David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial: Electronic Edition, by Richard J. Evans

Table of Contents
4.3 Historical method: ... >>

4.1 Admiration

4.1.1Irving presents himself in his writings and speeches as a man who has discovered the objective truth about Hitler and the Nazis, rescuing it from the myths and legends perpetrated by historians, politicians and others by refusing to believe what other historians wrote and by going back to the original sources instead. 'I saw myself as a stone-cleaner', he wrote in the Introduction to his book Hitler's War in 1977, 'less concerned with architectural appraisal than with scrubbing years of grime and discoloration from the façade of a silent and forbidding monument.' 'The biggest problem in dealing analytically with Hitler', he continued, 'is the aversion to him deliberately created by years of intense wartime propaganda and emotive postwar historiography.' Hitler, Irving argued, has been caricatured by posterity, beginning with the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, where everybody tried to shift the blame to Hitler. 'These caricatures have bedevilled the writing of modern history ever since.' Irving cultivates the image of a man who has achieved the feat of demolishing these caricatures and restoring a true picture of Hitler and Nazism by massive, indefatigable research into primary sources, and by a scrupulously critical attitude to the documents.
4.1.2 In the Preface to the first edition ofHitler's War, Irving wrote that 'this book views the situation as far as possible through Hitler's eyes, from behind his desk', a strategy which undoubtedly speaks of a strong identification with the subject and the subject's point of view.1 In a discussion on BBC1 television in 1977 he said that once Hitler had become Reich Chancellor, 'he became a statesman and then a soldier...and the Jewish problem was a   nuisance to him, an embarrassment.'2 'Adolf Hitler', he wrote in 1984, 'was a man of a certain amount of intellectual honesty'.3 In 1989, Irving praised Hitler at somewhat greater length in his afterword to the German translation of a book by the French Holocaust denier Paul Rassinier arguing that Germany had been 'driven' into the Second World War by her enemies
Adolf Hitler was a patriot - he tried from start to finish to restore the earlier unity, greatness and splendour of Germany. After he had come to power in 1933, he carried out the programme whose realisation he had promised since 1922: he restored faith in the central government; he rebuilt the German economy; he removed unemployment; he rebuilt the disarmed German armed forces, and then he used this newly-won strength to attain Germany's sovereignty once more, and he became involved in his adventure of winning living-space in the East. He had no kind of evil intentions against Britain and its Empire, quite the opposite...Hitler's foreign policy was led by the wish for secure boundaries and the necessity of an extension to the east...The forces which drove Germany into the war did not sit in Berlin.
4.1.3 These claims, it should be noted in passing, are not substantiated by Irving. The evidence examined by specialists on these subjects indicates, rather, that Hitler did not restore the German economy in any normal sense, but rapidly distorted it through his extreme prioritization of rearmament; he did have evil intentions towards the British Empire; and his 'adventure of winning living-space in the East' was a war of genocidal extermination against the Poles and other peoples who lived there, justified by an ideology of racial supremacy:   there is no evidence of any kind that Germany and the Germans actually needed 'living-space' in the East. 5
4.1.4 As far as this report is concerned, however, Irving's writings quoted above would seem indeed to indicate that Irving is, as Lipstadt put it, 'an ardent admirer of Hitler'. Faced with this charge, Irving asserts in his reply to Lipstadt's defence that on pages 5 and 20 of the 1991 edition of Hitler's War, he 'makes explicit reference to the crimes committed by Hitler'.6 On looking up the 1991 version of Hitler's War, however, we find that on page 5 Irving refers to Hitler's inconsistency in, on the one hand, using the argument of military necessity to justify orders to execute hostages, massacre Italian officers who had fought against German troops in 1943, kill Red Army commissars, Allied commandos and captured Allied aircrews, and exterminate the male populations of Stalingrad and Leningrad, and, on the other, opposing the use of poison gas, the assassination of enemy leaders and the ruse of having German tanks fly Soviet flags to confuse the enemy. Hitler's 'crimes' here are carefully selected to fit in with the argument that Hitler viewed mass killing as a military necessity; other, much larger crimes, such as the deliberate murder of more than three million Soviet prisoners of war, or the mass extermination of Europe's Jews, do not get a mention, because there is no sense in which they could be justified or excused as acts of military necessity.
