about the distance from Chiavenna to Chur.

At first, in 1845, a railway over the Lukmanier, was built, then in 1852, it was finally built over the Gotthard. After the innoguration of the Suez Canal (1869) and the Frejus Tunnel (1871), a project for a railway through the Gotthard and its associated costs were approved by the Confederation as well as by Germany and Italy.

In 1872 construction began. In 1882, after many technical difficulties and financial crises, the work was completed. The opening ceremony of the railway tunnel which had the length of 15 kilometres between Göschenen and Airolo opens up completely new and previously unknown traffic opportunities for Europe.

  • The best sightseeing - albeit outside the Insubrica region - can be done from the Göschenen station, which alone has made history. From here you follow the information signs with the "G" and comes to 14 distinctive points of the village Göschenen, which shows the prehistory of the base tunnel. This tour is called "Gotthardtunneldorf Göschenen" and has been in operation since 2016. The tourist office Göschenen gives you more information.
  • On the south side at the station Airolo is another important example. The Monument to the Victims of Labor, created by Vincenzo Vela (Ticinese sculptor 1820-1891) on his own initiative and without payment. At the Gotthard tunnel construction, 177 dead and 403 seriously injured were killed.
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Friday, 22 June 2018

Bombardments on Lake Maggiore: commonly unknown history

A commonly unknown chapter of the final phase of the Second World War in the Insubrica region is related to the bombardment of two hamlets and the sinking of three ships in two days. And all of this happened precisely on Monday, 25 September 1944, and the next day on Tuesday, 26 September, between Luino and Baveno-Intra in Italy.

In order to efficiently understand the dynamics of the events, it is necessary to see the bigger picture of what was happening:

At the beginning of September 1944, the Allied military forces advanced rapidly in the Italian peninsula. The North of Italy (the area adjacent to Lake Maggiore) was occupied by the German military forces and was politically administered by the Neo-Fascist government called "la Repubblica Sociale Italiana" (RSI). An increased aerial activity was observed over Lake Maggiore, precisely in the regions of Ossola and Mottarone. This activity was mostly associated with allied transport airplanes that were used for intelligence missions in order to help the guerrilla movements fighting against Germans and Fascists.

The combat missions took place predominately in the dead of night. The military pilots, who helped the partisans, had Polish nationality. They departed usually from Brindisi, Southern Italy, heading towards the North. Their flying course was over the Adriatic See situated between Italy and the Balkans. Once, they used to reach Trieste, they turned to the west, taking 270' degrees course, over the Italian alps. As a matter of fact, this indirect path allowed them to avoid the German and Fascist anti-aerial artillery. And at the end of September 1944, the allied forces occupied the town of Pisa, so fighter storms began to operate with superior potential despite the limited autonomy of the airplanes like Spitfires.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, the results of two bombardment days in September 1944 on Lake Maggiore will be seen in detail below. These days created an unprecedented panic wave among the civil population, especially in Luino, Baveno and Intra-Verbania in Italy. The civil population in Baveno and Intra was terrified the next days after the air strikes, being afraid of all aviation related activities.

Bombardment of Fondotoce on 25 September 1944 at 15:10 in the afternoon:
The fighter storm composed of six Spitfire airplanes arrived from the South, across the lake, in Verbania-Fondotoce. Two aircrafts bombed a house in Fondotoce. To date, it has been impossible to ascertain with confidence which house was touched.

Bombardment of Intra-Alta on 25 September 1944 at 15:10 in the afternoon:
Four airplanes attacked Fondotoce, bombing in this case a large civilian workers' house called "il Cassinone" in the region of Intra-Alta. The bombardment of the house caused the death of 9 civilians (according to other sources 11 civilians were killed) and several civilians were wounded. 

Air strike of Baveno and sinking of the boat "Genova" on 25 September 1944 at 15:30 in the afternoon:
The locality of Baveno was attacked with six military airplanes. The air attack resulted in the sinking of the boat called "Genova" that carried apparently only civilians: 34 passengers were killed. The boat "Genova" was builded in 1912 by Bacigalupo, and it was 43.3 meters long. Like similar ships "Milano" and "Torino", it could transport 500 persons on board. The boat sank near the lakeshore. To date, it is unclear if the wrecks have been still laying on the lake floor, or if they have been scrapped after the war. No official documents have been released concerning this matter. 

Air attack of Luino and sinking of the boat "Torino" on 25 September 1944 at 16:00 in the afternoon:
The aerial intervention on Lake Maggiore on Monday, 25 September, culminated with the sinking of the second boat called "Torino" which went down in the port of Luino.

