Oecolampadius, the reformer of Basel, was greatly surprised to learn of the existence of the Anabaptist group. In August 1525 he held a disputation with them in his house; he was assisted by Wolfgang Wissenburg, Jakob Immeli, and Thomas Girfalk (Stähelin, Basler Reformation, 123) and also Thomas Leesmeister, an evangelical Augustinian. The proceedings of this debate were printed in three editions: Basel, 1525; Augsburg, 1525; and in Latin, Basel, 1544 (Stähelin, Briefe I, 387). It bore the title Ein Gespräch etlicher Predikanten zu Basel gehalten mit etlichen Bekennern der Wiedertaufe. (A copy is in the library of the university of Munich; see Mennonitische Rundschau, 1912, July 10, p. 6, note, and Stähelin, Briefe, 338. A manuscript copy is in the Mennonite Historical Library at Goshen, Indiana.) The debate centered about infant baptism and the right to separate oneself from the church. The Anabaptists persevered in their Scriptural views and considered themselves the victors. Hubmaier's Von dem Kindertauf was a reply to the position of Oecolampadius in this colloquium.
The Anabaptist movement spread. New members were constantly coming in from the neighboring cantons. The Urfehdebuch, which records the banishment of imprisoned Anabaptists, mentions the preachers Rudolf Forster, Ulrich Bolt, Friedli Iberger (see Aargau), Gabriel Schuhmacher of Aarau, Hans Waldshuter of Zürich, and others.
On 2 June 1526, the first mandate against the Anabaptists was issued in Basel: "Whoever has himself rebaptized is banned with his family from a radius of five miles around the city." The second mandate, 24 July 1526, forbade Anabaptist meetings in the vicinity of the city (Stähelin, Basler Reformation, 130f.). On 6 July and 3 August 1527 these mandates were repeated, and on 14 March 1528 a heavy fine was fixed for those who attended an Anabaptist sermon or sheltered one of their preachers. The mandates were issued during the parliamentary sessions at Baden, which has for Switzerland a significance similar to that of the Reichstag of Worms for Germany.
At first, however, these mandates were not carried out very strictly. Hans Pfistermeyer was repeatedly banished in 1526-1527 without further penalty. Felix Manz also lived in Basel at this time. This indicates that there was a large congregation of Swiss Brethren. Some of them, Johannes Hausmann, Seckler, and Lorenz Hochrütiner's son Jakob, went to Bern in April 1527, where they were placed in the pillory; the first of these was drowned there in 1528.
In 1527 numerous Anabaptists from Straubing and Augsburg entered Basel; among these were Hans Denck who died here, Georg Maler, Ulrich Treschsel, and Hans Beck. Two of them are said to have challenged Oecolampadius after his sermon at St. Martin's to attach himself to their cause, which (they said) he secretly favored. But they were soon recalled by their home congregations to assist in the struggle with the clergy of the established church.
In the same year (1527) a small group of Swiss Brethren meeting in the house of Hans Altenbach were arrested. Pfistermeyer and Ludwig Wolf were among them; they were released with a sharper threat of execution. One of their companions called "Karlin" (perhaps Karl Brennwald), had the articles of his faith drawn up in written form and on 30 June 1527, presented them to the council. At the request of the council Oecolampadius wrote a refutation, entitled Unterrichtung von der Wiedertaufe, von der Obrigkeit and von dem Eid auf Karlin N. Wiedertäufers Artikel (copies in the Mennonite Historical Library at Goshen, Indiana and the Library of the University of Basel). The second debate with the Swiss Brethren allegedly held on 10 June 1527, did not take place (Stähelin, Briefe II, 78; Marius).
Anabaptists from Franconia had also come to Basel, and had worshiped together in the home of Michael Schürer during Lent in 1528. Hans Römer, Christoph Peisker, and Volkmar Fischer are named. Jörg von Passau had likewise wished to come to Basel, where he hoped to find the noblest of the church, in order "to talk to them through the power of God, that the plants may be weeded out which God did not plant, and we may be unified through the Holy Spirit."
Of the other well-known leaders of the Brethren who were temporarily in Basel, Wolfgang Ulimann should be mentioned, who was banished from Basel in August 1528 on penalty of death by drowning; George Blaurock was in prison in Basel in February 1529; his companions were Hans Heide of the canton of Basel and Wolfgang Moser of the Adige Valley. A large number of Anabaptists in flight from the Adige lay imprisoned in Basel.