4.1.5 The reference to Hitler's crimes on page 20 simply repeats this list, adding Hitler's 'order for the liquidation of tens of thousands of fellow Germans (the Euthanasia Order)'. This too, if we turn to pages 227-8, is presented by Irving as a matter of military necessity:  
About a quarter of a million hospital beds were required for Germany's disproportionately large insane population: of some seven or eight hundred thousand victims of insanity all told, about 10 percent were permanently institutionalized. They occupied bed space and the attention of skilled medical personnel which Hitler now urgently needed for the treatment of the casualties of his coming campaigns.
4.1.6 In a debate chaired by David Frost on BBC1 television in June, 1977, Irving, asked whether he thought Hitler was evil, replied: 'He was as evil as Churchill, as evil as Roosevelt, as evil as Truman.'7
4.1.7 Irving goes on in the 1977 edition of Hitler's War to explain how 'the National Socialists had instituted a program of racial hygiene' on coming to power in 1933, identifying 20 per cent of the German population as suffering from hereditary biological defects. 'The economic burden represented by these specimens was explained, and particularly repulsive samples were housed at the institutions as walking laboratory exhibits.' According to Irving, Hitler's initial involvement was in sanctioning 'mercy killing' of 'patients in intolerable pain' and 'deformed newborn babies'. This quickly led, he suggests, to 'the programmed elimination of the burdensome tens of thousands of insane' which Hitler saw as a necessary part of the war effort. Nowhere does Irving explain that the killing of such people was not in fact merciful; that Hitler had long intended to rid the country of the eugenically unfit and had deliberately waited until the circumstances of war allowed him, as he thought, to do so; that 'repulsive samples', or in other words handicapped human beings, only appeared so because of the way they were presented in Nazi propaganda films; or that humans and civilized societies do not regard those of their members who are disadvantaged in this way as economic burdens.8
4.1.8Hitler, in Irving's eyes, was a 'dictator by consent', to quote the title of one of the early chapters of the 1991 edition of Hitler's War, a man who ended 'the cancerous symptoms of industrial unrest' and replaced unions with the 'German Labor Front, the DAF...the biggest trade union in the world, and one of the most successful.' The labour force according to Irving was his 'power base'.9 He 'saw the random bickering of the newspapers of the democracies as an inexcusable frittering away of a vital national resource'.10 Irving defended the 'night of the long knives' in June 1934, when Hitler personally ordered the murder of some 90 of his former associates, above all in the leadership of the SA (Sturmabteilung, the paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party).
4.1.9Most historians have seen this as a shocking violation of moral and legal norms, in which Hitler not only brought retrospectively trumped-up charges against the SA leaders of plotting a coup, but also used the opportunity to bump off politicians, such as former Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher and retired Bavarian politician Gustav von Kahr, who he felt knew too much about his past, or whom he simply strongly disliked, and against whom no conceivable political suspicions could be directed in 1934.11 According to Irving, however, 'the SA was planning to overthrow Hitler's government'.12 'In an act of rare magnanimity', he went on, neglecting to mention that in personally marking crosses against the names of scores of people in the night in question, Hitler had not shown much magnanimity at all, 'Hitler ordered state   pensions provided for the next of kin of the people murdered in the Night of the Long Knives, as June 30, 1934 came to be known. Even so he began to suffer nightmares and could not sleep.'13 Rather than a brutal murderer, Hitler, according to Irving, was a 'friend of the arts, benefactor of the impoverished, defender of the innocent, persecutor of the delinquent' (the arbitrariness and injustice with which the supposedly 'delinquent' were persecuted is another subject Irving neglects to discuss).14
4.1.10Irving's position on all these issues is undoubtedy highly favourable to Hitler. Reviewers of his work have frequently commented on this. Gordon A. Craig - a customarily generous reviewer - pointed out that
The Hitler who emerged from his version of the past was a far different one than was to be found in earlier works - less brutal and ruthless, more human, and deserving of sympathy, since he was always being let down by others. This result was achieved, however, not by the presentation of new evidence but rather by means of the technique employed by the author. In his introduction, Irving wrote that his book "view(ed) the situation as far as possible through Hitler's eyes, from behind his desk", and this method...meant that, when judgments were made, they were Hitler's own judgments and that they were uncontested. Thus, Mr. Irving, who did not hesitate to use formulations like "Hitler was cheated of the ultimate winter victory", accepted the Führer's attribution of all military setbacks to the incompetence or disloyalty of the General Staff and the commanding generals, without making any appraisal of Hitler's own deficiencies as a commander.