Air attack of Intra and sinking of the boat "Milano" on 26 September 1944 at 9:30 in the morning:
In the the morning, on Tuesday, 26 September 1944, ignoring the precedent air attacks, the battalion commander, Major Giovanni Ledo (1907 - n.a.), of the Fascist unit "Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana" (GNR) of the stormtroopers "Venezia Giulia", decided to sail from Laveno to Intra. He ordered to load ammunition and other military goods on board of the ship "Milano". The board carried also 40 soldiers and 30 civilians. Once the board was in the middle of the lake sailing to its destination, it was attacked by fighter aircrafts. Officially 12 civilians and 14 soldiers were reported killed, but most likely, there was a greater number of victims. As a matter of fact, historians have been debating on the subject. Major Ledo survived but was heavily wounded and did not return to his post.

Air attack of Intra on 26 September 1944 at 10:00 in the morning:
Following the sinking of the third boat called "Milano", the aircrafts persisted their activity on the lakefront and at the port of Intra, albeit without dreadful consequences. 

Even to date, there are blindspots concerning these events: 
  • It is not clear which aircraft type was involved in the actions. 
  • On 26 September 1944, later in the night, there were two spy missions (Mangosteen and Chrysler) in the regions of Mottarone-Coiromonte, only 5km away from Intra. It is likely that the bombardments created the premises for their successful launch.
  • The precise number of victims, particularly those on the boat "Milano", is still unclear even after more than 70 years. The events related to the sunk boards "Genova" and "Milano" have been still commemorated in Italy, albeit only by the organisations of the right political spectrum.
  • The newspapers of the Canton Ticino like "Popolo e Libertà" and "Libera Stampa" reported with confidence in 1944 that the aircrafts departed from the airfield of Domodossola and were directly involved with the partisan operations (eg. "Popolo e Libertà", edition Friday 29 September 1944, article: "La Divisione Piave libera Cannobio").
The boat "Milano" has been finally found by the team of international divers, among them there was a Dutch professional diver, Pim van der Horst.

The boat was located at the depth about 236 meters underground. The highly complex immersion required the team composed of 40 divers and the helicopter surveillance. It was authenticated by the South African Nuno Gomes (world depth record holder) and included in the "World Guinness Book of Records".  

The wrecks of the board "Torino" were found in 1945 as the ship had sunk in the shallow water. The engine was replaced, and the boat was transformed into a motor vessel; its superstructures were completely rebuilt.  Some necessary uplifting was done in 1969 that gave to the board its current appearance, which made it look similar to the other 50-year-old motorboats, albeit with a slimmer hull. The vessel has been still today in the use on Lake Maggiore.

  • The boat Torino has been still sailing today on Lake Maggiore.
  • The victims of the sunk boats "Genova" and "Milano" are still officially remembered in Northern Italy. Every year, there is a ceremony that commemorates the victims.

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Friday, 15 June 2018

Picturesque route in Ticino: Tremola and its engineer

Francesco Meschini was born in Piazzogna (today the municipality of Gambarogno) on 4 August 1762. He was educated at the Academy of Brera in Milan. Becoming a young engineer and architect, he got his first assignment in 1790 in the context of the renovation project related to the church San Nazzaro built in the Neo-classic style in Gambarogno. Later, he led other reconstruction projects such as the parish church of Gordola (1829).

Chiesa San Nazzaro
@Voce del Gambarogno
During the period of the Helvetic Republic, he was a member of the administrative chamber of the Canton of Lugano in 1801-1803. As an inspector of the bridges and roads of Bellinzona and Lugano, he drew up an extensive series of plans for local road connections.

It is worth mentioning the following Meschini's major works: The road of the Leventina situated between Biasca and Airolo (1813-1821), the ramps of the Gotthard pass (1827-1832), and the bridge across the river Maggia in Ascona (1818). Meschini was also a member of:  the Grand Council of Ticino (1813-1830), the Government Council (1815-1827), and the Landammann (in English: chief magistrate) of the Canton Ticino (1825). He died at the age of 78, on 3 December 1840 in Piazzogna.

The Ramps of the scenic alpine road Tremola (1827-1832)
The Canton Ticino was created in 1803 as a fully-fledged state within the Swiss Confederation. The problematic of the necessary infrastructures in the canton appeared soon. The engineers asked themselves to what extend the existing roads could be renovated in order to meet new requirements, but it should be also outlined that the Canton Ticino had no modern road connections at that time.

As a result, the first phase consisted of widening and repairing the old main road that run from Chiasso and Magadino to Airolo. The objective was to allow a transit of wagons drawn by horses. The goal was achieved after more than 15 years of work (1804-1821).

