Karol Wojtyla and the Jewish Girl

Today’s second reading of the Mass is a passage from Apostle Paul’s Letter to Ephesians (Ephesians 2: 13-18):

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he who made both [Jews and Gentiles] one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it. He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

While the English version doesn’t have the explaining addition in brackets, the German version contains it. A story of Pope John Paul II came to my mind:

(Published on 6th. April 2005, by Roger Cohen from dialog.org)

Here is a family story of Pope John Paul II, an intimate tale of his humanity.

During the summer of 1942, two women in Krakow, Poland, were denounced as Jews, taken to the city’s prison, held there for a few months and then sent to the Belzec death camp, where in October they were killed in primitive Nazi gas chambers by carbon monoxide from diesel engines.

Their names were Frimeta Gelband and Salomea Zierer; they were sisters. As it happens, Frimeta was my wife’s grandmother. Salomea – known as Salla – had two daughters, one of whom survived the war and one of whom did not.

The elder of these daughters was Edith Zierer. In January 1945, at age 13, she emerged from a Nazi labor camp in Czestochowa, Poland, a waif on the verge of death. Separated from her family, unaware that her mother had been killed by the Germans, she could scarcely walk.

Karol Wojtyla among friends in Cracow. Photo: Wikipedia.

But walk she did, to a train station, where she climbed onto a coal wagon. The train moved slowly, the wind cut through her. When the cold became too much to bear, she got down at a village called Jedrzejow. In a corner of the station, she sat. Nobody looked at her, a girl in the striped and numbered uniform of a prisoner, late in a terrible war. Unable to move, Edith waited.

Death was approaching, but a young man approached first, “very good looking,” as she recalled, and vigorous. He wore a long robe and appeared to be a priest. “Why are you here?” he asked. “What are you doing?” Edith said she was trying to get to Krakow to find her parents.

The man disappeared. He came back with a cup of tea. Edith drank. He said he could help her get to Krakow. Again the mysterious benefactor went away, returning with bread and cheese. They talked about the advancing Soviet Army. Edith said she believed that her parents and younger sister, Judith, were alive.

“Try to stand,” the man said. Edith tried and failed. He carried her to another village, where he put her in the cattle car of a train bound for Krakow. Another family was there. The man got in beside Edith, covered her with his cloak and made a small fire.

His name, he told Edith, was Karol Wojtyla. Although she took him for a priest, he was still a seminarian who would not be ordained until the next year. Thirty-three more years would pass before he became Pope John Paul II and embarked on a papacy that would help break the Communist hold on Central Europe and so transform the world.

What moved this young seminarian to save the life of a lost Jewish girl cannot be known. But it is clear that his was an act of humanity made as the two great mass movements of the 20th century, the twin totalitarianisms of Fascism and Communism, bore down on his nation, Poland.

Here were two people in a ravaged land, a 24-year-old Catholic and a 13-year-old Jew. The future pope had already lost his mother, father and brother. Edith, although she did not know it yet, had already lost her mother at Belzec, her father at Maidanek and her little sister at Auschwitz. They could not have been more alone.

Pope John Paul II is widely viewed as having been a man of unshakable convictions that some found old-fashioned or rigid. But perhaps he offered his truth with the same simplicity and directness he showed in proffering tea and bread and shelter from cold to an abandoned Jewish girl in 1945, when nobody was watching.

It was based in the belief that, as he once put it, “a degradation, indeed a pulverization, of the fundamental uniqueness of each human being” was at the root of the mass movements of the 20th century, Communism and Fascism.

Stalin once contemptuously asked, “How many divisions has the pope?” Starting with his 1979 visit to Poland, John Paul gave an answer.

Perhaps the strength that enabled him to play a central role in ending Communism and the strength that led him to save Edith Zierer did not differ fundamentally. Like his healing ecumenism, those acts required the courage born of a core certitude.

