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Enemy At The Door:
a view from the inside
the New Order
"This Island has been declared an Open Island by His Majesty's Government of the United Kingdom. There are no armed forces of any description. The bearer has been instructed to hand this communication to you. He does not understand the German language." [letter from the Bailiff to the first Germans to land on Guernsey by Junkers transport aircraft, June 30, 1940]
§§ A sunny day sometime in 1944. A powerful Mercedes Cabriolet -- top down -- is surging along a country road on Guernsey driven by a German soldier in uniform. In the back are two civilians, a handsome blond Swedish journalist in a immaculately tailored silver-gray suit; beside him, a beautiful brunette who could be a German UFA film star but who is in fact a monitor from the Nazi Propaganda Ministry in Berlin, a hand-picked escort by Dr. Joseph Goebbels himself.
As the car slows for a corner, the woman -- Fraulein Trudi Engle -- becomes excited when she spots a roadside sign outside a cottage garden, exclaims, "Oh look... 'Afternoon Tea'... we're in a little part of England!"
As we all know, England was never invaded by Hitler, although his troops did seize the Channel Islands on June 30, 1940. It's this military occupation that provides the setting for the little known (North America) but superb UK (Granada/London Weekend) TV drama series Enemy At The Door (1978-80). While the Channel Isles were the only part of the British Empire to fall under Nazi rule, the drama does give some idea of what the situation might have been like in England had the Germans successfully invaded. In this way Enemy At The Door stands as "alternate history" view, a metafaction in the tradition of Philip K. Dick's Man In The High Castle (1963) or the more recent Nazification novel Fatherland (1992) by Robert Harris.
While this "objectivity" humanizes the Germans -- and consequently glamorizes them -- the result is an interesting (and often vexing) Anglicanization of the Hun. Do they not all speak immaculate English? That the Wehrmacht officers sound like graduates of the Royal Shakespearean Theatre Company now and then contradicts the stereotypical Nazi who emotes like a wanked out robot and thinks like a parallelogram. The political correctness of National Socialist slogans are so dear to those of us who learned all about them through our comics, movies and mutilated historians, that we think, these aren't Nazis... and indeed, most of them aren't. Enemy At The Door draws a clear distinction between the soldiers and officers of Wehrmacht and those who belong to the attached SS unit.
Yet while the series is fiction, many of the incidents and characters are based on fact. Were there commando raids? Yes. Did local women fraternize with the Germans? Yes. Were there concentration camps? Yes. Was there resistance? Yes. Were there executions & deportations? Yes. Was there a curfew under military law? Yes. Property confiscation? Books banned, free speech curtailed? Naturally.
And then, the more difficult questions: were the Islanders cynically abandoned by Churchill? The more recent -- and some would say revisionist -- series Island At War (2004) which tells the same story as Enemy, but reloaded to the Islanders' point-of-view, says yes. Were the German occupiers a pack of insensitive homicidal brutes? Island At War follows the more conventional line (with some cause) but while the production values of the earlier series Enemy At The Door are low tech, the beauty of its political and moral illumination is that it alternates the POV between the Islanders and the Germans.
The Channel Islands: an archipelago of islands off the Northwest coast of France (Cotentin Peninsula) that have been British Dependencies since the Norman Conquest in 1066, although full Anglicanization was slow as many French found refuge there following the Revolution of 1789. Even the famous French author Victor Hugo was exiled on Guernsey in 1855, lived there for 15 years. The area is therefore quite bilingual and many of the established family names are Norman French. It was used early in WW II as a staging base to bomb Italy but was abandoned by Churchill in June 1940 with the fall of France, left as a demilitarized zone. About a third of population -- mostly from Jersey and Guernsey, the largest islands -- was evacuated to the UK, among them thousands of school children. It was just as well they left as any islanders who were British born were shipped to KZ camps in France and Germany by the new occupation regime.
Essentially the idea was to make the islands part of the Atlantic Wall defence. Islanders with knowledge of what the Germans did to Belgium in 1914 would have every reason to be alarmed. Seemingly abandoned by Westminster to fend for themselves, what, really, should they do? Resist or collaborate? And if they collaborated today, would it be Nazification tomorrow? This is certainly what happened in France under the 'New Order'. "Passive compliance" is what Westminster advised. While it stuck in the craw of many Islanders, this is the course their liaison Committee decided to follow.
