Holocaust

"The best Holocaust fiction includes those stories which make real for readers the inexplicable horrors of this darkest moment in human history. It brings those experiences to vivid life through characters and circumstances with which readers can empathize, and enables them to experience vicariously what it could be like to live in a world in which one's very existence is enough to warrant oppression, torture, and extermination. Canadian author Carol Matas has successfully brought these kinds of stories to life for young people several times over. I am struck by Matas' remarkable ability to craft compelling stories from real, but not very well-known events from the Holocaust, such as the struggle of homeless survivors to reach Palestine immediately following the war, or the dangerous attempt of an entire French Protestant village to save Jews from deportation. At the heart of these stories are adolescent protagonists who heroically confront their horrible circumstances with courage, dignity, and a fierce determination to survive.

Matas is an author I always recommend to teachers who are looking for alternatives to such standard Holocaust texts as Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl, Lois Lowry's Number the Stars , and Elie Wiesel's Night." Read the complete Virginia Tech article,"The Holocaust Fiction of Carol Matas," by Ed Sullivan."

DANIEL'S STORY

Over a million copies sold


“Matas, explicating an exhibit of photos and other materials at the new United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, creates a convincing composite youth and experience--fictional but carefully based on survivors' accounts.” – Kirkus Reviews
  • Finalist for the Governor General's Award for Children's Literature, 1993
  • Children's Book Centre, Our Choice, 1993
  • Silver Birch Award, 1994, Ontario Readers' Choice award
  • Finalist, 1993 Ruth Schwartz Award
  • Mr. Christie Honour Book, 1993
  • Manitoba Young Reader's Choice Award, 1996
  • New York Public Library, 1994 Book for the Teen Age
Daniel barely remembers leading a normal life before the Nazis came to power in 1933. He can still picture once being happy and safe, but memories of those days are fading as he and his family face the dangers threatening Jews in Hitler's Germany in the late 1930's. No longer able to practice their religion, vote, own property, or even work, Daniel's family is forced from their home in Frankfurt and sent on a long and dangerous journey, first to the Lodz ghetto in Poland, and then to Auschwitz – the Nazi death camp. Though many around him lose hope in the face of such terror, Daniel, supported by his courageous family, struggles for survival. He finds hope, life and even love in the midst of despair. (To learn more about the process of writing Daniel's Story, visit the Writing Process page on this website.)

First Published by Scholastic Inc. (1993) in conjunction with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.


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Pieces of the Past: The Holocaust Diary of Rose Rabinowitz
Scholastic Canada, February 2013

Click arrow to see Carol reading from Pieces of The Past

  • A 2104 Sydney Taylor Honor Book Selection for Older Readers
  • Winner of the 2014 Helen & Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Award (in the Youth category)
  • Shortlisted for a 2104/15 Red Cedar Award, BC’s young readers’ choice award for students in grades 4 through 7
  • "Highly recommended, 4 out of 4 stars" by The Deakin Review of Children's Literature
  • Named one of "The Year's Best 2013" books for Grades 3-6 by Resource Links
  • "Highly recommended" by CM Magazine.
  • A "BEST BOOKS FOR KIDS AND TEENS" pick for the Canadian Children's Book Centre’s Fall 2013 edition of Best Books For Kids and Teens
A young Jewish girl recounts her experiences during a horrifying time in recent history. As Rose begins her diary, she is in her third home since coming to Winnipeg. Traumatized by her experiences in the Holocaust, she struggles to connect with others, and above all, to trust again. When her new guardian, Saul, tries to get Rose to deal with what happened to her during the war, she begins writing in her diary about how she survived the murder of the Jews in Poland by going into hiding.

Memories of herself and her mother being taken in by those willing to risk sheltering Jews, moving from place to place, being constantly on the run to escape capture, begin to flood her diary pages. Recalling those harrowing days, including when they stumbled on a resistance cell deep in the forest and lived underground in filthy conditions, begins to take its toll on Rose.

As she delves deeper into her past, she is haunted by the most terrifying memory of all. Will she find the courage to bear witness to her mother's ultimate sacrifice?

