Ernst Jünger 1895–1998
(Also transliterated as Ernst Juenger) German novelist and essayist.
The following entry presents an overview of Jünger's career through 1994.
Jünger began his career as a soldier and philosopher, but he was also an accomplished natural scientist, a novelist, and an essayist. Although Jünger was never a formal member of the Nazi Party, many Party members considered him one of the intellectual fathers of Nazism. His relationship with the Party was complicated due to his close alliance with many Nazi officials, but he is one of a few writers who criticized Nazi leadership, denied membership in the party, and survived.
Jünger was born in Heidelberg, Germany, in March 29, 1895. At 16 he fled his home and joined the French Foreign Legion. His father and the local authorities tracked Jünger down and sent him home. In 1914 he enlisted in the German Army. He was wounded seven times during World War I and received the Pour le Mérite, Germany's highest military honor. After the war, Jünger's father encouraged him to publish a book based on the journal he kept during the war. The result was In Stahlgewittern (Storm of Steel; 1922) which recounts his war experiences. Jünger developed an interest in natural science and attended the University of Leipzig to study philosophy and zoology. He studied biology at the University of Naples in the 1920s and became an expert in the field of entomology. Jünger's early writing was political in nature, and from 1918 to 1933 he dabbled in the political arena. His activities included editing a magazine for the Stahlhelm, a militant veterans' group in the 1920s. Jünger dropped out of practical politics when Hitler rose to power because he disagreed with what he considered the Nazi Party's subversion of true totalitarianism. Even though he kept himself away from practical politics since 1933, he did have influential friends. These friends enabled him to get away with more than most writers under the Nazi regime, including publishing his Auf den Marmorklippen (On the Marble Cliffs; 1939), which is critical of the Nazi Party. In 1939 Jünger resumed his military career, serving on both the Eastern and Western fronts during World War II. Jünger served in Paris for part of the war, acting as a liaison between Nazi Party officials and French intellectuals. He was discharged in 1944 for being unfit to serve, but the real reason was due to his suspected involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler. His son died in the final days of fighting on the Italian front, and this left Jünger bitter and disillusioned with war. After World War II Jünger published an essay he wrote in 1942, Der Friede (The Peace; 1945), which called for world peace and was dedicated to his son. After the fall of the Third Reich, Jünger refused to undergo an Allied denazification procedure, asserting that he was never a Nazi.
Jünger's earlier work is in journal form and includes nostalgic reminiscences of his time as a soldier. Storm of Steel, in addition to other early journals, celebrates war. His article, Die totale Mobilmachung (1931) glorified a society permanently mobilized for total war. Jünger's next essay, Der Arbeiter (1932), outlined Jünger's idea of the new modern society. Jünger called for a depersonalized type, militant and radical, to replace the bourgeois individual and to usher in the new order. Jünger's controversial On the Marble Cliffs focuses on two brothers who settle in a fertile valley after a lost war. The area is filled with hard-working peasants and shepherds, and the forest is ruled by the Chief Ranger who uses his inhuman followers in attempts to conquer the peasants. There are several small factions who oppose the Chief Ranger, but they do not have the strength or unity to defeat him. The conclusion forecasts a triumph by the Chief Ranger, but there is allusion to hopes that out of the ashes new life will arise. After World War II, Jünger again turned to journal form in his Strahlungen (1949) to relate his experiences during the war. At this point in his career, Jünger's work becomes more mystical and explores the isolated individual threatened with destruction by impersonal technical forces. Heliopolis (1949) tells the story of two hostile rulers and the people who are the victims of their struggle for power. Another futuristic novel, Eumeswil (1977) is composed of the anecdotes and thoughts of a young night steward in the household of The Condor, the ruler of the fictional Eumeswil. The government of Eumeswil is dictatorial, and the book explores personal identity in the face of conformity. Common to Jünger's novels is his combination of the scientific and the magical, and his dystopian rather than utopian vision of the future. In Aladin's Problem (Aladdin's Problem; 1983), Friedrich Baroh is a member of an aristocratic German family who defects to the West. He takes a position in his uncle's funeral parlor and conceives of an idea to build a mausoleum which will guarantee eternal rest. The business is an international success, but there are questions of Baroh's ultimate happiness as he ruminates on philosophical questions. Jünger has also written several travel essays about his extensive journeys around the world. Some of Jünger's work, including Annaeherungen (1970), explores the roles of intoxication and drug use in enhancing human thought.