Edith fled from Karol Wojtyla when they arrived at Krakow in 1945. The family on the train, also Jews, had warned her that he might take her off to “the cloisters.” She recalls him calling out, “Edyta, Edyta!” – the Polish form of her name – as she hid behind large containers of milk.

But hiding was not forgetting. She wrote his name in a diary, her savior, and in 1978, when she read in a copy of Paris-Match that he had become pope, she broke into tears. By then Edith Zierer was in Haifa, Israel, where she now lives.

Letters to him went unanswered. But at last, in 1997, she received a letter from the Vatican in which the pope recalled their meeting. A year later they met again at the Vatican. Edith thanked the pope for saving her. He put one hand on her head, another hand in hers, and blessed her. As she parted, he said, “Come back, my child.”

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24 Responses to Karol Wojtyla and the Jewish Girl

  1. JessicaHof says:

    What a moving story – and perhaps we can guess what moved him to do what he did – the Grace of the God he served so well.

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  2. Toadspittle says:

    .

    “…his was an act of humanity made as the two great mass movements of the 20th century, the twin totalitarianisms of Fascism and Communism, bore down on his nation, Poland.”

    Indeed it was – lovely story Teresa, thanks – and we ought not to forget that the then current Pope had nothing but kind words, and numerous public blessings, for both Mussolini and Franco, twin Fascist butchers, and not a very great deal of outright criticism of the Nazis for fear, it would appear, of “upsetting” Hitler.

    Perhaps a Pole saw things rather differently to an Italian.
    Well, that wouldn’t be altogether surprising, would it?

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  3. JabbaPapa says:

    “Upsetting” either Mussolini or Franco was liable to lead to hundreds or thousands of people being either carted off to the death camps, or just indiscriminately butchered in the streets.

    Hitler had a SS Death Squad permanently posted just a few streets away from St Peter’s Square, in case the Pope ever did anything “upsetting”.

    What would Toad have done, I wonder, if he had been a public figure, with the barrels of a thousand guns ready to be pointed at him and at all of his friends, colleagues, and allies, by such ruthless blood-thirsty dictators and deathmongers as Hitler and Mussolini ?

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  4. Toadspittle says:

    .
    Toad, who is a Devout Coward, would doubtless have kept silent, and headed for the United States by the next atlantic liner.
    But then, he’s a Toad.

    Unlike the Dutch bishops on here (I think) who bravely spelled out what the Nazis were up to.
    Felt it was their duty, no doubt, regardless of the consequences.

    Is Toad wrong to expect higher standards from such people? Maybe.

    And what were the consequences of Pius Xll publicly congratulating Franco’s domestic victory, and blessing the Italians as they went off to slaughter Ethopians?
    Well, he wasn’t shot.

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  5. kathleen says:

    Yes, Toad is a toad. 😉

    Pope Pius XII’s blessing of Mussolini was long before M showed his more bellicose side, and when he really was doing a lot of good for Italy, as far as I understand.

    No one is calling Franco sinless, but publicly congratulating him, for saving Spain from the evils of the murderous Communists and Anarchists he fought against in the civil war, was not out of place. How was the Pope to know about the unwarrantable revenge Franco’s regime was then to show the vanquished forces afterwards? I’m pretty sure he would not have condoned that.

    Unlike the Dutch bishops on here (I think) who bravely spelled out what the Nazis were up to.

    Yes, in obedience to the pastoral letter the same Pope Pius XVII himself sent to bishops asking them to denounce the Nazi barbarities. As a direct result of this Hitler’s fury was unleashed, and the Nazis then rounded up all the Dutch Jews and sent them off to the death camps. It was a clear warning that openly condemning Hitler was futile, and could only bring vengeance and further suffering to the people.