15 Thus, Craig concluded, Irving's identification with Hitler led to a substantial distortion of the historical record by omitting other, more critical perspectives on the Nazi leader's conduct.
4.1.11 Reviewing Hitler's War in 1977, Hugh Trevor-Roper found a 'consistent bias' in favour of Hitler and against his opponents. This was, he thought, in part the consequence of Irving's decision to describe the war from the point of view of Hitler and his court. but it went further than this. Given the nature of the sources, which reflected the standards and assumptions of the court, it was inevitable that Hitler's view should prevail in Irving's book. By contrast, the case for Hitler's opponents went by default. But:
Sometimes, by adjectival innuendo, Mr. Irving adds his own support to Hitler's verdict; sometimes it is not clear who is pronouncing judgment on these "undesirables", these "querulous generals", this "polyglot mixture of nobility and plebs. Some people always come out badly: Canaris is always a "slimy" or "slippery" defeatist, one of the "worms" who turn and are naturally destroyed. Winston Churchill is never mentioned except to be dismissed: either in Hitler's terms - "drunkard", "cretin", "paralytic", "nincompoop" - or, by Mr. Irving, with more refined distaste. On the other hand, Hitler's popularity and radiating charm is constantly stressed: no man, we are told, possessed "the affection of the German people" as completely as he did, in the summer of 1944, just before the attempt to assassinate him.
'Mr. Irving's sympathies', Trevor-Roper concluded, 'can hardly be doubted'; and in his view they were consistently in favour of Hitler and the Nazis.16
4.1.12 The journalist Robert Harris, in his meticulous account of the 'Hitler diaries' affair, concurred in this judgment. Harris's description of Hitler's War went further than Craig's or Trevor-Roper's in pointing to the identification of the author with his subject:  
Irving's aim was to rewrite the history of the war "as far as possible through Hitler's eyes, from behind his desk". This made for a gripping book, but one which was, by its nature, unbalanced. However "objectively" he might piece together the unpublished recollections of Hitler's subordinates, they were still the words of men and women who admired their ruler. And confined to Hitler's daily routine, the biography had a curiously unreal quality: the death camps, the atrocities, the sufferings of millions of people which were the result of Hitler's war were not to be found in Hitler's War as it was reconstructed by David Irving.
4.1.13 Interviewing Irving about the ''Hitler diaries', Harris noted, perhaps a little mischievously, some even more alarming aspects of the identification of author and subject than were readily apparent from the book:
Irving admitted that in writing Hitler's War he had "identified" with the Führer. Looking down upon him as he worked, from the wall above his desk, was a self-portrait of Hitler..."I don't drink", he would say, 'Adolf didn't drink you know."... He shared Hitler's view of women, believing that they were put on the earth in order to procreate and provide men with something to look at: "They haven't got the physical capacity for producing something creative,"...In 1981, at the age of forty-one, he had founded his own right-wing political group, built around his own belief in his "destiny" as a future British leader. With his black hair slanting across his forehead, and a dark cleft, shadowed like a moustache between the bottom of his nose and the top of his upper lip, there were times, in the right light, when Irving looked alarmingly like the subject of his notorious biography.