Much of the critical commentary on Jünger's work has surrounded his political beliefs and his relationship to Nazism, rather than his merits as a writer. His earlier conservative politics would appear to put him in sync with the Nazi Party, which caused several reviewers to dismiss his work and his books to be banned in Allied occupied Germany. Most critics, however, assert that On the Marble Cliffs is a thinly veiled attack on Nazism and Hitler's rise to power. Although Jünger himself has denied this supposition, it is generally accepted. Many reviewers are impressed with Jünger's intellectual capabilities, but some reviewers complain that his philosophical and intellectual pursuits effect the nature of his fiction. They claim that his overriding philosophical intentions lower his novels' quality of storytelling. Marcus Bullock says, "His narratives do not invite one to identify with the action or the figures who carry it. His novels do not hold up a mirror to the familiar domain of human life, but clearly and deliberately go exploring beyond it." Many reviewers point out the phases of Jünger's career, asserting that Jünger abandoned his glorification of war for more humanistic pursuits. Despite the changes in his work, Ian Baruma asserts that "it was the irrational that attracted Jünger all his life: the intoxication of drugs, of revolution, of war."
Der Kampf als inneres Erlebnis (history) 1922
In Stahlgewittern: Aus dem Tagebuch eines Strosstruppfuehrers [Storm of Steel: From the Diary of a German Storm-Troop Officer on the Western Front] (journal) 1922
Das Waeldchen 125: Ein Chronik aus den Grabenkaempfen 1918 [Copse One Hundred Twenty-Five: A Chronicle from the Trench Warfare of 1918] (journal) 1925
Feuer und Blut: Ein kleiner Ausschnitt aus einer grossen Schlacht (history) 1925
Das abenteuerliche Herz: Aufzeichnungen bei Tag und Nacht (short stories) 1929; published as Das abenteuerliche Herz: Figuren und Capriccios, 1938
Die totale Mobilmachung (essay) 1931
Der Arbeiter: Herrschaft und Gestalt (essay) 1932
Blaetter und Steine (essay) 1934
Afrikanische Spiele [African Diversions] (journal) 1936
Auf den Marmorklippen [On the Marble Cliffs] (novel) 1939
Gaerten und Strassen: Aus den Tagebuechern von 1939 und 1940 (journal) 1942
Der Friede: Ein Wort an die Jugend Europas, ein Wort an Die Jugend der Welt [The Peace] (essay) 1945
Sprache und Koerperbau (essay) 1947
Ein Inselfruehling: Ein Tagebuch aus Rhodes (travel journal) 1948
Heliopolis: Rueckblick auf eine Stadt (novel) 1949
Strahlungen (journal) 1949
Ueber die Linie (essay) 1950
Der Waldgang (essay) 1951
Der gordische Knoten (essay)...
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SOURCE: A review of On the Marble Cliffs, in The Nation, Vol. 166, No. 13, March 27, 1948, pp. 357-58.
[In the following review, Clair asserts that Jünger's On the Marble Cliffs "is an anti-Nazi document, but it is also one of the most beautiful novels of imagination of modern Germany, an allegory in the grand symbolist manner of the death of a civilization."]
Somewhere in a mythical landscape, high above the marble cliffs, on the edge of a fertile valley, two brothers—retired army officers—have settled after a lost war. Below in the peaceful countryside an industrious and quiet people tills its fields; farther on lives a rude yet hospitable tribe of shepherds, closely following traditional ways of life. Still farther away, in the thicknesses of the dark and impenetrable forest, the Chief Ranger, a demoniac figure, rules over the marshes with the aid of his cruel, inhuman underlings and plans to conquer the peaceful world of the peasants and shepherds outside his dark domain.
