By Jared L. Olar
April 2007-May 2013
NOTE: I am searching for anyone who might be descended from or related to my Olar, Paskar, Toderiuc, and Ciopei ancestors. In February 2008, I had the joy of making contact with the descendants of my grandfather's older brother Mihai Olar. If you are a relative, or think you might be, I encourage you to please contact me. See also our Family Search pages with family photographs hosted by Maritza Hreniuc in French, English, and Romanian. Thanks!
In researching my father's genealogy, I have received invaluable assistance from my parents and aunts and uncles and cousins. I must give special mention to my cousin Greg Budovec, for whose generosity in sharing old family photos and mementos I am very grateful. I have also greatly benefited from the kindness of my distant cousins Marianna Zotic and Vitalii Eremeiko. Last but not least, I also have benefited from the help of The Bukovina Society of the Americas. Their website is a storehouse of very helpful information, and I have relied on some of the Society's articles to help write this account of the Olar genealogy.
MY FATHER'S parents were ethnic Romanians from Bucovina (or Bukovina), a territory that was a duchy in the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time of my grandparents' birth. In fact, sometimes my grandfather would say he was "Austrian" when asked what his national origin was. Other times he described himself as "a Romanian of Rusyn descent," by which he was referring to his maternal Ukrainian ancestry. Most of Bucovina's inhabitants were, and still are, Ukrainians (Ruthenians or Rusyn -- pronounced similarly to, but not to be confused with, "Russian") and Romanians, but it also has had thriving populations of different ethnic groups such as Hungarians, Poles, Germans, Serbs, Croats, Slovaks, Russians, Jews, and even Armenians. My grandfather learned to speak several languages with varying degrees of fluency, simply so he could talk with his neighbors.
Before I present what is known about the history of my father's family, it will aid our understanding to first take a look at the history of the former home of our Romanian ancestors. (If you wish, you may proceed immediately to the genealogical account of Nine Generations of Olars.)
Brief History of the Romanian People
The history of Romania begins with the Dacians, a people who were closely related to the Getae and Thracians, a group of tribes who anciently dwelled in lands that would become Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine. The Thracians and Getae were related peoples and spoke similar languages, and classical Roman and Greek writers used "Getae" and "Daci" interchangeably. If the ancient Jewish historian Josephus is to be trusted, then the earliest historical reference to the Thracians would be in Gen. 10:2 (cf. I Chron. 1:5), where Tiras is listed as the youngest son of Japheth, son of Noah. "Thiras also called those whom he ruled over, Thirasians, but the Greeks changed the name into Thracians," Josephus writes. Medieval legends refer to Geta and Dacus, eponymous ancestors of the Getae and the Dacians who are said to have settled in Eastern Europe after Noah's Flood. Be that as it may, the Getae first appear in history in the 400s B.C., in the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus, who calls them a Thracian people. Alexander the Great campaigned against them on the lower Danube in 335 B.C. "Dacians" by name first appear in the historical record during the 300s B.C., when Dacian slaves began to be sold in the Athenian slave market. The Roman writers Trogus Pompeius and Justin mention that in the early 100s B.C. (prior to 168 B.C.) there was a Dacian kingdom in Transylvania ruled by a king named Rubobostes. The Dacian kingdom attained its greatest extent and power under Burebista (82-44 B.C.). However, the pivotal event of Dacian history was the Roman conquest under Emperor Trajan in A.D. 106. Trajan defeated the Dacian king Decebalus, who fled and committed suicide rather than submit to being paraded during Trajan's Triumph in Rome. After the Roman conquest many Dacians fled north beyond the bounds of the Roman Empire. To replace them, Trajan brought in colonists from all over the Roman Empire, especially from Illyria (modern Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia). Emperor Aurelian was forced to abandon the province of Dacia to the Goths in A.D. 271 A.D. Even so, Roman cultural influence in Dacia would prove to be enduring, as seen in the survival of the Latin language which evolved into the Romanian language. The Romanians are very proud of their Roman heritage.
In subsequent centuries, the Romanised Dacians would be overrun by, and would sometimes absorb or mix with, several waves of invaders, starting with the German Goths and Gepidae. It is notable that many ancient and medieval writers, including the Gothic historian Jordanes in A.D. 551, identified the Goths with the Getae (Jordanes' Gothic history is even called the Getica), but that identification seems most doubtful, since the Getae spoke a Thracian dialect while Gothic was a Germanic tongue. The "Getae = Gothi" tradition could indicate, however, that the Goths and Dacians intermixed to a degree that the Goths could comfortably appropriate Getic history as part of their own heritage.