Praise for Pieces of the Past:
"Carol Matas...one of the most widely read purveyor of young adult literature...does not condescend to her audience. The prose is crisp and well constructed, the dialogue is authentic, and she demonstrates a willingness to delve into sometimes painful subjects, such as Rose’s witnessing death all about her. As much as so many Holocaust survivors have written their own memoirs in recent years – and Carol Matas pays tribute to the kinds of stories that inspired her to write this book – in the hands of a polished writer such as Matas, what might have descended into cliché instead results in a gripping and often hopeful read." — Bernie Bellan, The Jewish Post & News. Read the full review

"This work of historical fiction does a wonderful job of describing the experiences of a Jewish child in hiding during the Second World War. Rose’s account is moving, especially as she documents the deaths and disappearances of her family members...The language used and the writing style are very appropriate for the youth audience. While the realities of the Holocaust are not softened, Rose’s diary is not heavy-handed in its approach to the Holocaust. Rose’s reflections are both of the war and of everyday events such that younger readers will identify with Rose as a human being and learn about the tragedy of the Holocaust. Pieces of the Past: The Holocaust Diary of Rose Rabinowitz ...provides an accessible, yet mature, look at the life of a young Holocaust survivor and could aid students’ understanding of what it would be like to live through the events of the Holocaust". — CM Magazine, Volume XX Number 2, Sept. 13, 2013. Read the full review.

"The author does a nice job of conveying the horror of the war and the significant difficulties of beginning anew without glossing over the reality. The narrative is told simply and movingly, and the characters are believable and well-drawn. Appropriately for the young reading audience, in spite of the weighty subject matter, readers are left feeling hopeful for the resilient Rose." —Leslie A. Kimmelman, Jewish Book Council. Read the full review.

"In Pieces of the Past, her third book in the Dear Canada series, Matas deftly weaves the grim realities of the Holocaust with the hopes and dreams of a young girl rebuilding her life. Through Rose's eyes young readers are given a candid glimpse into the life inside the Warsaw Ghetto as well as hardships faced by an orphan displaced by war. Although the story is poignant and often heart-breaking, readers will be buoyed by Rose's strength and tenacity. Drawing on the story of a war orphan is a unique way to link the story of the Holocaust to Canada. A wonderful resource for students, the inclusion of documents, maps and photos is a powerful reminder of what happened and that Canada itself was culpable in closing its borders to so may Jewish refugees." — Canadian Children's Book News, fall 2013.


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Behind Enemy Lines: World War II, Sam Frederiksen, Nazi-Occupied Europe, 1944

Scholastic Canada, February 2012

  • Chosen by The Canadian Children's Book Centre as one of their "Best Books" for 2012.
  • Nominated for the 2013 Ontario Library Association Golden Oak Award
  • Shortlisted for the 2014 Rocky Mountain Book Award (An Alberta Children's Choice Book Awards)
A young WWII gunner from the Prairies sees the horrors of war firsthand when he is captured by the Gestapo. Behind Enemy Lines is partially based on a true incident from WWII, in which 168 Allied airmen were captured and sent to Buchenwald. Twenty-six of these men were Canadian.

Praise for Behind Enemy Lines:
"The narrative voice is potent and realistic, and Carol Matas does a marvelous job capturing both the hope and courage in Sam’s personality as well as the terror he feels as he is transported around Nazi occupied territory against his will ... the truth of his situation is never overwrought with heavy-handed factuality or didacticism. Behind Enemy Lines is a fantastic account of one Canadian’s struggles through World War II in occupied France." — Bob Bittner, CM, Volume XVIII Number 23, Feb. 17, 2012. Read the full review.

"What starts as a rip-roaring adventure soon becomes a sobering account of strength in the face of adversity that encompasses the workings of the French Resistance and illuminates the Holocaust from a fresh angle ... the subject matter is difficult but ultimately uplifting." — Elaine Kalman Naves, The Gazette (Montreal), Feb. 17, 2012.

“…an amazing story… a historical adventure…As one event lead to the next I found myself hanging on to find out what will happen to this young yet very brave man next…I am excited to read more I Am Canada books soon and would definitely recommend this book to other history fans like me!” – Cam (grade five), SNAP Clarington.