This is the setting. Juenger describes the methods, of cunning maneuver combined with brute force, which the Chief Ranger uses to achieve his goal.
On the Marble Cliffs is a roman à clef, an attack on Nazism only thinly veiled by the extraneous allusions, the strange locale, and the romantic style; but it is also a work of art in its own right. Juenger is a...
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SOURCE: "Ernst Jünger's Concern with E. A. Poe," in Comparative Literature, Vol. X, No. 2, Spring, 1958, pp. 144-49.
[In the following essay, Peters discusses the theme of terror in the works of Jünger and Edgar Allen Poe.]
Frequent references to E. A. Poe in the works of Ernst Jünger, particularly in those written during and after World War II, raise two questions: First, what is it that attracts Jünger and Poe? And second, has Jünger's interest in Poe influenced his own writings? This paper addresses itself to the first question. Concerning the second, let me simply say that I do not think it is possible to trace any direct influences of Poe on Jünger. Undoubtedly Jünger sees in Poe more than the expert craftsman of grotesque tales and romantic fantasies, although the role of the romantic element in Jünger's work should not be underestimated. The relationship of the two authors is one of affinity rather than dependency, an affinity rooted in their common concern with one major literary theme—the theme of terror.
Terror, as a literary theme, is as old as literature itself. The Greeks considered it an essential element of tragedy. In German literature the romantic poets, notably E. T. A. Hoffmann, were past masters at it—so much so that, when the theme began to appear in Poe's writings, he was accused of plagiarizing the Germans. He defended himself against this charge by...
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SOURCE: "The Adventures of Ernst Jünger," in Books Abroad, Vol. 32, No. 4, Autumn, 1958, pp. 365-68.
[In the following essay, Cooley traces the place of adventure in Jünger's life and work.]
Ernst Jünger's career as an author has been built around the search for adventure. With Germany, he found what he sought in war, and was finally appalled by the consequences. With her, too, he has struggled with the spirit of nihilism, both in the acute political form to which the German people fell prey between 1918 and 1945, and in the private realm of his own life. From his later books it appears that he feels both struggles to have been successful, at least temporarily.
Jünger may fairly be viewed as a more purely German writer of prose, just as Stefan George was a purely German poet, whereas Hesse and Rilke would be artists with a more European outlook who simply happened to be born to the German language. Jünger's career before 1945, at least, was in fact bound up inextricably with Germany's fate. In this year appeared his own formal break with the past, the pamphlet Der Friede. Whether his own rejection of nihilism and violence, and his recent quests for new experience in travel and metaphysics are part of a German trend is still uncertain.
Jünger's early life stands under the sign of Mars. Born in Heidelberg in 1885, he went almost directly from school to the...
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SOURCE: "Ernst Jünger's Auf den Marmorklippen: a sketch toward an interpretation," in Symbolism and Modern Literature, edited by Marcel Tetel, Duke University Press, 1978, pp. 26-43.
[In the following essay, Evans, Jr. discusses the plot and philosophy behind Jünger's Auf den Marmorklippen, and asserts that Jünger believes "in the power of civilizing energies to overcome evil."]
Ernst Jünger's allegorical novel depicts a model of world harmony, a cosmos destroyed by brutish, anarchical forces. It opens on a nostalgic note, evoking the poignant memories of a way of life founded on fraternity, civil order, the rhythm of nature, and a respect for the traditional pieties. The mood is autumnal and, appropriately, reference is made to the festivals celebrated once upon a time in conjunction with the yearly harvests. The new wine is tasted, nuts are eaten, there is time for bird shooting, and crowds congregate along the shores of the Grand Marina to carouse and joust with one another in displays of wit. At early morning the sun rises over Alta Plana, situated to the south, beyond the waters of the Marina, just as the sun will set, at the end of the novel—to rise again, we know—upon the prosperous homestead of Ansgar up on the mountains of Alta Plana. On a bright day the eye can see all the way to the borders of New Burgundy where the high-born family of Sunmyra, representative of the...