    But Toad, who clearly demonstrates his anti-Catholic agenda, is incapable of being objective and fair in his accusations.
    If I give you a Catholic reference source for this holy Pope so you can do a bit more research, you will say I am biased, so how about a Jewish source?
    http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/pius.html

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  6. I would like to know why it was unusual and heroic to give help to an ill, emaciated 13 year-old girl all on her own in the middle of nowhere, at the end of the war? It is not surprising that a Catholic seminarian would do such a thing, surely- unless the fear Edith felt (and showed, by running away- shared by the Jewish people on the train) indicated the fear Jews felt towards Catholic Poland- was it somehow confused with Nazi policy? Why was the writer surprised that Wojtyla should do something kind ‘when nobody was watching’. The core certitude (which gave Wojtyla the courage to be oecumenical)- was it the valuing of each person as unique and irreducible? Is this not simple Catholic belief, thrown into an extreme context?
    What is unusual is that Wojtyla turned up in that out-of-the-way place, just at the right time, and saved her life, like an angel.

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  7. kathleen says:

    Good perceptive points pillarsdelaterre!

    Karol Wojtyla (as he was called then) was doing no more than imitating the Good Samaritan of the Parable….. as should all Christians!

    Re the question whether, “the fear Edith felt […] indicated the fear Jews felt towards Catholic Poland (being) somehow confused with Nazi policy“… obviously that would have been a mistake if it were so. Could it just have been the common mistrust many Jews felt for Gentiles?
    Catholic Poles also suffered huge loss of lives, tortures and starvation at the hands of the Nazis. Catholic priests were considered anathema, (e.g. St. Maximum Kolbe). Hitler loathed Christianity, especially the Catholic Church, that he called “despicable” and other such loathsome names, seeing it as an obstacle to his evil ambitions.
    Yet sad to say, Nazis were mostly of German nationality, and Germany was a Christian nation too! (Although we now know that most of the Nazi leaders had long lost any vestiges of Christian principles, this was perhaps not known at the time.) It is not perhaps too farfetched therefore to assume many Jews did mistakenly associate Nazism with Christianity!!

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  8. Toadspittle says:

    .

    “Yes, in obedience to the pastoral letter the same Pope Pius XVII himself sent to bishops asking them to denounce the Nazi barbarities.”

    And yet, Pius Xll never denounced these barbarities (publicly at least himself?)
    Curious behaviour if that is indeed the case.
    Is this true, Kathleen? Toad is treading cautiously here, because he simply doesn’t know.
    Did the Pope not say anythng comdemning the Nazis during, or even after, the war?

    “As a direct result of this Hitler’s fury was unleashed, and the Nazis then rounded up all the Dutch Jews and sent them off to the death camps.
    But Kathleen, Hitler had intended to do that from way back anyway! What do you think the death camps were there for?
    What would have been their purpose, otherwise?
    And are you suggesting that Pius made a mistake in ordering the bishops to do what they did? Mustn’t “upset” Hitler? You appear to be. Nobody told Churchill that.

    “How was the Pope to know about the unwarrantable revenge Franco’s regime was then to show the vanquished forces afterwards? I’m pretty sure he would not have condoned that.”

    The Pope would have known because people would have told him. Do you think that what was happening in Spain was of no interest to a Catholic pope?
    And there were plenty of Catholic Republicans, believe it or not, fighting for the democratically elected government. Including 30 Basque priests, who were shot.

    (None of this is “anti-Catholic agenda”, by the way. Just questions.)

    Like

  9. kathleen says:

    Toad,
    Forgive my delay in responding to your “questions”. (Why do I get the impression that you know the answers really? 😉 )

    On “The Plot to Kidnap…..” thread Jabba has already given you an answer to your question on how Pope Pius XII did condemn Hitler’s actions, and the dire consequences thereafter. As a wise and sensitive man, Pius obviously considered it far better and more effective to then work against the Nazi atrocities silently behind the scenes. Many Jewish lives (and probably Catholic ones as well) were saved thanks to this policy. The enmity between Pius and Hitler was evident nonetheless.