4.1.14Harris was perhaps indulging in a little journalistic licence here. But the fundamental point that he was making about Hitler's War was a sound one, and shared by others too. Irving's book, he noted, aimed to humanise Hitler, to make him, as the book's Introduction claimed, 'an ordinary, walking, talking human.'17
4.1.15Reviewing Hitler's War in 1979, Charles W. Sydnor Jr. found that Irving portrayed Hitler not as a monster but as 'a fair-minded statesman of considerable chivalry, who never resorted to   the assassination of foreign opponents (p. xii), who never intended to harm the British Empire and genuinely wanted peace with Britain after June 1940 (pp. xv-xvi), and who attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941 only as a preventive measure.' Irving's Hitler, noted Sydnor, 'was a strategist and tactician of inspired genius, who was nearly always right', and if he became more hostile to the Jews during the war, this was only under the influence of his unsavoury associates such as Goebbels or Himmler. 'Hitler's most brutal policies, therefore, were either a response to perfidious Allied actions, or were conducted in his name, but without his knowledge, by his unscrupulous subordinates. Mr Irving's Hitler, moreover, was a man capable of genuine warmth and maudlin sentimentality.'18
4.1.16 The American historian John Lukács, reviewing Irving's work in the course of a general survey of historical writing on Hitler over the past few decades, commented in 1998 that Hitler's War was a 'partial rehabilitation of Hitler' and 'revealed for the first time (that is, to careful readers) his admiration of Hitler'.19 During his career, Lukács wrote, Irving had progressed from a young sympathizer of Germany and things German to a "rehabilitator" of Hitler and then to his indubitable admirer and partisan.'20 Similarly, the German historian Martin Broszat, writing about the 1977 edition of Hitler's War, noted that there was an obvious contradiction between Irving's self-confessed desire to look at events from behind Hitler's desk, and his claim to take an objective view of events. 'Irving', he continued, 'does not remain silent about individual actions of killing and annihilation which go back to Hitler,   but portrays them in an exculpatory and often erroneous way.' He created an imaginary picture, allegedly painted by historians, of a mad Hitler, which in fact had long ceased to exist for serious researchers, as a kind of straw man against which to pit his arguments. The whole book, Broszat charged, was dominated by a perspective narrowed by partisanship in favour of Hitler.21
4.1.17 It has long been apparent to careful and knowledgeable reviewers, therefore, that Irving is an admirer of Hitler. The terms in which Irving portrays Hitler in his books, writings and speeches, as we have seen, confirm this view. Irving himself has made no secret about how he sees his role. Irving explained his role as Hitler's 'ambassador' to Ron Rosenbaum:
Every time I've written a biography, you find you become close to the character you're writing about because you're his ambassador then. You're his ambassador to the afterlife. Or to the next generation. And if you do your job conscientiously, then you bend over backward to do it ... I don't think it should lead you to adopt an unobjective position.22
4.1.18 Irving was more expansive to an audience of historians and fellow publicists in 1978, when he explained how fate had anointed him Hitler's historian:
Basically Hitler himself determined who should be his biographer. I know that since I found Hitler's ear, nose, and throat doctor in Krefeld in early 1970, the man who treated Hitler after the assassination attempt of 20 July 1944, Dr. Erwin Giesing. I called on him in his practice. He had no time at that moment and I had to wait for half an hour for him. Already in the waiting room he gave me a file to read, about 500 typed pages. Can you imagine how one feels when one reads the diary of the doctor who treated Hitler after the assassination attempt? It begins on 23 July 1944. I ask him, why are you giving this to me, Herr Dr. Giesing? He answers me, read page 387. It's about a conversation between   Hitler and Giesing. The doctor writes that he had to treat Hitler for the pain in his ears. He writes, I asked the Führer if he knew that the Kaiser also once suffered from a similar ear pain. He nodded. I asked him if he had read that very good book about the Kaiser written by an Englishman, 'A Mythical Creature of our Times'. The Führer answered in the affirmative to this too. I said, actually the Kaiser came off very well. After all he was an Englishman. The Englishman managed to utilise the Kaiser's hand-written papers. Hitler said, Herr Doctor Giesing, for two years now I too have also gone over to allowing protocols of my discussions to be taken down. Perhaps an Englishman will also come one day who wants to write an objective biography of me. It has to be an Englishman of the next generation. Because a representative of the present generation cannot write the truth about me and certainly won't want to either. It has to be an Englishman who knows the archives and who has mastered the German language. And that is why you are getting the diaries Mr Irving, the doctor said.23
Irving therefore sees himself in the end not as a neutral, objective historian but as Hitler's representative in the world after his death, as the historian chosen, as it were, by the Führer himself.
4.1.19 In a very real sense, indeed, he evidently conceives of himself as carrying on Hitler's legacy. Speaking to an audience in Calgary, Canada, in 1991, he revealed that he had once been described as a 'self-confessed moderate fascist', and added: 'I strongly object to that word "moderate".'24 In an interview for the television programme This Week, in 1991, Irving said: 'I think Adolf Hitler made a lot of mistakes. He surrounded himself with people of very very poor quality. He was a rotten judge of character. These are the mistakes that you have to avoid replicating.'25 'You' in this context clearly referred to Irving himself.