While the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia - Piedmont - decided to support the construction of trade routes across Splügen and San Bernardino in 1818, it was difficult to reach an agreement between the Canton Uri and the Canton Ticino, promoting the modernisation of the old road across the Gotthard pass. Nevertheless, the 17-kilometre-long Tremola project delighted Francesco Meschini who finished a spectacular roadway in five years (1827-1832). This part of the old alpine road across the Gotthard pass has been still a beautiful example of the old time engineering that was already advanced in the first half of the 19th century.

  • You can travel across the Gotthard mountain by car which is really breathtaking; the drive across the cobblestoned Tremola runs through breakneck serpentine from Airolo and is considered to be one of the longest and prodigious roads in Switzerland. The road Tremola is largely preserved in its original eco-system, but during 1937-1941, the natural gravel coating was replaced by a granite pavement. As a result, the engineering artwork can be captured and experienced entirely. Unfortunately, various original components were replaced over the time, for example, many of the wegbegrenzenden stone steles were set new in a concrete cordon.

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Wednesday, 13 June 2018

The Neuroni family from Lugano: battles against Turks

We saw earlier the mercenaries from the Insubrica region in the service of the Venice Republic, notably we wrote, last May 2018, about Bernardino Checco from Locarno. We wish to go further and to explore more in details mercenary connections between Ticino - Venice. Consequently, there is another family from Ticino that served the Venice Republic.

Neuroni family crest
@Patriziato Riva S.Vitale
The illustrious Neuroni family, from Riva San Vitale, Ticino, has been among the numerous names that drew our attention. This family was very devout, dedicated to the Church as well as to the military service.

According to Oldelli, Neuroni had an ancient family background: it originated from the name Nubiloni and thereafter Nuironi. The family had already established itself  in  Riva San Vitale, near Lugano, before 1290.

In 1400, the family core moved to Lugano, but other members were dispersed throughout various parts of Ticino. It is interesting to introduce the courageous members of this lineage who died on duty for the Venice Republic fighting against Turks. 

Siege of Candia 1648-1669
@Learning History
Captain Antonio Neuroni with his two brothers Fabrizio and Gian Pietro were killed in 1669 defending the walls of Candia. The Siege of Candia (modern Heraklion, Crete) was a military conflict in which the Ottoman forces besieged the city led by the Venetians.

The siege lasted more than 21 years from 1648 to 1669, becoming the second longest siege in the human history after the siege of Ceuta. The Ottoman soldiers were finally victorious despite the unprecedented resistance and struggle of Candia.

Colonel and general commander of the militia of the Venetian Republic, Gian-Maria Neuroni, was, according to Oldelli, in Corfu when Ottomans attacked the city. As a matter of fact, on 8 July 1716, the Ottoman army comprising of 33'000 soldiers began the assault of Corfu, the most important of the Ionian islands. Despite the indecisive naval battle, the Ottoman overland army continued that day its advancement towards the city.

On 19 July, after capturing outlying forts, the Ottomans started  the siege of Corfu. The defence was led by Count Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg, who had in his disposition 8'000 men. The extensive fortifications and the determination of the defenders withstood several assaults. A great weather storm on 9 August 1716 —which the defenders attributed to the divine intervention of Corfu's patron saint called Saint Spyridon—caused numerous casualties among the besiegers, forcing the Ottoman army to brake off the siege, retreating from the outskirts of the city.

The heroic defence of Corfu inspired composer Antonio Vivaldi who wrote the allegorical oratorio called Juditha Triumphans, the Baroque masterpiece. Vivaldi's Venetian Juditha is like a symbol of triumph of the Venetian defence and victory of Corfu in August 1716. 

Lieutenant-Colonel Pietro Antonio Neuroni, the brother of Gian-Maria Neuroni who has been mentioned before in the article, served like his brother the militia of the Venetian Republic. According to Oldelli, he was on duty in Navarre Spain. Few details are known in fact about his service, except that he died in Pamplona.

There had been another "Ticinese" soldier who was most likely active in Pamplona during 1569-1570: his name was Giovan Giacomo Paleari Fratino (1520–1586) known as El Fratin  (in English: The Little Friar).  Paleari Fratino was from Morcote, situated near Lugano.

He was a military engineer who served the Spanish Emperor, Charles V, and then, to his son Philip II of Spain. He is known for having designed the first Martello tower as well as many other fortifications. IH will necessarily write about Paleari Fratino because Dr. Marino Vigano, our friend and the honoured history researcher, has published Paleari's biography.

  • Oldelli, Dizionario storico-ragionato degli uomini illustri del canton ticino, Veladini Lugano, 1807 pages 121-122
  • G. Martinola, La Compagnia Neuroni, Rivista militare della Svizzera italiana, Band 22, 1950
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