§ Dr. Philip Martel (Bernard Horsfall) is invited by the Bailiff to join a negotiating Committee in anticipation of the occupation, leading his daughter Clare (Emily Richard) to accuse him of collusion. After the Germans arrive Dr. Martel and the Committee face the invaders under Major Richter (Alfred Burke), who refuses to recognize the island as a demilitarized zone and puts it under martial rule. Thus, Martel and Richter are immediately at loggerheads... yet while raised voices and shouting are a frequent part of their encounters over the next three or four years, these two principals develop a pragmatic working relationship which for the most part seems to work. Just like the black market the Germans are forever trying to shut down, both parties function within a necessary quid pro quo -- you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours... or, you slap me, I'll slap you... somehow.
The approach here is to set one "family" ensemble off against the other: the Islanders, represented by Dr. Martel, his wife, son and daughter (and fiance) versus the German administration command under Major (later Colonel) Richter. Richter -- who was a Cambridge professor for 9 years, knows the British well -- is a cultured Wehrmacht Officer, is sensitive to the situation, and is determined to set up a functional administration that will see the Islands' eventual integration into the Third Reich. It's not that he would rather be somewhere else but war is war and, as he says later, "human evolution is an obstacle race". A moralist, but in the crunch, a realist.
Things don't start well. The Martel's prospective son-in-law, an affluent local land owner called Peter Porteous (Richard Heffer), tries to escape the island for England at night in an open boat; his accomplice, a local fisherman, is shot and killed by a shore patrol, and while Porteous survives the machine gun fire and swims ashore, he is forced into hiding. In the second episode, the local librarian Miss Brown gets two years from a military court for refusing to apologize for injuring an SS officer during a dispute over "decadent" books proscribed by Berlin, and is shipped to a KZ camp in France. And in the third episode a young Viennese soldier is sentenced to death, tied to a tree in a garden, then shot for raping a young local girl, the daughter of a lawyer, John Weston (Ray Smith), a WW I vet who despises "the Bosch". The story is interesting as there is some ambiguity about the rape, the daughter's psychology, her uneasy relationship with her father (single parent), and his bitterness over the appropriation of his Rolls Royce by SS Haupsturmführer Reinicke (Simon Cadell). Beautiful girl, beautiful car, bad Germans. Yet Kommandant Richter doesn't hesitate in approving the death sentence, ambiguity be damned, and we're left wondering if the young soldier was a sacrifice for the New Order, a signal to the Islanders that German justice plays no favorites.
The fourth story is not only peculiar but pivotal. Steel Hand From The Sea (writ Kenneth Clark) explicates the tragedy and the cost of war for both sides in a brutal yet mystical way. Martel's son Clive returns secretly to the island to spy on German fortifications but is betrayed by his old business partner at the motor cycle shop, Teddy Lupus, a Judas in league with a German soldier involved in the black market. Instead of being shot, Clive is sent to a P.O.W. camp in Germany out of sympathy for Dr. Martel by Major Richter and his deputy. But this is really just a back-story to that of Clare Martel and Leutnant Willie Kessler (Martin Jacobs), a disfigured Luftwaffe Stuka pilot fresh from combat in Poland.
Spring day... Clare arrives at the local chapel to place some flowers at the wall plaque/shrine commemorating her fiance's father, Captain Ralph Porteous of the 56 Squadron, Royal Flying Corp, lost in action, 1918. When she realizes she's being watched by a German sitting in a nearby pew, she angrily challenges his right to be there. He turns to face her, reveals his disfigurement, a crash burn that has left his right eye closed and his cheek hideously scarred. He says, "I am Catholic too... don't I have the right to be here?" Alert viewers might notice that, despite the Luftwaffe uniform and burns that mask his face, Kessler bears a close resemblance to her fiance, Peter Porteous, and could be a prefiguration of what might happen to him should he succeed in escaping from the island to join the RAF, say. Although she's shaken by the encounter, her anti-German resolve hardens, especially when she learns that her brother Clive is hiding on the island.