David Joris lived in Basel from 1544 to 1556 under the pseudonym of Johann von Brügge. Not until three years after his death was his real name discovered; then his corpse was burned and the ashes scattered. In August 1554 Wilhelm Reublin appeared, a sick old man, in order to conclude his days in the city where he had begun his theological career as a priest in St. Alban's. The council probably had some doubts about receiving him, for they gave him a sum of 15 pounds for convalescence in Baden in Aargau.
While the Anabaptist movement declined in the city of Basel, it was constantly growing in the canton of Basel. There is evidence of many Swiss Brethren families in Liestal and Lausen. In Liestal we find the names Joder, Walch, Tegerfeld, and Heinimann; in Lausen, Schwytzer and Treyer were the prominent names. Oecolampadius wrote in a letter to Zwingli on 1 July 1528, "Recently over 100 met in the country." Men like Konrad Winkler (executed in Zürich, 20 January 1530) and Bernhard Sager of Bremgarten promoted the new doctrine. Others like Uli Madlinger, Hans Hersberger, and Fridli Schaub supported it.
Now the Basel city council, having introduced the Reformation, resorted to sterner measures. In a Reformation decree of 1 April 1529, paragraph two states, "All Anabaptists, as well as those who have not been rebaptized but who shelter Anabaptists or attend their meetings, shall be kept in prison on Muss und Brot with the occasional use of torture reserved, until they recant. Obstinate ones remain in prison until death; those who fall back into Anabaptism shall be executed with the sword."
On 29 December 1529 another disputation was held with 11 imprisoned preachers. This was the third Anabaptist disputation in Basel, but the first ordered by the government. Anabaptism was declared to be a "self-willed, Pharisaic hypocrisy, which pleases itself, condemns everything else, and finally leads to obvious disobedience and sedition." Four Anabaptists made a detailed recantation; the others remained steadfast. This likely angered the council to the extreme, for on 12 January 1530, it had Hans Ludi of Bubendorf beheaded in Basel; Jakob Treyer, one of the debaters in the last disputation, was condemned to death, but was pardoned upon the request of Oecolampadius. Likewise the death sentence pronounced on Hans Hersberger and Uli Madlinger was not carried out.
The congregations at Rothenfluh and Anwil were considered the center of the Anabaptist movement. Forty men from the former and 11 of the latter were seized at the same time early in 1530 and imprisoned in the Basel tower. On 11 February they were released; each was fined the large sum of five pounds. This severe punishment only served to strengthen and increase the movement in this remote region. At the "sand pit" at Lostdorf, 60 men and an equal number of women met for worship.
On 23 November 1530 the council issued a new mandate against the Anabaptists: "All Anabaptists, as well as their adherents and protectors, will be pardoned if they recant when arrested the first time; if they are obstinate they will be banished. Those who fall into the error the second time, and banished persons who return, will be submerged in water and banished again. If those who have been submerged reappear, they shall be drowned without mercy wherever they are found."
The mandate was strictly followed. On 16 January 1531 for the first time, an Anabaptist was "immersed three times according to custom" in the Rhine. The punishment was repeated on others, often in rapid succession. Not seldom the spectators gave voice to their sympathy for the victim. Others were executed. The names of only two persons executed are known to us, Hans Madlinger and Peter Linggenscher, who were drowned on 10 February 1531 in a creek near the Homburg castle.
But these ruthless measures did not succeed in crushing the movement. Matthys and Anna Gysin, Bastian and Uli Schmidt, August Buder, Heini Joder, Hans Hersberger and his wife Barbara could not be persuaded to abandon their faith even after years of imprisonment. Jakob Hersberger was placed on the pillory on 14 July 1535 in Basel; the executioner cut out his tongue and two fingers of his right hand as a perjurer.
In 1532 two nonresident Anabaptists were questioned on the rack in Basel, and declared that the Brethren were increasing "splendidly on Lake Geneva; also that there was a congregation at Rappoltsweiler and at Colmar in Alsace. They said they knew nothing of a planned insurrection, which might motivate and justify the terrible executions of the Austrian government in Ensisheim" (J. Horsch, in Mennonitische Rundschau, 17 July 1912).