4.1.20 And whatever mistakes he thought Hitler had made, there is no doubt that basically Irving's attitude towards him was one of admiration. At a press conference in Brisbane in 1986, a journalist asked him: 'Do you admire Hitler?' Irving replied:
Erm, yeah, certain aspects. What a tricky question; you see now, I thought I had you. You're asking a question which, really, however you answer it, you're going to be in deep water, because there are certain aspects of his life that everybody admires. The fact that he had risen from nobody. You see she's writing it down. He'd risen from nobody, and he'd risen from nobody and become the admired and respected leader of two great nations, Germany and Austria. That after a very, very hard (?) and difficult fight in 1933, just five years later he got 49 million Germans to vote for him, which was 99.8 per cent of the electorate....I think that from 1938 onwards he began to go off the rails, in the moral sense. He became too big for his boots, and assumed that he was the law. And that is a very common defect.
4.1.21 This criticism was not a very serious one however. Irving failed to mention that in the 1938 vote there was massive intimidation of the electorate. Democratic societies do not produce 'yes' votes of 99.8 per cent. Moreover, Irving's own writings about Hitler's conduct during   the war do not suggest that he thinks Hitler went 'off the rails'. Finally, however much Irving might seek to relativise his own admiration for Hitler by arguing that others share it, there is in fact no truth in his claim that 'everybody admires' certain aspects of Hitler's life.
4.1.22 In the same interview, another journalist put to him the following question, and got a rather less guarded answer:
Wouldn't it be fair to say that the historical perspective that we're given here in the West is that Churchill was the person to be looked up to and Hitler was the rogue. Are you saying that that situation is really quite the reverse?
Irving: Quite the reverse.26
4.1.23 Hitler, in other words, was according to Irving in 1986, a person to be looked up to, or in other words, a person to be admired. Both explicitly, in his speeches and interviews, and in a more roundabout way, in his books, Irving has consistently portrayed Hitler in positive terms which leave one in no doubt that he ardently admires him.


1. 1977 ed., p. xvi.
2. 'Book a calumny on victims of Hitler', Jewish Chronicle, 17 June 1977.
3. David Irving, 'On Contemporary History', The Journal of Historical Review, Vol. 5 (1984), p. 262.
4. David Irving, 'Nachwort', in Paul Rassinier, Die Jahrhundert-Provokation: Wie Deutschland in den Zweiten Weltkrieg getrieben wurde (Tübingen 1989), pp. 345-50, here pp. 347-8.
5. On the economy, see for example Richard Overy, War and Economy in the 'Third Reich' (Oxford, 1994); on the British Empire, see for example Klaus Hildebrand, Vom Reich zum Weltreich. Hitler, NSDAP und koloniale Frage 1919-1945 (Munich, 1960); on the war in the East, see for example Gerhard Hirschfeld (ed.), The Policies of Genocide (London, 1986).
6. Reply to the Defence of the Second Defendant, p. 13.
7. 'Book a calumny on victims of Hitler', Jewish Chronicle, 17 June 1977.
8. Michael Burleigh, Death and Deliverance (Cambridge, 1994).
9. Irving, HitIer's War, (1991 ed.,pp.35-6).
10. Ibid., p. 37.
11. Norbert Frei, National Socialist Rule in Germany. The Führer State 1933-1945 (London, 193), pp. 3-27; Kershaw, Hitler pp. 512-17. Otto Gritschneider, "Der Führer hat Sie zum Tode verurteilt...' Hitlers 'Röhm-Putsch' vor Gericht (Munich, 1995), describes attempts to bring the surviving perpetrators to justice after 1945.
12. Irving, Hitler's War (1991 ed.), p.4.
13. Irving, Hitler's War (1991 ed.), p. 50.
14. Ibid., p. 109. For the Nazi persecution and eventual mass murder of the 'delinquent', see Wolfgang Ayaß, "Asoziale " im Nationalsozialismus (Stuttgart, 1995).