We know Kessler is contemptuous of the Nazi dream and the process of war from his cynical recapitulation of the Polish campaign at the officers' nightly schnapps gatherings. It was fun at first, but later it was not. It's obvious to all that Kessler is passing into treason or suicide. Richter and his deputies recommend he visit a certain promontory, scout it as a possible emplacement... or perhaps it's a suggestion that it would be a good place to throw himself into the sea. There's an ambiguity to the order, as if it's code for an officer's right to "fall on his sword" if need be.
It so happens Clive Martel is hiding on the beach and when Clare shows up they spot Kessler standing on the cliff smiling down at them. As Clare believes Kessler overheard a conversation about Clive, she assumes his appearance is connected, panics, urges her brother to "Kill him! Kill him!" Clive hesitates; Clare picks up stone and hurls it at Kessler as he turns away, causing him to stumble and fall onto the rocks below. The tide rushes in, and Kessler's body is drawn into the surf, then floats in a trough, bloody and inert. The incident is quick and hallucinatory, as if part of a private nightmare Clare has carried since the incident in the Chapel.
So starts the beginning of Clare's disintegration. Anyone familiar with Hamlet will detect undertones of Ophelia in her character, and certainly anticipate her fate. She carries the guilt of Kessler's murder through the next few episodes by becoming more withdrawn and depressed. However, she and her boyfriend Peter, frustrated by the pace of the war and not being able to escape the island, get involved in domestic espionage, mapping gun emplacements and photographing military equipment. When Peter successfully photographs a new class of German torpedo boat in the harbour, they conspire to get the photos and diagrams to the French resistance. In order to do this, Clare -- forever smug and blindly impetuous -- asks her father to pass an envelope to a certain Francois Duval, a resistance courier who works on the ferry, and is a relative of the young Martel housekeeper. Dr. Martel has been given papers to travel to Paris to pick up some essential medical supplies for the island hospital and is unaware of Clare's agenda.
During a routine boarding search, the espionage materials are discovered. Martel is arrested, along with Clare and Peter Porteous. When Martel begs to take the rap alone, that Clare and Peter are naive, Richter barks, "War is for professionals, not enthusiasts!"
But it's clear to Major Richter that Dr. Martel has been used, was a dupe, and in order to avoid a tribunal under the new Kommandant Major General Mueller (where all would've been found guilty and shot) due to arrive on the island at any moment, Richter sentences the Doctor to six months and Peter to twelve in the infamous Paris prison Cherche-Midi; as for Clare, he dismisses the charges, knowing that she is the cause of her father's misfortune, and perhaps connected to the death of Leutnant Kessler. When the SS Hauptsturmführer Klaus Reinicke expresses surprise at the leniency, Richter replies sagely, "I suppose you could call it the Judgement of Solomon."
Indeed. It's not long before Clare wades into the sea, tries to drown herself in a final Ophelian act. However she washes up on the beach and in a fitting irony is resuscitated by a German soldier, then taken to a German hospital. When she recovers, she enters the true prison of the spiritually damaged, a nearby nunnery. Not really a sympathetic character, the symbolism of her role spares us from gloating too much. Quick to judge and chastise her father, her fate was forged by her immaturity, sexual neurosis, impatience and inability to see the bigger picture. As Major Richter said, "War is for professionals, not enthusiasts."
When her father returns from prison, she refuses to see him.
In all, a clever and impressive story, and not just because it conjures Shakespeare and Freud, but because of the mysterious transformational nature of 'being' in the time of war. Some people adapt, some revolt, some die in the crossfire.
Women certainly don't do well in this series... except perhaps when Louise Gardner is a last minute replacement for her ailing husband Arthur in the Islands' chess championship final and defeats General Mueller, denying the German "New Order" its Master Race victory. Clare Martel defies her father, goes mad; Marie Weston (Sheridan Fitzgerald) defies her father, ends up raped and humiliated; Ms. Brown the librarian gets two years in a French KZ camp for 'injuring' an SS officer and refusing to apologize; her successor is also threatened with internment; Chantal Loutrec (Meg Davis) the jilted lover of Hauptsturmführer Reinicke, is reduced to working in an Island brothel, gets murdered by a German soldier; Betty Ridge (Norma Streader), works as a cleaner for the Germans, gets pregnant by one and ostracized for being a 'jerrybag'; Lily, the black Nigerian housekeeper is run down and killed by three SS thugs in their Kubelwagen... etcetera, etcetera. In the end, even Richter's wife back in Berlin is imprisoned by the Gestapo for slagging Hitler.