Anabaptism continued for a long time in the Basel district. The meetings of the congregation "auf dem Blauen" in the 1580s were attended sometimes by 10, sometimes by 30 or 40 of the Swiss Brethren scattered through the community. About 1600 a mason named Peter was their preacher. The congregation was always under suppression. Many were banished. On 11 June 1595 the council, following Zürich's example, sharpened exile by confiscation of property.
About 1616 a small group of Swiss Brethren gathered in the house of Fridli Hersberger in Thürnen. Their preacher was Kaspar Schuhmacher of Safenwyl in Aargau. Others from this place took part in the meetings. They met in Grenzach, or in the "red house" in the Hard or in the woods about Bottmingen. Their preacher was Hans Bürky from the canton of Basel. In Maisprach the Brethren met in the house of Michel Rohrer. In Thürnen the Berchtold family were loyal members of the group.
Many emigrated to Moravia. By 1571 many had already gone there from the canton of Basel: Jakob Riggenbach, his wife and others from Rothenfluh, Heini Schaub and Bastian Buser from Sissach, Werlin Buser from Liestal, Matthias Senn from Tecknau, and others. Thus the old Swiss Brethren families in the Basel region have practically died out. The Brethren who settled in the early 18th century as renters in the canton of Basel, in Läufelfingen, Binningen, and Frenkendorf were immigrants. The dairy-farm Oberbölchen near Eptingen, called the "Anabaptist hut," served as their meeting place about 1722. Others gathered in the "red house" in the Hard or on the Wildenstein; for communion they journeyed to Alsace, as far as Ohnenheim near Colmar.
The prince bishop of Basel, Joh. Konrad, on 5 February 1731 ruled that "Anabaptists and Pietists" were to be banished within six months. Actually only a few were banished. When the French Revolution brought the Swiss Brethren the toleration they had long yearned for, it was revealed that there were many of them in the bishop's Basel and Jura districts, who were henceforth permitted to live according to their faith unmolested (Müller, Berner Täufer, 238, 239, and 250).
From the records in the Basel state archives we take the following: on 9 January 1697 three Brethren, Martin Waldner, Martin Moster, and Martin Dettweiler, residents of Langenbrugg, were captured and banished from the canton. On 3 May 1719 Hans Martin of Pratteln was cross-examined "because of his Anabaptist error." He showed a sincere desire to serve God and to live according to the commands of His Word; but he was unable to swear an oath to the government or bear arms, for this would be against his conscience. He was given several months to consider. After 1723 there are no native Anabaptists left in the canton of Basel.
About 60 years later several Swiss Brethren families settled in the canton of Basel. Claus Hirschy of Langnau in the Trachselwald district of the canton of Bern leased the estate of Leonhard Wagner in Alt-Schauenburg and in April 1777 he made half of the estate over to a Hans Schwarz of Schwartnau, Thun district of the canton of Bern, who was a native of Alsace. They held their religious services on the Wildenstein. In 1777 the parson Bleyenstein at Läufelfingen reported that 28 Anabaptists had come to the neighboring dairy farm and declared that they had acquired tenure of the land. Even the pastor of Bubendorf had accepted an Anabaptist on his estate as a tenant, and a large family had settled in Läufelfingen (in the "Murer-Haus"), who did not attend the state church. The name of the father was Ludwig Plattner, was known in Basel as a linen-weaver, who dealt in sheets. He was afraid that many aberrations and divisions would occur, as had happened through the "Murer" tailor, George Flied; for these people had been expelled from the bishopric of Basel, and were now trying to get a stronger and stronger footing in the canton of Basel to the greatest harm to religion and the obvious misleading of the people.
This letter was very effective. The church board took energetic steps in the matter. The pastor of Läufelfingen was praised for his vigilance, and he was commissioned to get to the bottom of the affair, by visiting Ludwig Plattner and finding out whether he really fostered this "Anabaptist error," and to take good care that he did not scatter the same, so that they could earnestly prevent the spread of such weeds. The other pastors were asked to keep a watchful eye on the Anabaptists, to apply the most effective methods of correcting such erring ones, and to protect the others from being misled to their errors.