    From the link I gave you above:
    Documentary evidence and the testimony of his contemporaries prove that Pius XII was a committed defender and protector of the victims of war and hatred which drenched Europe in blood. Pius XII ordered the Congregation of the Holy Office to issue a formal and explicit condemnation of the mass murder going on in Germany in the name of improving the race. The decree was published on December 6, 1940, in L’Osservatore Romano. At the end of World War II, western nations paid tribute to Pius XII’s efforts on behalf of the oppressed. When he died in 1958, the Jewish communities of Europe praised him for his help and expressed sorrow and gratitude for his solicitude during the Holocaust. In the 1960s, there began a campaign of vilification against Pius XII. Today, his detractors continue to claim that he lacked courage, human compassion and a sense of moral rectitude. Hostile attacks by the media replace the historical record that showed him as a great leader.”

    ————

    Re: Franco….. you’ve got your timing muddled up! When Franco was congratulated at defeating the Communist forces at the end of the Spanish Civil War, this was before he started on his campaign of vengeance against the vanquished parties. That’s what I meant when I said that he (the Pope) would not have condoned it.

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  10. Toadspittle says:

    .
    If you read up your Civil War history more carefully, Kathleen, you will find that Franco’s organised slaughter of Republicans, Catholic or not, began the very day after the uprising, which was July 17th, 1936. Many massacres followed during the war of “socialists” after cities fell, including, notably, Badajoz and Malaga. And in cities where the Fascist uprising was immediately successful, like Leon and Burgos, virtually all the “socialists” (i.e. anti-Fascists) were routinely rounded up and butchered as “Reds” and many of the wives and daughters raped and killed.
    It’s all written down.

    As to Pius’s much vaunted condemnation of the Nazis, (Viz, Mr. Wooster) when did the Pope issue it, and what did it say?
    Let’s read it.

    That’s all Toad asks. He’s not suggesting it doesn’t exist.
    Then we can decide for ourselves, can’t we?
    And Toad can shut up.

    (Incidentally, he read today that Franco’s troops killed at least 6,000 Catholic priests for opposing him. Doesn’t know if this is an accurate figure, or not. Is working on it.)

    Like

  11. JabbaPapa says:

    OK the text of the December 2nd 1940 declaration of Pope Pius XII, printed in l’Osservatore Romano of 6th December same year, appears to be completely unavailable online — which is BTW quite scandalous.

    The only pertinent quote of that text that I have been able to discover — “such killings are contrary to both natural and divine law” — leads to exactly ONE search result when looked for in Google !!!!!

    So it seems your question is more pertinent than I initially suspected.

    Otherwise :

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_14031937_mit-brennender-sorge_en.html

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xii/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_20101939_summi-pontificatus_en.html

    “Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing truth. …The Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom.”
    -Albert Einstein in Time magazine, December 23, 1940

    “The voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas… he is about the only ruler left on the Continent of Europe who dares to raise his voice at all… the Pope put himself squarely against Hitlerism… he left no doubt that the Nazi aims are also irreconcilable with his own conception of a Christian peace.”
    -The New York Times Editorial, December 25, 1941

    “This Christmas more than ever he is a lonely voice crying out of the silence of a continent… Pope Pius expresses as passionately as any leader on our side the war aims of the struggle for freedom when he says that those who aim at building a new world must fight for free choice of government and religious order. They must refuse that the state should make of individuals a herd of whom the state disposes as if they were lifeless things.”
    -The New York Times Editorial, December 25, 1942

    Like

  12. JabbaPapa says:

    The only pertinent quote of that text that I have been able to discover — “such killings are contrary to both natural and divine law” — leads to exactly ONE search result when looked for in Google !!!!!

    oh sorry — this one :

    http://madness-visible.blogspot.fr/2011/08/william-shirers-berlin-diary-and-mercy.html

    Like

  13. I’d also add to this (alas without the relevant reference) the fact that at the end of the war, the chief Rabbi of Rome publically converted to Catholicism in gratitude for the work of Pope Pius XII, and a plaque to PPXII was put up at the Holocaust memorial in Israel- though later taken down (fairly recently, I believe).
    This was conveyed to a friend of mine by the priest who received him into the Church.