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SOURCE: "Ernst Jünger: Literature, Warfare and the Intoxication of Philosophy," in Mosaic, Vol. XIX, No. 4, Fall, 1986, pp. 107-19.
[In the following essay, Bullock explores Jünger's ideas about the use of drugs and intoxication in intellectual thought.]
When the editors of Mircea Eliade's Festschrift of 1969 at the University of Chicago Press asked Ernst Jünger to contribute an essay on the use of drugs as an agency in the exploration of human consciousness, their choice reflected the general recognition of a place to which he has long held undisputed claim in Europe. He is without doubt the most solidly established and authoritative literary voice on that continent to continue the tradition of Baudelaire, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Poe and Coleridge by making the experience of drugs and intoxication central to the world he investigates. The association between Jünger and Eliade had, of course, been active for many years before then. In 1959 they founded the journal Antaios together, brought out in Stuttgart by Jünger's publisher Klett-Cotta. The precise nature of this association, illustrated by the focus of interest to which their journal is dedicated, reveals a great deal about the particular way Jünger carries on that tradition. It also indicates some very important differences between Jünger's approach to this issue and that which has become established in the English-speaking world....
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SOURCE: "Written Right Across Their Faces: Ernst Jünger's Fascist Modernism," in Modernity and the Text: Revisions of German Modernism, edited by Andreas Huyssen and David Bathrick, Columbia University Press, 1989, pp. 60-80.
[In the following essay, Berman discusses the fascist representation of Leni Riefenstahl's film Triumph of the Will and the fascist modernism of Jünger's The Worker.]
If the will triumphs, who loses? Triumph of the Will, Leni Riefenstahl's cinematic account of the 1934 Nazi Party convention at Nuremberg, is one of the few aesthetic monuments of German fascism that have attracted serious critical scrutiny. In scene after scene one finds evidence of the ideological self-understanding of National Socialism: Hitler's descent from the clouds, the cathartic applause welcoming the charismatic leader, the visions of the medieval city, the presence of the unified folk including contingents of peasants in their traditional costumes, the rough-and-tumble life in the encampment, the mass chorus of the Work Front, the demonstration of the Hitler Youth, the celebratory display of banners, torchlight processions, and a soundtrack that mixes Wagnerian strains with patriotic songs and martial anthems. The list could be extended, and each item could be decoded and explained within the constellation of the rightwing populism, the völkisch ideology, on which German fascism...
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SOURCE: "Nietzsche and Ernst Jünger: From Nihilism to Totalitarianism," in History of European Ideas, Vol. 11, 1989, pp. 751-58.
[In the following essay, Ohana analyzes how "the modern Jüngerian vision of technology led towards a new political form of totalitarian nihilism."]
The aesthetic-nihilistic revolution in western culture initiated by Nietzsche in the nineteenth century was transformed by Ernst Jünger into a modern vision of technology and a new political pattern of totalitarian nihilism. Over and above 'nihilism' and 'totalitarianism' as such, there is an additional dialectical phenomenon, namely a synthesis of both concepts: the nihilist mentality, whether from inner compulsion or immanent logic, is driven to acceptance of totalitarian behaviour which is characterised by its extreme dynamism. The structure of the essay reflects the emergence and crystallisation of what I call 'nihilistic-totalitarian syndrome' from its philosophical basis to a fully-developed intellectual current in the form of a new and total consciousness expressed in Jünger's early writings.
Nietzsche used history as the starting point of a reorientation of traditional Western philosophy. According to Nietzsche, modern man, in the genealogy of his basic concepts, has discovered that the idols which he shaped with his own hands—God, morality, reason, truth—are a broken reed, a golem which turned on...
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SOURCE: "A German-French Encounter: Ernst Jünger and Rimbaud," in AUMLA, No. 77, May, 1992, pp. 56-63.
[In the following essay, Keller traces the influence of Rimbaud's "Le Bateau ivre" on Jünger's work.]