The pastor of Läufelfingen discharged his assigned task with great zeal. He reported that the Anabaptist family had four daughters and three sons; he found the following books: "a large Froschauer Bible in a new reprint of Strasbourg 1748, two New Testaments—a Froschauer and a Lutheran, two books of psalms and hymns, Arndt's Paradiesgärtlein, a Lustgärtlein, a concordance, a book of confessions of Anabaptist martyrs and similar songs." In the cross-examination the Anabaptist (the report continues) declared that he could not adhere to the established church for conscience' sake, because it permitted too much looseness, swearing, drinking, etc. As an Anabaptist he depended partly on the services he conducted at home with his own family, and partly on meetings of the Anabaptists in the "red house." Their conscience did not permit them to carry or use arms, yet they would probably agree to haul munitions, food, etc., if necessary, to the people. Concerning baptism he said that they leave their children unbaptized until they reach the age of discretion and their own understanding of the faith of their fathers; they were permitted to choose freely between their brotherhood and the established church. The pastor said that he did not fear that this Anabaptist would try to make proselytes, but it was very depressing and dubious to permit people who were so wrong and dangerous in religious matters to gain a footing in the country only because of their supposed industry and conscientiousness, and quiet, retiring habits. . . . He hoped that an exalted government would not grant protection to people who refused it the oath, would not bear arms, and by their example would mislead other subjects to similar disobedience.
Once again the Läufelfingen parson was asked for a report. The church board had heard that the Anabaptists in the canton asserted that Ludwig Plattner was no concern of theirs and was not in their brotherhood; their meetings were not always held in the red house, but alternately in the various homes. They had never had communion services in the canton and did not intend to do so. The parson reported that Ludwig Plattner declared that about 60 years ago there had been a division among their leaders, resulting in two branches which still formed two separate brotherhoods, the upper and the lower. The following differences existed between them:
- The lower strictly observed the ban; it was not permitted to have any dealings with the banned person, whether he was brother, sister, husband or wife, not even to eat with him.
- In connection with communion feetwashing must be observed according to the example of our Savior.
- Communion must be observed twice a year; whereas the upper church considered once a year sufficient, to whom he belonged.
Now the government instituted an exact investigation of the number of Mennonite families. It was shown that seven or eight families had "slipped into" the various communities, totaling about 50 persons. The pastors said that their conduct was quiet and withdrawn, and they observed the Lord's day better than many others, and did not appear before court as a plaintiff or a defendant. In the community of Muttenz, Friedrich Gerig from Lensburg ([Aargau (Switzerland)|Aargau]]), a tenant of the "red house," had been living with his seven children; a brother-in-law lived on the Wildenstein and another on the estate in St. Jakob. In Binningen on the castle estate Michael Stauffer had been a tenant since 1771 and one of his day laborers was Jakob Würgler.
A second list of Anabaptists, compiled in 1783 by the magistrates, gives the following information:
In the district of Hornburg are
- Johannes Benz, from the canton of Bern, who had come to the "ständigen Alp Divtistberg" in May 1782 and was to remain until May 1786;
- Christian Bürgy of Emmendingen;
- David Rohdacher, from near Karlsruhe, both on the Wieland estate at Rothenfluh, whose tenants they had become two and one-half years before for a term of eight years;
- Ludwig Plattner of Rüderswil, Trachselwald district of the canton of Bern, had entered the canton six years ago, stayed three years in Läufelfingen, and had been on the H. Dietrich estate, called the Wüstmatt, for three of a term of twelve years.
On the Wildenstein: Christian Freienberger with wife and three children had been in the canton seven years, and his brother-in-law Friedrich Gerig with wife and seven children two years.
In Bubendorf: Christian Müller with wife and three children had been here six years, and Christian Stucky with wife and one child also for six years, a day laborer in the pit.
"They are industrious, economical, submissive, peaceful, withdrawn, and hold their religious services quietly every two weeks, rotating between Schänzli at St. Jakob, the Wildenstein, and the Arxhof."