But do the men do any better? Does anyone? Maybe Foster-Symthe, Martel's replacement Committee liaison, who, after his black marketeering is exposed, his property confiscated and his housekeeper/lover murdered by the Germans, burns his house to the ground before escaping by boat to England. Interesting character... one of those colonial rascals who take life as it comes, crafty and pragmatic behind a facade of officious bluster. As he torches his house with black market petrol, he cackles, "I'm departing in a blaze of glory!"
§ The brilliant James Doran episode The Prussian Officer recalls a personality type from the past, a Junker class aristocrat who once formed the officer elite of the German Army, and which provided the Nazis with a cultural root to model their arrogance on... even though the Nazis were socialists. Hauptmann von Bulow arrives on Guernsey with the 396 platoon for a bit of training before being deployed to the new Russian front. He's such a larger than life character, his manner so dramatic, we think he has to be satire, that we're watching an episode of Fawlty Towers. Introduction? He snaps to attention like a shotgun. Need a drink? He snaps fingers like a pistol shot, barks "Schnapps!" and the waiter reverses direction like a salmon being yanked from a river.
He's not pleased to learn that Reinicke has the same rank as himself, albeit in the shabby new SS, a unit without tradition or class. He knows Reinicke from Paris and is surprised to run into Reinicke's old girlfriend Chantal on the street. He investigates, discovers that Chantal is working as a prostitute for the benefit of the German military. It seems Chantal has fallen on hard times. Her father -- a wealthy Parisian doctor -- was arrested by the SS on the charge of running a communist cell, quite possibly on information provided by Reinicke, for whom love always ranks second to career advantage. Von Bulow is inspired by this misfortune, recognizes a means of humiliating that upstart Reinicke. He orders his batman (Ordonnanz) Klinski -- a chump peasant from his family estate -- to go to the brothel that evening and have sex with Chantal. Chantal laughs at Klinski, refuses his custom; Klinski gets drunk, gets angry, gets even -- he murders her with a bayonet in an alley as she walks to her lodging. It takes a while but Richter's in-house policeman, Oberleutnant Kluge (John Malcolm) traces the murderer back to Peter Porteus' house, where von Bulow and Klinski are billeted.
Reinicke is humiliated when Klinski is arrested and the whole sordid story comes out. He goes to the officers' evening schnapps gathering, seeks out von Bulow, slaps him lightly with his gloves, his lop-sided face exaggerated by his seething anger. A duel? Von Bulow is only too happy to accept the challenge, although Major Richter intervenes, forcefully advises them to forget it.
Cut To: a sloping field ringed by bare winter bushes where the two adversaries check their Luger pistols as their seconds stand nearby; Reinicke goes left, von Bulow right, and they face one another about 40 feet apart. Slowly they raise their pistols... Reinicke aims, fires first, misses. We think, well that's it for him... and do we care about the malicious little SS bastard? Well, we don't care much about the elitist von Bulow either. He aims, his arm as straight and steady as an extended sword... then, after a little time torture, jerks his pistol to one side, fires into the air, dismisses his adversary with classic Prussian contempt: "I am an officer and a gentleman... you're only a bad shot. Come, gentlemen, I'm off to a real war where the real soldiers are."
You'd think this would be the end of Reinicke, that he'd be a laughing stock, want to leave Guernsey, but no, the sun shines on fools and lizards alike... and loyal Nazi SS officers even more, for shortly thereafter Himmler has him promoted to Major -- the same rank as Richter! No wonder he later exhorts Oberleutnant Kluge to join the Nazi party ("It's a question of loyalty")... Kluge, the ex-Hamburg cop, feels it isn't for him. "It's a question of loyalty...." Richter asks if the adverse is also true. Reinicke has no answer.