Looking back to the First World War, Jünger documents his enthusiasm for Rimbaud's 'Le Bateau ivre' in recalling a visit of two fellow officers, to whom he read Rimbaud's poem, which, as he notes, occupied him greatly at that time. One of these officers was Werner von Fritsch who, twenty years later, rose to celebrity in the so-called Fritsch-Krise, as one of the first prominent opponents of Hitler's aggressive policies and one of the politician's first victims within the military. According to his surviving, unnamed fellow-visitor, Fritsch summed up his view of Jünger's recitation with the sentence: 'This man would do well to retire', a judgement which Jünger considered both well-intended and entirely apposite.
The time alluded to here was the year 1919, when Jünger was stationed in Hannover in the Mittelstrasse 7a, in quarters traditionally popular with officers in service there. Thus he points out that one of his predecessors in the flat he was occupying then was none other than the old Paul von Hindenburg, the same man who had presented the coveted 'Pour le mérite' to him, with the sobering commentary that the awarding of such a high distinction had rarely been beneficial...
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SOURCE: "A Booming Necropolis," in New York Times Book Review, Vol. 97, November 22, 1992. p. 24.
[In the following review, Lotozo praises Jünger's Aladdin's Problem.]
He has been recognized as one of the great figures of 20th-century German letters, yet after more than 70 years and 50 books the work of Ernst Jünger—who is still writing at the age of 97—remains largely untranslated into English. A political philosopher who is difficult to categorize, Mr. Jünger is best known for his futuristic novels, including The Glass Bees, Eumeswil, Heliopolis and On the Marble Cliffs, which was published in 1942, while its author was serving as a captain in the German Army. An allegorical attack on the Nazi Government, On the Marble Cliffs somehow eluded the censors and went on to become an international best seller.
In Aladdin's Problem, a novel that was published in German in 1983, Mr. Jünger sticks to the present and offers more metaphysics than politics. The narrator is Friedrich Baroh, a 37-year-old East German Army deserter who has fled to the West. Employed as a funeral director in a prosperous firm owned by his uncle, Baroh—with the help of his friend Kornfeld—dreams up a bizarre but wildly successful venture: Terrestra, a vast, international, ecumenical necropolis located in Turkey, which offers graves guaranteed for eternity. To his surprise, Baroh...
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SOURCE: "Witness to the Century," in Washington Post Book World, February 7, 1993, p. 11.
[In the following review, McGonigle discusses Jünger's Aladdin's Problem and asserts that "through the power of fiction and the authority of a long life's experience, Jünger makes us take with appropriate seriousness his observations about the modern world."]
At 97, Ernst Jünger is both Germany's and Europe's oldest and most distinguished writer. Unfortunately he is little-known in the United States. But in a long and adventurous life Jünger has been able to fulfill two-thirds of the famous prescription of Baudelaire: "There are but three beings worthy of respect: the priest, the warrior and the poet. To know, to kill and to create."
Even before the First World War, Jünger had already run away from his conventional middle-class family and served in the French Foreign Legion. During WWI itself he fought, for Germany, an entire four years in the front-line trenches; was seriously wounded seven times and was awarded the German equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Two of his books about his wartime experiences have been translated as The Storm of Steel and Copse 125. The first of these is a celebration of the exhilaration that Jünger experienced during combat while leading a unit of shock troops. "It was," he writes, "a good and strenuous life and the war for all...
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SOURCE: "The Anarch at Twilight," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. 40, June 24, 1993, pp. 27-30.
[In the following review, Buruma traces Jünger's political and intellectual thought throughout his career and in his novels Aladdin's Problem and A Dangerous Encounter.]
Ernst Jünger will be ninety-eight this year. He was smaller than I imagined. But he looks fit and still remarkably handsome. His head is crowned with thick, white hair, brushed forward, giving his rather hawkish face the sculpted air of a marble Roman senator. Jünger begins each day by jotting down his dreams. Then he takes a cold bath. He recently had a dream about Hitler.