It is further reported that the tenant on the castle estate at Binningen, who had been there since 1776, had moved away the year before; on the other hand, two Mennonite families had settled at Brüglingen and two "am hohen Stein." In each case the estate was leased to only one, and the other worked for him. The actual tenant at Brüglingen had come from Alsace and had been on the Holdenwand since 1780, and settled here last year; the other came from the margravure. They were between 30 and 40 years old, and had one and two children respectively. The tenant on Hohenstein was from Emmendingen, had two married daughters, and a boy of eight or nine years at home. The other couple was from the Breisgau and had two children of ten or twelve years. On the estate at Liestal there was a Mennonite family which originally came from the canton of Bern, and five years ago came here from Alsace.
On 6 May 1783 the church synod requested a government regulation that the children of Mennonite parents be entered in the church books, so that their age be known, and when Mennonites die, to permit them to be buried in the church cemeteries. They hoped by this measure to bring about a better supervision of the Mennonites; but it was not passed. It seems that after 1845 the Mennonites were permitted to keep their own records of births, deaths, and marriages. In March 1846 Johann Kaufmann, tenant on the Wenkenhof, sought legalization of his signature, since he had been charged by his congregation, which met at the home of its leader at Urchelfelden, to keep the birth and confirmation records in the place of the deceased Schmuggli of Arlesheim. His request was granted.
On 17 May 1783, the regulation was passed that "information should be given about their number, the length of their stay and their moral conduct, and a watchful eye should be kept on them by the local parsons and any objectionable conduct be reported."
From 1805 on, no obstacles of any kind prevented the Mennonites from settling in the canton of Basel. They were to discharge their military duty in the transportation corps (noncombatant).
When in 1798 a Mennonite living on Buneberg refused to swear the civic oath, he was permitted, by an act of the republican government at Aarau, of 18 September 1798 to use the formula, "We promise . . . ."
In 1810, in the regulation concerning the announcing and solemnizing of marriages, the rule was adopted "that all Mennonites living here, who do not form a congregation, be forbidden to have the marriage ceremony performed in any place in the canton, but such persons shall be sent to their homes for the marriage, and shall be tolerated only with properly legalized certificate of citizenship." This regulation was modified by the first decision of the council on 17 November 1821. It granted the request of Johannes Wenger, tenant in Brüglingen, to have his marriage performed according to Mennonite usage. He could, to be sure, give weight to his petition by the fact that his parents had been living in the canton for 40 years, and that he and his brothers had completed their military service in the transportation corps.
On 5 January 1847, the Amish congregation (Binningen, now called Holeestrasse) presented the following petition to the city council: "From olden times to the present the Swiss Brethren living around this city have held their religious services at the homes of the various members.
"Since this constant change causes many inconveniences to all the members, the wish has long arisen among us, that it might be permitted to us to hold our congregational services in a chapel dedicated always and exclusively to this ,purpose. We have recently agreed on a plan to purchase a plot in the township and to build a very modest chapel on it. We have already selected a very suitable site for it, a field of half an acre belonging to Ziegler Dill in Binningen, on the Hohenletten, near the village Binningen, and now take the liberty to present this respectful petition, that it may be granted us: 1, to buy said piece of land, and 2, to erect a small chapel on it.
"We hope the more confidently for gracious consent, for in France and in several states of Germany similar concessions have been granted our brotherhood, so that there are already several chapels in these countries.
"With sincere gratitude we shall be happy if we are permitted to erect such a chapel, in order to praise the Father of all in our own manner. In the name of the congregation, Johannes Kaufmann, preacher, Wenkenhof."
Upon the declaration of Peter Stucki, tenant of the Wieland estate near St. Johann gate, that Johann Kaufmann on the Wenkenhof had offered to buy it and paid a preliminary sum of 800 fr., the remaining 5,000 fr. of the building costs to be assumed by the congregation, and upon the consent of the church council, the request was granted. This consent is of special interest for its growing spirit of toleration. It says:
"We have unanimously agreed that the request of the Anabaptist brotherhood be granted.
"We are guided by the article of our previous constitution which states: the established church is the Protestant Reformed; the exercise of any other Christian creed is granted under the observance of legal stipulations.
"We are guided also by the fact that permission has been granted to Catholics to use our churches and to the Jews to hold services in private homes.
"It therefore seems so much the less desirable to refuse this right to the Anabaptists, who are essentially Protestant in their faith.