“The action is relentless and the reader will be turning the pages feverishly to see what happens next… There is no telling here, only masterful revealing through fascinating characters and lively dialogue.” –Resource Links, April 2012.
  • Sydney Taylor Notable Book, for older readers, 2007.
  • Finalist, McNally Robinson Book For Young People, 2008.
  • Finalist, Stellar Award (B.C. Teen Reader's Choice Award), 2009

It is 1941. Fourteen-year-old Ben Friedman flees the horrors of Nazi Germany with his parents and his sister, leaving behind his grandparents, his friends, his home. In Seattle, Ben dares to hope that he will finally be safe. He finds a friend in John, a Japanese-American boy, but then comes the attack on Pearl Harbor and everything changes. Fear begins to grow in Ben, fear that it is all happening again. Where can he be safe? What should he do? 

He dreams of Canada, thinking it a haven, only to find that he has nowhere to turn, nowhere to run. Perhaps safety is not where or even what he thinks it is. Perhaps life is not what he imagined at all.

Published in 2007 by Orca Book Publishers.

Praise for The Whirlwind:
"Confronts a shameful part of World War II history—American's prejudice against German Jewish refugees. ...Effectively moves from fury and blame to understanding and love." — Booklist

"An excellent example of Holocaust literature for young adults...Whether read as an action/adventure novel or as a gateway to learning about a boy's first-hand experiences in World War II. Highly Recommended." — CM Magazine

"This unique and thought-provoking story shows what prejudice and indifference to suffering and wrongdoing can lead to." — School Library Journal

"Matas does a good job of compressing a complex story into not very many pages...Every library that caters to junior high readers show know about this book." — Resource Links

"An issues novel as well as an historical one and the issues aren't easy...A timely look at the treatment of foreign nationals...Aims to be easily accessible." — The Globe and Mail

"A poignant look at what it means to come of age in a world of uncertainty...An excellent choice for teachers...the kind of book adults and adolescents alike will be glad to have read." — KLIATT

"Another winner from the talented Matas." — Jewish Book World

"Teaches an underlying message of tolerance and acceptance through a friendship rare for its time...A well-written, easy read for any level." — Atlanta Jewish Times

"A quiet examination of one boy's struggle to understand the terrible circumstances that have fallen on his family." — Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"Written in an engaging style...the novel introduces well-developed characters faced with compelling issues." — AJL Newsletter

"Part an adventure story, part a story of descent into obsession [it] is also very much a simplified but sophisticated debate on religion and ethics...The Whirlwind attempts a lot and accomplishes a lot." — Kid Lit

"This bold, painful book focuses on controversial issues and darker Pearl Harbor era facts and emphasizes complicated gray areas over simpler black/white scenarios, creating balance and insight for any level reader." — VOYA
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Turned Away

  • Finalist, McNally Robinson Book for Young Readers Award
  • Margaret McWilliams Award, Manitoba Historical Society
  • Manitoba Young Readers Award, short list
  • Finalist, Geoffrey Bilson Award, 2006
  • Children's Book Centre Our Choice, starred for outstanding merit.
  • Resource links, best of the year, 2006
  • Frances and Samuel Stein Memorial Prize in Youth Literature, 2007
"January 9, 
A letter arrived from Sarah, again tucked in with mail from Uncle Nathaniel.
Chère Devorah,
Our worst fears came to pass. Three huge bangs on the door. Maman ran to my room and told me to keep the door closed and not to come out. Within minutes she came back and sat down on my bed weeping. "They've taken him," she said. "To Drancy. Arrested."
I can barely sleep anymore. I keep hearing that pounding on the door. Sometimes I feel the sound will explode in my brain. Chère Devorah, what is wrong with the world? I don't understand any of this. Do you?
Your loving cousin, Sarah

The letter from Uncle Nathaniel told of being arrested, but little else, except another question about how the visas are going. I could hear Mommy crying from her bedroom."
During the Second World War, many French Jewish families tried to send their children to safety in other countries including Canada. Tragically, the Canadian government didn't want them and a number of children who were "cleared" to leave never made it and were sent to concentration camps where they died. This is a story of one family's struggle.