He told me about it at his house in Wilflingen, a pretty Swabian village built around the Stauffenberg castle, which belongs to relatives of Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, the man who tried to assassinate Hitler. Jünger's study is that of a German aesthete in the 1930s: fine Persian carpets, leather-bound volumes of Byron, Wilde, Poe, Hölderlin, Montherlant, the Russians. Recalling his Hitler dream appeared to give him intense pleasure. His watery eyes twinkled and he finished his story with a barking soldier's laugh: "Hah!"
This was clearly part of Jünger's repertoire for foreign visitors, part of the Ernst Jünger show, for he produced a sheaf of recent newspaper articles about himself in French and Italian,...
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SOURCE: "Wrestling with an Old Trauma: Ernst Jünger's Changing Perception of Destructiveness," in AUMLA, No. 81, May, 1994, pp. 21-31.
[In the following essay, Keller discusses the place of destructiveness and compassion in Jünger's work.]
Destructiveness is one theme which is ever present in the work of Ernst Jünger from In Stahlgewittern to Eine gefährliche Begegnung. It dominates the first of these texts and is critically assessed in the latter, indicating that division in Jünger's work at which he had hinted in his diary entry of 16 September 1942. There he had made the less than modest remark that he considered his books on the First World War, Die totale Mobilmachung, Der Arbeiter and sections of his essay Über den Schmerz, as his 'Old Testament'. It was that part of his work which was dominated by the theme of aggressiveness and which had made his name notorious. His account of the First World War was such that some critics expressed doubt that what he produced could still be considered literature, while others could see Jünger's rendering of his war experience in psycho-pathological terms only. Unlike Henri Barbusse, for whom the experience of the First World War had been the basis for a passionate plea for pacifism in his novel Le Feu, Jünger saw in it the redemption from the constraints of an over-refined culture. For him war was not so much an...
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SOURCE: "Deadly Details and Rules for Living," in Chicago Tribune, May 1, 1994, p. 6.
[In the following excerpt, McGonigle asserts that in Eumeswil "Jünger is concerned solely with attempting to answer the question: How is one to live?"]
… Ernst Jünger's Eumeswil is the distillation of its author's search for a basis upon which to build a life of integrity so as to survive the ever-present totalitarian temptations.
Still little known in America, Jünger, who will be 100 years old next year, may be Europe's most important living writer. Bringing the authority of his career and life to everything he writes, he has been able to fulfill two-thirds of the famous prescription of Baudelaire: "There are but three beings worthy of respect: the priest, the warrior and the poet. To know, to kill and to create."
During the First World War, Jünger fought in the frontline trenches, was seriously wounded seven times and awarded the Pour le Merite, the German equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Storm of Steel, a memoir based on his wartime experiences, may be the greatest, and the most disturbing, war book ever written—for it is not a complaint against war's futility but rather a celebration of the exhilaration Jünger felt in the heat of combat.
After the war Jünger was involved in irregular conflicts that lasted into...
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Barnouw, Dagmar. "Opening and Closing the Past in Postwar German Literature: Time, Guilt, Memory, and the Critics." In Legacies and Ambiguities: Postwar Fiction and Culture in West Germany and Japan, edited by Ernestine Schlant and J. Thomas Rimer, pp. 227-48. Washington, D.C.: The Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1991.
Discusses Jünger's Utopian novels and how they were received by critics.
Biro, Matthew. "The New Man as Cyborg: Figures of Technology in Weimar Visual Culture." New German Critique, No. 62 (Spring/Summer 1994): 71-110.
Analyzes how technology figures into the history of the Weimar culture, specifically looking at the work of Raoul Hausmann, Fritz Lang, and Ernst Jünger.
Kater, Michael H. "Anti-Fascist Intellectuals in the Third Reich." Canadian Journal of History 16, No. 2 (August 1981): 263-77.
Discusses the question of why anti-Fascist intellectuals were not more vocal about their opposition to Hitler.
Mandel, Siegfried. "The German Novel: In the Wake of Organized Madness." Contemporary European Novelists, edited by Siegfried Mandel, pp. 69-125. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illiinois University Press, 1968.
Traces the history of...
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