"Nevertheless we do not conceal from ourselves the fact that other sects which might arise here might also make use of this concession, and that namely the sect of the so-called Neutäufer (see Apostolic Christian Church) who are very active in Switzerland and also in Germany, who are not to be confused with our old Anabaptists, if they should gain a footing in Basel, would not fail to take advantage of this privilege. We therefore thought that the granting of such a privilege could not injure the church any more than the possibility of meeting in any other manner would do.
"Concerning the main point presented by the Anabaptists for the desirability of a chapel, namely that the constant change of meetingplace is fraught with many inconveniences, this is very clear. The number of this division of the Anabaptists (who have footwashing as a distinguishing sign) has increased so greatly in our region, that it is difficult for them to find a room on their farms that is large enough, and the distance between these farms is so great that when it is the turn of an outlying farm to have the meeting, they are unable to be as diligent in attendance as their regulations and also the implanting and preservation of their religion requires, especially in bad weather and on the short winter days.
"Though we do .not advise objecting to the granting of the request of these people, it nevertheless seems to us it would be practical to make some regulations, as which we suggest the following:
- The Anabaptists are to submit to existing police regulations relating to their services.
- They are not to put a bell on their chapel.
"Concerning the question as to whether they should be reminded to refrain from proselytizing we were divided. But the majority believed that we should refrain, partly because the Anabaptists in our district have not been engaged in such activity, and partly because it would be in contradiction to other articles of the constitution. The minority wished to have such an article, not because of the group presenting the petition, but because it is now a matter of establishing principles for future cases."
The document was signed on 14 January 1847, by J. Burkhardt.
Thus the time of complete toleration had arrived also for the Mennonites of Basel, and its two congregations could live in accord with their principles in outward peace.
For the further history of the two Basel congregations see Basel-Schänzli and Basel-Holeestrasse. In the summer of 1925 the first Mennonite World Conference was held in Basel, in 1952 the fifth. With the establishment of the European administrative headquarters of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Basel in the late fall of 1946 Basel became more and more Mennonite center of wider Mennonite significance particularly for the Swiss, Alsatian, French, South German area. Through the initiative of the MCC, the Basler Glaubenskonferenz was inaugurated as an annual summer weekend conference in 1947. And in 1951, the Europäische Mennonitische Bibelschule (European Mennonite Bible School) was established here as an annual short term winter Bible School of 4-6 weeks, which grew into a significant enterprise. It uses temporarily the MCC headquarters building for classroom purposes. The Fifth Mennonite World Conference was held at St. Chrischona near Basel 10-15 August 1952, with the three nearby conferences (Swiss, Alsatian, and French) serving as hosts. These three conferences also sponsored the Glaubenskonferenz, and together with the two South German conferences sponsored the Bible School. Thus Basel became a focal point for interconference cooperation and fellowship, a role to which its location at a crossroads of travel as well as a junction point of three countries and two cultures (German and French) ideally adapted it. -- Neff
1990 UpdateThe results of recent research on 16th-century Anabaptism in the Basel area might be summarized as follows: (1) While Zürich clearly remains the primary center of Swiss Brethren origin, we can no longer speak of the Basel area as marginal to the early movement. During the period of the Schleitheim Confession, ca. 1526-1529, Basel was certainly a center, if not the center, of the new Swiss Brethren movement. (2) The continuity between late medieval and Reformation movements, as well as between pre-Reformation folk piety and Anabaptism was greater than has generally been assumed. (3) In the same way there was a close relationship between incipient Anabaptism and radical Reformation social unrest in the rural hinterlands, particularly in relation to latent anticlericalism, iconoclasm, and the common people's resistance to paying the tithe. (4) Anabaptist separatism was not due only to external pressures, but also to a mixture of other motives—the survival impulse, the result of Bible study, and the Anabaptists' concern for discipleship as evidence of faith. Thus Anabaptist separatism was ultimately the consequence of an understanding of the church as a body of faithful followers of Jesus. -- HJ
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 Cite This Article
Neff, Christian and Hanspeter Jecker. "Basel (Switzerland)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 7 Jul 2015. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Basel_(Switzerland)&oldid=120903.
Neff, Christian and Hanspeter Jecker. (1987). Basel (Switzerland). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 7 July 2015, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Basel_(Switzerland)&oldid=120903.
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