We know D.H. Lawrence wrote a homoerotic story called "The Prussian Officer" and wonder perhaps if the writer James Doran took anything from it. Was the von Bulow-Reinicke animosity the residue of a lover's quarrel? A Freudian scan of the subject is inconclusive... although aspects of the Lawrence story do have echoes here. A Captain and his Ordannanz compete for the same woman, although the Captain prefers the sensuality of his Orderly. This leads to a sadistic abuse of the Orderly, who then seeks revenge during some maneuvers.... It's almost the back-story for what happened in Paris, say, before Guernsey. But, as we know, both men die in the Lawrence story --
§ It's impressive the way the writers/producers/directors have adapted factual incidents from the occupation with literary patterns of the past to form the narrative. While the dramatizations may seem old tech at times, out of step with the rapid montage methods of today, the fact is the real-time action is refreshing, provides real characterizations and human psychology rather than flash image fantasy hypnosis. Essentially the narrative is basic Master Scene/Slave scene TV drama, with Major Richter's office being the main Master Scene locale (he and his subordinates are always trying to solve a problem, either political or criminal), so all action returns there. Sometimes Dr. Martel's kitchen is the Master Scene locale, although generally he's in reactive mode, trying to get drugs or pardons or whatever favors he can from the German administration.
The episode stories usually start with a hook scene -- skulking commandos, a body on the beach, the arrival of a General or repatriated Islander, a murder, a burglary... the usual dramatic fare that arouses the voyeur... but always within the atmospheric context of the series and its setting. Occupation and martial law have the effect of reducing an entire society to an integrated fantosis of concentration and holiday camp. There are watch towers (Marine Pelistand towers) but of course they face the sea. A case could be made that Patrick McGoohan's surrealist series The Prisoner (1967) owes something to the German occupation of the Channel Isles.
Who is the protagonist? Well, there are two: Richter and Martel. Martel, we assume by his name, is Norman English, is so English he never thinks of himself as French in much the same way as Lady Diana Spencer's family consider themselves real English (i.e. pre Windsor/Saxe-Coburg and Gotha) even though they're Catholic. But there's no trace of racial bias about Martel; he's a doctor, bound by the Hippocratic oath, and as such is an ideal cipher for the humanist point-of-view. Occasionally more nanny neurotic than George Bernard Shaw (understandable, given the situation) he is nevertheless an excellent advocate for not only the Committee/Islanders but the fabled British characteristic of fair play. The fact that he becomes a victim of his daughter's patriotic machinations only temporarily dampens his spirit, and the measure of his character is found in the respect that his German adversaries afford him, so much so that when he returns from the Cherche-Midi, Richter and his subordinates scheme to have him reinstated as the Committee point-man.
And this isn't because they view him as a collaborator -- after all, his son is in a German POW camp, his daughter in a nunnery (and her fiance still in the Cherche-Midi prison). He seems to be one of them, that their ethics can accommodate his ethics, and they can get things done. The respect of your enemy is in some ways more valuable than the respect of your friend. The fact that they persuade him to take a bath in their facilities, shake off the stink of the prison, is like a baptism into the "New Order' of the Third Reich.
Martel agrees to take the bath reluctantly, swayed by the argument it would spare his wife more unpleasantness. But he won't give up his battered suitcase, and he won't agree to being driven home by a German military chauffeur. In a sense he's been "snookered" by Richter, yet the real politik of the situation favors both parties. Major Richter gets to play good cop, Dr. Martel gets to play martyr.
Because of his immaculate English, it's difficult to see how Richter's character differs from, say, your well-educated British colonial administrator like F.D. Lugard or Chinese Gordon. He knows might is on his side, and while there's no evidence to show that he's a believer in the Nazi "New Order" -- the contrary, if anything -- he's not shackled by simple jingoism and easy 10 Commandments morality. He has the mind of a German philosopher. He could be Hegelian ("human evolution is an obstacle race') although we can see Immanuel Kant in his actions, where morality is a product of reason rather than dogma. Noumenal, nein; phenomenal, ja... i.e. reason without experience equals illusion.
We know he was a member of General Ludwig Beck's staff before his Guernsey posting, and that Beck led the Hitler assassination conspiracy, for which he was shot on July 20, 1944. We also know that Richter wants to be reposted to North Africa, join General Erwin Rommel's staff. General Mueller denies his request, however, just as he denies Richter's request for leave to go to Berlin to help his wife Anna when she gets arrested by the Gestapo. Anna is a regarded literary translator, well-known for her work on August Strindberg, the Swedish playwright. Richter was an academic in Cambridge, so he's an intellectual, although in all regards he appears to be the quintessential Wehrmacht officer; he accepts Mueller's reasoning about the futility of any mission to Berlin on his wife's behalf with a relaxed fatalism.