Scholastic Canada, 2005.

"Matas is a brilliant writer of historical fiction and this book is a chilling and realistic account of the way some people survived the Second World War." "Remembrance Day Reading for All Ages," Fran Ashdown, North Shore News, Nov. 6, 2013.
  • Honour Book, Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People
  • CCBC Our Choice
  • Notable, Sydney Taylor Award, Books for Older Readers
  • Nominee, McNally Robinson Book of the Year for Young People Award
With the Nazis ready to herd the remaining Jews of her town into a ghetto, and with her family either scattered or dead, Marisa, a Polish Jew whose blonde hair and blue eyes make it easy for her to pass as a Christian, takes the papers of a Polish girl and in that disguise goes to Germany in a desperate attempt to survive as a Polish worker. After traveling to Weimar, Marisa finds work as a servant for the Reymanns, a wealthy farming family who treat her with dignity and respect. Their daughter Charlotte becomes fond of Marisa and wants to be her friend. Marisa's life with the Reymanns may seem safe, the Reymanns appear fair, but she can never forget that Herr Reymann is a high-ranking Nazi official and Charlotte attends the League of German Maidens.

Marisa is hiding in plain sight in her enemy's house. This novel presents an unflinching account of Marisa's dilemma as a Jew living a lie in order to survive and will give readers a new perspective on the nature of good and evil even as it touches their hearts.

First published in 1999 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers and Scholastic Canada. Republished in 2013 by Scholastic Canada.

Praise for In My Enemy's House:
"This story holds you not only with the authentic account of the Jewish girl hiding in disguise right in the jaws of the enemy, but also with the intimate view of the Nazi home." — Booklist

"Gripping... although this is fiction, it has the immediacy and impact of a true story. Marisa's ordeal is compelling, moving - and deeply disturbing." — School Library Journal

"Chilling and compelling, this darkly existential novel travels down yet another path on the map of multi-faceted Holocaust literature, grappling with the paradox of separating individual from ideology." — VOYA

"Matas gives the reader enthralling action, and interesting relationships, while firmly touching on issues of moral behavior." — Children's Literature

"Matas’s strength has been her ability to balance her colossal subject matter with the equally powerful individual stories of her young heroes..." — Quill & Quire
Why I Wrote in My Enemy's House

While researching another book on the Holocaust, I came across stories of Jewish families who lived in Germany during the war and somehow managed to hide using false papers or moving from place to place. I immediately realized how amazing those stories were and wanted to write about that time and place. I especially wanted to write about what it was like to live in Nazi Germany. What did ordinary German people think, what did they believe? Did they agree with the Nazi ideas? And if they did, why did they?

When I began my research I advertised for people who had survived the war living in Germany, expecting German Jews to respond. A strange thing happened. Every single person who showed up to be interviewed was from Poland, and had ended up in Germany working as slave labor–disguised of course, as Polish Christians. Sometimes a writer has to give in when a story wants to be told so badly, so I changed my focus from German Jews to Polish Jews who traveled into Germany. All of the people I interviewed had had to hide their identities in order to survive. If discovered they certainly would have been murdered, and each of them told stories of others they knew who had trusted a German friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend with their secret and had been betrayed and handed over to the authorities. I was able through their stories to explore what was happening right in the heart of Nazi Germany. And to ask some very difficult questions about what we are capable of as human beings, for good and for evil.

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Named one of "The Year's Best 2013" books for Grades 3-6 by Resource Links
"If you haven't read Greater Than Angels, it's time… a gripping, amazing read." – The Toronto Star

"Intelligently written and emotionally powerful." – Quill & Quire starred review
An unforgettable reminder of the resilience of human compassion, even in the face of the worst horrors of our history. 
"Everyone in this whole area is working to save us, even knowing what could happen to them if they are caught."
In the autumn of 1940, when Anna Hirsch, her friends, and her family are rounded up by Nazis and deported to Gurs, a refugee camp in the south of France, they see little hope on the horizon. Food is scarce, and the living conditions inhuman. Even worse is the ever-present fear that they will be relocated once again – this time to one of the death camps.