    Like

  14. JabbaPapa says:

    I’d also add to this (alas without the relevant reference) the fact that at the end of the war, the chief Rabbi of Rome publically converted to Catholicism in gratitude for the work of Pope Pius XII, and a plaque to PPXII was put up at the Holocaust memorial in Israel- though later taken down (fairly recently, I believe).
    This was conveyed to a friend of mine by the priest who received him into the Church.

    CRIPES !!!!

    No *wonder* the Roman Jews are so virulently anti-Catholic !!!

    Like

  15. kathleen says:

    Toad, who knows far more about the Spanish Civil War than Kathleen, has been demanding proof to support his anti-whatever agenda, well how about you show the evidence for those gross (and clearly false) statistics you quote above Toad?

    That nearly 7.000 priests were brutally murdered in the Spanish Civil War is certainly true, BUT NOT BY FRANCO, nor any of the Nationalist forces (except for a few Basque priests who fought on the Republican side). It was the mixed bag of the Republican armies – specifically the Communists – who were the culprits for the mass killings. In fact the Communist atrocities against priests, nuns, faithful lay Catholics and churches during the Spanish Civil War is a horrific tale of brutality and savagery.

    Pope Pius XI (Pope Pius XII’s predecessor) condemned the atrocities and consoled many Catholic refugees – priests and laymen – who had fled Spain and congregated in Castelgondolfo in the hope of hearing a blessing on their “Crusade” against the Red terror; they were disappointed. The Pope was sympathetic for their suffering but did not encourage any armed resistance. (This annoyed Franco!)
    Yet quite honestly, who can blame the Nationalists for taking up arms in legitimate self defense against such provocation? Toad calls their armed resistance a “massacre”; so what do you call what the Reds did?

    From Wikipedia:
    Pius XI’s ‘third way’ policy of neither communism nor fascism was illustrated by the publication in early 1937 of one encyclical against Communism and another against Nazism. The Divini Redemptoris devoted a paragraph to the horrors of communism in Spain, and dwelt on the assassination of priests and religious.

    I’m now even beginning to doubt your assertion that Franco was “congratulated” by Pope Pius XII after the war at all. I’d thought you might be right there, because I’d also heard this said before, but after searching high and low and finding nothing, I’m wondering if it is not just another myth. Perhaps you can enlighten us?

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  16. kathleen says:

    It is undeniable that both sides were guilty of committing ‘war crimes’ as the terrible Civil War progressed, but to put the entire blame on Franco and the Nationalists, ignoring the murderous savagery of the Communists (who were the worst of the Republican factions) is hypocritical and untruthful.

    (P.S. Just realised that these last two comments would be more appropriate on the new post: “The Church, Mussolini….. etc.!)

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  17. Toadspittle says:

    .
    Toad did not put the entire blame on Franco, Kathleen.
    And to suggest that he did would be hypocritical and untruthful.

    Toad is not fond of either Communists and Fascists; all extremists in fact – including Christian and Islamist ones. And particularly Catholic ones.

    The Russsian Communist involvement in Spain brought about the downfall of a democratic government.

    In all, he dislikes totalitarianism – where anything that is not forbidden is compulsory.
    Others may not feel the same way..

    Like

  18. Toadspittle says:

    .
    “I’m now even beginning to doubt your assertion that Franco was “congratulated” by Pope Pius XII after the war at all. I’d thought you might be right there, because I’d also heard this said before, but after searching high and low and finding nothing, I’m wondering if it is not just another myth. Perhaps you can enlighten us?”

    Here it is, Kathleen. Took a few moments to find. Just put in, “Pius Xll congrsatulates Franco.”