15. Gordon A. Craig, The Germans (London 1982), p. 72.
16. Hugh Trevor-Roper, 'Hitler: does history offer a defence?', The Sunday Times, 12 June, 1977. The same point was made in other reviews, e.g. by the Oxford historian Robert Blake in The Spectator, 18 June 1977 ('one gains the impression that in the end Mr. Irving regards Roosevelt, Churchill, Eden, Hitler, Goering, Stalin, as all much on a par, all equally capable of committing high crimes in the interests of state, none of them morally so very different from the others').
17. Robert Harris, Selling Hitler: The Story of the Hitler Diaries (London, 1986), pp. 188-9.
18. Charles W. Sydnor,Jr., 'The Selling of Adolf Hitler: David Irving's Hitler's War', Central European History, Vol. XII, No. 2 June, 1979), pp. 169-99, here pp. 171-2.
19. John Lukács, The Hitler of History (NewYork, 1998), p. 26.
20. Ibid., p. 229.
21. Broszat, 'Hitler und die Genesis', pp. 190-94 ('Hitler-parteiische Blickverengung' ....Irving verschweigt nicht einzelne Tötungs- und Vernichtungsaktionen, die auf Hitler zuruuckgingen, stellt sic aber entschuldigend und oft falsch dar.').
22. Rosenbaum, Explaining Hitler, p. 232.
23. 'Adolf Hitler hat im Grunde selbst bestimmt, wer sein Biograph werden sollte. Daß weiß ich, seit ich Anfang 1970 in Krefeld den Hals-, Nasen- und Ohrenarzt gefunden habe, der Hitler nach den Attentat vorn 20. Juli 1944 behandelt hat: Dr. Erwin Giesing. Ich habe ihn in seiner Praxis aufgesucht. Er hatte gerade keine Zeit, und ich mußte eine halbe Stunde auf ihn warten. Er gab mir abcr schon ii-1-1 Wartezimmer einen Akt zu lesen, ungefähr 500 Blatt Schreibmaschine. Das war sein Tagebuch. Können Sie sich vorstellen, wie man sich fühlt, wenn man dasTagebuch des Arztes liest, der Hitler nach dem Attentat behandelt hat? Es beginnt am 23. Juli 1944. Ich frage ihn: Wieso geben Sie mir das, Herr Dr. Giesing? Er antwortet mir: lesen Sie die Seite 387. Da geht's um ein Gespräch zwischen Hitler und Giesing. Der Arzt berichtet, daß er Hitler vegen eines Ohrenleidens zu behandeln hatte. Er schreibt: Ich fragte den Führer, ob er wisse, daß auch der Kaiser schon einmal unter einem derartigen Ohrenleiden gelitten habe. Er nickte. Ich fragte ihn, ob er das von einem Engländer geschriebene, sehr gute Buch über den Kaiser "Ein Fabeltier unserer Zeit" gelesen habe. Der Führer bejahte auch dies. lch sagte: Eigentlich ist der Kaiser sehr gut wegekommen. Immerhin war der Autor Engländer. Diesem Engländer ist es gelungen, die schriftlichen Unterlagen des Kaisers auszuwerten. Hitler sagte: Herr Doktor Giesing, seit zwei Jahren bin auch ich dazu übergangen, von meinen Besprechungen Wortprotokolle aufnehemen zu lassen. Vielleicht kommt eines Tages auch em Engländer, der über mich eine objektive Biographie schreiben will. Das muß ein Engländer der nächste Generation sein. Er kann nicht aus der heutigen Generation stammen. Denn em Vertreter der heutigen Generation kann über mich nicht die Wahrheit schreiben und will es sicherlich auch gar nicht. Es muß ein Engläander sein, der die Archive kennt und auch die deutsche Sprache beherrscht. Und deswegen, sagte der Arzt, bekommen Sic das Tagebuch, Herr Irving.' (Hitler heute, pp. 70-71). More or less the same passage can be found in Hitler's War, pp. 423-4 Guido Knopp (ed) Hilter Heute: Gesprach über ein deutsches Trauma (Aschaffenburg 1979), pp. 70-71.
24. Videotape 189, speech at Calgary, 29 September 1991.
25. Videotape 226, unedited material from This Week< 28 November 1991, at 1 hour 36 mins. 40 secs..
26. Third Suplemental Discovery List, Audiotape 88, Press Conference in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, 20 March 1986, side 2, 224-249, and side 1, 324-330.
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