But when word comes that Anna and the other children at Gurs are to be moved, their destination is not Auschwitz or Buchenwald, but Le Chambon-sur-Lignon: a tiny village whose citizens have agreed to care for deported Jewish children. As the war rages on and the Germans gain more control in France, Jews – and those who shelter them – are sought with increased vigor, and when they are found, the punishment is severe. Yet even in the face of Nazi atrocities, and regardless of the risk to themselves, the good people of LeChambon continue to protect the refugees who seek cover in their homes.

In this story – based on actual occurrences during the German occupation of France – award-winning author Carol Matas unveils a contagious goodness that permeated one corner of a region otherwise enveloped in evil, and celebrates the courage that made these citizens "greater than angels."

Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers and Scholastic Canada in 1998. Republished in 2013 by Scholastic Canada.
  • New York Public Library, 1997 Book for the Teen Age
  • Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies for 1997, by National Council for Social Studies and the Children's Book Council
  • ALA Quick Pick for Young Adults, 1996
  • ALA, Best Book of the Year for Young Adults, 1996
  • Finalist Best Book of the Year, McNally Robinson Book Award, 1996
  • Finalist Best Book of the Year for Children, McNally Robinson Book Award, 1996
  • Finalist Ruth Shwartz Award, 1996
  • Jewish Book Award, 1996
  • Mr. Christie Honour Book, 1996
  • Junior Library Guild pick, 1996
  • Booklist, Editor's Choice, 1996
  • Resource Links, The Best Of List, 1997
  • South Carolina Junior Book Award nominee, 1998-1999
  • O.L.A. Red Maple Readers Choice Award, 1998
  • Finalist Utah Young Adult Book Award, CLAU, 1998-1999
"Didn't the gas ovens finish you all off?" is the response that meets Ruth Mendenberg when she returns to her village in Poland after the liberation of Buchenwald at the end of World War II. Her entire family wiped out in the Holocaust, the fifteen-year-old girl has nowhere to go.

Members of the underground organization Brichah find her, and she joins them in their dangerous quest to smuggle illegal immigrants to Palestine. Ruth risks her life to help lead a group of children on a daring journey over half a continent and across the sea to Eretz Israel, using secret routes and forged documents – and sheer force of will.

This adventure will touch readers, who will marvel at the resources and inner strength of mere children, helping other children to find a place in the world in which they can belong.

Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers and Scholastic Canada (1996).

Praise for After the War:
"As it is, After the War is a compelling and important story, fashioned from horror and redeemed by hope. Ruth Mendenberg’s journey will travel with thousands of young readers, and may very well pack up a trunk full of awards along the way." — Read the full review Quill & Quire

  • Junior Library Guild pick, 1997.
  • Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies for 1998, NCSS and Children's Book Council.
  • New York Public Library, Books for the Teen Age, 1998.
  • 1998 Rachel Bessin/Isaac Frischwasser Memorial Award for Y.A. Fiction (Jewish Book Award)

"I look at my garden and wonder if we will end up like that in the weeks and months to come – broken, crushed. After all, there are millions of Arabs and so few of us. If they decide to fight, how could we survive?"

Ruth Mendenberg, survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp, has helped a group of other young refugees flee Poland. They have been smuggled into Palestine and now live on a kibbutz, trying to forget, trying to forge a new life, longing for only one thing – peace. Ruth's solace comes from tending her garden, where she has found beauty and tranquility. But her respite does not last long.

The United Nations is preparing to vote on a plan that would partition Palestine into two separate lands, one for the Arabs and one for the Jews. The Arabs are ready to fight to prevent partition, and the British government does little to stop the escalating hostilities.

Ruth's brother, Simon, belongs to the Irgun, a terrorist group ready to bomb their enemies. Ruth herself has joined the Haganah, which believes in fighting only in self-defence. How far will they have to go before they find the peace and safety of a place they can finally call home?

Published by Scholastic Canada Ltd. and Simon & Schuster, 1997. 