    “Pius XI died on February 10, 1939, just before the final victory of General Franco, now the supreme leader and dictator, in the Spanish Civil War. Cardinal Pacelli became pope as Pius XII. He congratulated Franco: “With great joy we address you, dearest sons of Catholic Spain, to express our paternal congratulations for the gift of peace and victory, with which God has chosen to crown the Christian heroism of your faith and charity … As a pledge of the bountiful grace which you will receive from the Immaculate Virgin and the Apostle james, patrons of Spain … we give to you, our dear sons of Catholic Spain, to the Head of State and his illustrious Government, to the zealous Episcopate and
    its self-denying clergy, to the heroic combatants and to all the faithful, our apostolic benediction.”

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  19. Toadspittle says:

    .

    http://www.iiipublishing.com/religion/catholic/popes/pius_xi_franco.html

    This is a bit simplistic, but accurate, I think. The last paragraph certainly.

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  20. kathleen says:

    That link Toad is extremely dubious, and full of inaccuracies and lies. Even you, as a one time journalist, must admit that it is obvious where the writer’s sympathies lie; it is in no way objective. For starters Pope Pius XI never called for a “holy Crusade“…….. quite the opposite in fact! As mentioned above, this is the very reason Franco and the Nationalists were disappointed !!

    But OK, let me give you the benefit of the doubt and say that the quote from Pope Pius XII congratulating Franco is correct. Is there anything wrong with it? Thousands had been ’rounded up and butchered‘ (your words) for simply being Catholics! The threat of atheistic Communism and further atrocities was a very real possibility. Franco and the Nationalist parties entered the war to combat them, and so saved Spain from only God knows what further horrors.

    Still not a peep from you I see about your amazingly false ‘reading’ that ‘6.000 priests were killed by Franco’s troops‘. You got it back to front Toad.

    Were the Nationalist parties all correct in their measures?
    No, far from it. That is the sad reality; that human nature can turn a just cause (of legitimate self defense) into committers of some of the same crimes as the original perpetrators!
    There is no excuse for the vengeance wrought on the vanquished forces by Franco after the Civil War, especially the unnecessary suffering dealt out to many innocent Republicans.
    Franco’s dictatorship after the war was restrictive and restraining…… but mild in comparison to some of the earlier Fascist and Communist ones. And it grew in tolerance as the years went by and Spain climbed out of its depression. This is probably how the change over to democracy on Franco’s death came about so smoothly.

    Toad, I agree that totalitarian regimes – Communism, Fascism, Religious Fundamentalism, et al. – are evil and inhuman; they do not allow people to exercise their human rights of freedom of expression in religion, politics, etc.
    But why can you only rejoice an any information – irrelative of its source – that attacks the Catholic Church?

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  21. toadspittle says:

    .
    “But why can you only rejoice in any information – irrelative of its source – that attacks the Catholic Church?”
    Not true at all, Kathleen. Toad is, despite what you surmise, very fond of the Catholic Church. He is sure it has, by far and away, better sexual scandals than any other church, for a start!

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  22. JabbaPapa says:

    “But why can you only rejoice in any information – irrelative of its source – that attacks the Catholic Church?”
    Not true at all, Kathleen. Toad is, despite what you surmise, very fond of the Catholic Church. He is sure it has, by far and away, better sexual scandals than any other church, for a start!

    Quite blatantly, you write on the basis that attacks against the Church are presumed to be true, and that defences in favour of the Church are presumed false.

    Even this tepid protestation of your “innocence” includes a pitifully gratuitous and completely off-topic slander, that adds precisely NOTHING to the conversation.

    Like

  23. toadspittle says:

    .
    My, we are testy today.
    Lighten up a bit, Jabba! It’s Santiago day and the sun is shining!

    Like

  24. toadspittle says:

    .
    http://www.wsws.org/articles/2007/aug2007/cath-a06.shtml

    Here’s where I got the number from, Kathleen. I have no idea of the truth of it, and can see no immediate way of finding out.
    So it’s best to suspend judgement, I think. As I said in the first place.

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