Muller (scoffs): "What could you do? When a bomb explodes near the Fuhrer's bunker and she says pity it didn't hit the bunker, what are you going to do? What power do you have with the SS?"
Richter: "I am an officer in the Wehrmacht... that must count for something."
Later, when his deputy, Major Freidel, asks him what he's going to do, Richter shrugs, says, "Anna is going to have to look after Anna". The fortunes of war are reversing; he knows it, senses it, the maelstorm that will carry them all towards an unknown destiny. His wife? The Russian Front? Daylight bombing raids on the Fatherland? Dying Todt slave workers on Aldernsey? Seems the Atlantic Wall will be another Maginot Line -- a lot of ugly work for very little use.
Alfred Burke's move from playing the soft-boiled private detective Frank Marker (Public Eye) (produced by Enemy writer/producer Michael Chapman) to playing the Commandant of a German occupied island is very like Parick McGoohan's move from being a British secret agent in Danger Man to playing an imprisoned agent in The Prisoner. The dramatic art styles are quite different: Enemy is realism, Prisoner is surrealism. But both are variations of the same theme; the visceral occupation has become a psychological occupation; WW II has become the Cold War.
The last episode has the body a German soldier lying in a muddy, rain-swept field, as a farmer digs a grave. The soldier was a thief, was caught and killed by the farmer. The burial is interrupted by a German search party... but no matter, the symbolism of the collective German fate has been signposted. Even when Peter Porteus is killed trying to escape the island, Richter deputizes the task of telling his mother to Martel. We don't know Richter's fate, or any of the others, yet we know it's all over for the New Order.
While Enemy does give us some idea of what life might've been like under German military rule if they'd successfully invaded mainland Britain, the differences in geographic size and population would've made enforcement far more difficult, even under a "10 for 1" reprisal law. The natural criminal expression of any large city coupled with organized patriotic resistance would've made any such occupation very difficult to sustain without a fast sexual and ideological integration... although we don't know what would've happened if some Nazi "human farming" actions were part of the subjugation. Like the tide, what comes in must go out.
Many of the actors in Enemy At The Door have died since 1980... Alfred Burke (Major Richter) recently at 92... Simon Cadell (SS Hauptsturmführer Reinicke) at 46... John Malcolm (Oberleutnant Kluge)... Cassandra Harris (Trudi Engle) et. al. Others continue, even in related dramas, i.e. Richard Heffer (Peter Porteus) in Night Of The Fox and John Nettles (Sergeant Lewis) who actually played a feral young investigator in the cult 70's UK series Bergerac. While Bergerac was never shown in North America, Nettles is recognizable here as Inspector Barnaby in Midsommer Murders, still shown on the various PBS stations. Likewise people might recognize William Simons who plays Kapitanleutnant Erlich, a German patrol boat captain in Episode 5, The Laws & Usuages of War; Simons played Alf Ventress, the indolent chain-smoking constable in the popular series Heartbeat.
As mentioned, the natural comparison for this drama is to Island At War (2004) which tilts towards a sexual rather than political dynamic. While Stephen Mallatratt's script is built on the bones of Enemy At The Door, the story starts pre-invasion and shifts focus to a newly widowed shop keeper Mrs. Mahy and her three daughters, all of whom become involved with the Germans in dramatic counterpoints to one another. Business love, true love, blackmail love, and no love. The "adopted" daughter Kay/Zelda, a Jew, becomes the obsession of the self-described "decent, honorable Aryan gentleman" Leutnant Walker, a monomaniacial bigot who comes on like a death camp Nazi even though he wears no SS lightning bolts on his collar. This predatory relationship sharply contrasts with Angelique Mahy's love affair with the fatalistic Luftwaffe bomber pilot Bernhardt or the mother's "one might eat a rat if starved" shag with her blackmarket partner, the German harbourmaster Wimmel.
Again, the Commandant (the "Baron") is another German who struggles with the mechanized impersonality of military law and the ideological imperative of the New Order; in the end, like Jesus, he finds some sort of humanity to salve his aesthetic loneliness. Island At War: nice to look at, with good and bad and the shades between clearly dramatized. "Coincidence" is abused now and then, and occasionally the "improbable" displays its smiling face... but all in all, quite a powerful drama.
© LR Dec 2014
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