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  • Mr. Christie Honour Book, 1989.
  • Manitoba Book of the Year Nominee, 1989.
  • Honour list, Canadian Materials, 1989.
  • Code Name Kris, Notable 1990 Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies.
  • Canadian Children's Book Centre "Our Choice", Memorable Books for Young People.
It is a time when nothing is safe, and no one can be trusted. There are German soldiers everywhere; worse yet, there are Danes who secretly spy on their neighbours in exchange for extra food or money. Despite the terrible danger, though, teenage Jesper risks everything to work for the resistance.

The Second World War is at its height. Like most of Europe, the small nation of Denmark has been overrun by Hitler's armies. Food and supplies are rationed, newspapers are censored, and Danes who resist are jailed, tortured, even shot. But Jesper and his friends in the resistance defy the Germans–and put their lives on the line–by publishing an underground newspaper to tell people what is really happening in the war, and carrying out desperate feats of military sabotage–with the Germans constantly at their heels.

Jesper is a thrilling novel of determination, courage, and love. It is also a tale of twisted loyalties, ruthlessness and betrayal, and the darker side of heroism.

Published in Canada as Jesper in 1989 by Lester & Orpen Dennys

Published in 1990 as Code Name Kris in the United States.
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LISA and LISA'S WAR
"An exciting tale of teenagers in the Danish resistance…full of suspense…Janet Lunn
  • The Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young Readers, 1988
  • New York Times Book Review, Notable Book, Dec 1989
  • Canadian Children's Book Centre "Our Choice", Memorable Books for Young People.
  • Young Adults' Choices for 1991, International Reading Association
  • Sydney Taylor Book Award, Notable 1989
The city is Copenhagen and the year is 1940. Lisa is 12 years old, a bright high-spirited girl looking forward to the fund and independence of being a teenager.

Then Lisa and her family are awakened early one morning by the roar of warplanes – Hitler is invading Denmark. The small country is overrun within the day, and the hardships and persecutions of enemy occupation begin.

When Lisa realizes that her older brother, Stefan, has joined the Danish resistance, she insists on helping too. She becomes a secret messenger with the thrilling, terrifying job of distributing leaflets under the very noses of the German soldiers.

But as the war goes on the German occupation becomes more violent, and word spreads of Hitler's vicious campaign against the Jews in neighbouring countries. For the Jews of Denmark–including Lisa, who is now fifteen–time is running out; and Lisa and her best friend, Suzanne, set aside their dreams of dating and romance to become full partners in the heart-stopping world of armed resistance.

Published as Lisa in Canada in 1987 by Lester & Orpen Dennys.

 Published as Lisa's War in the United States: New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1989.

Praise for Lisa's War:
"...Lisa, who thinks she is too big and too clumsy, and disguises her admiring affection for her older brother Stefan in withering scorn, makes a totally convincing narrator. Majestically self-disparaging, she delights in the ironies and ambiguities of the world around her. In the three years the novel covers, between invasion and exodus, she grows from sardonic 12-year-old to courageous adolescent, joins the Copenhagen resistance, takes on dangerous missions and, though she is losing patience with her cousin Erik's refusal to confront danger or count himself as Jewish, still puzzles over questions about her own Jewish identity, and about the morality of killing people because they threaten to kill you.
Lisa's War poses such sophisticated concerns with an honorable simplicity rare even in adult fiction. And at the same time it builds a great deal of excitement, as the German menace spreads and intensifies, growing from a sinister fear to lethal reality. As it does, Lisa's involvement in the resistance also grows from a first, comically terrified attempt to leave contraband leaflets on the streetcar to a central role in guarding her fellow Jews as they wait to go to Sweden.

Many things are admirable in this story: its humor, its heroine's complex, feisty and irreverent intelligence, the realism of its characters as they are seen through her eyes. Carol Matas, a Canadian writer, makes real the pervasive atmosphere of fear and disruption. But she places these distortions of an extreme time in the context of normal human standards, so that Lisa can marvel at how necessary it has become for members of her family to lie to each other so as to spare each other." —  Read the whole review in the New York Times

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