The Goths and their kin, the Gepidae, did not remain in Dacia, but were pushed into Thrace (Bulgaria) and Pannonia (Hungary) by the Asiatic Huns, who moved into Dacia in the 400s A.D. After the Huns came the Slavs and then the Avars. The Bulgars arrived in the latter half of the 600s A.D., followed by the Hungars (Magyars) at the end of the 800s A.D. Later there was a brief invasion by Petchenegs and Cumans. Finally came the terrifying and destructive Tatar-Mongol invasion in the 1200s A.D. By the Middle Ages, the descendants of the Romanised Dacians had come to be known as Vlachs or Wallachians, a name that is probably related to the Germanic words for "Roman," Welsch, Wealh, or Valar. Culturally they were very much like their Slavic kinsfolk and neighbors, using the Cyrillic script but speaking a Romance tongue rather than a Slavic tongue. Also, like many Slavic peoples, they adhered to Eastern Christian rites. From the time of the Great Schism in the East in 1054 A.D., most Romanians have been Eastern Orthodox Christians. My grandparents were both baptised in the Romanian Orthodox Church.
The unbroken recorded history of the Romanian people does not commence until after the Tatar-Mongol invasion, which obliterated Eastern European historical records. Around 1300 A.D., two Romanian principalities were founded: Wallachia or Muntenia (later to become southern Romania) and Moldavia (later to become northeastern Romania). During the 1500s, both principalities were brought into subjection by the Ottoman Turks, who governed Wallachia and Moldavia (called Efflak and Bogdan in Turkish) through Romanian and Greek Phanariot princes and nobles who ruled at the pleasure of the Muslim Sultan.
The Ottoman Empire went into a decline in the 1700s, and the Russian Empire wielded its growing power to force the Turks to grant more and more concessions to the Romanians. In the early 1800s, Moldavia and Wallachia were semi-independent but still nominally under Turkish suzerainty. In 1859 the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia elected a single prince, Alexandru Ion Cuza, and in 1862 the two principalities formally united. In 1866, Cuza was compelled to abdicate, and a German prince, Karl Eitel Friedrich von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, was elected as Carol I. The principality of Romania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire on 22 May 1877. The principality became a kingdom in 1881, and Carol was crowned king on March 26 of that year. At the end of World War I in 1918, the territories of Transylvania, Bucovina (Bukovina), and Basarabia (Bessarabia), lands that had long had significant Romanian populations, were added to the kingdom.
During World War II, Romania sided with the Nazis and Fascists. Like many European nations, the Romanian people had long been plagued by anti-Semitism, and many (though by no means all) Romanians enthusiastically participated in the Holocaust. Afterwards, the Jewish population of Romania was all but wiped out. In my grandfather's village of Tereblecea, a small but thriving Jewish community was blotted out completely, though that was due not to Nazi activity but to the general desolation visited upon all the peoples of northern Bucovina by the Russian Communists and their collaborators following Russia's criminal occupation of northern Bucovina in 1940. In 1944, King Mihai (Michael), great-greatnephew of King Carol I, led a coup d'etat that ended Romania's alliance with and subservience to Nazi Germany. Nevertheless, after the war the Russian Communist Empire annexed the northern half of Bucovina as well as Basarabia, which they renamed Moldova (now an independent state). Sadly, Romania escaped from dictatorship and the Nazi influence only to fall under the dire curse of Communism. In 1947, King Mihai was forced to abdicate and a Communist tyranny was established. Communism finally was overthrown late in 1989 and the tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu was mercilessly executed following a bloody and painful revolution. Since then, Romania has slowly begun to heal of the severe wounds it suffered during the 20th century, but deep social and cultural scars still remain.
Since the end of Communism, King Mihai (now 90 years old) resides part of the time in Romania, but there is no strong movement to reestablish the monarchy. Mihai has five daughters, but no sons, and under the defunct Romanian Constitution of 1923, Mihai's lawful successor would be the senior male representative of the Princely House of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (currently Prince Karl Friedrich von Hohenzollern, born 1952). Nevertheless, in 1997 King Mihai designated his oldest daughter Princess Margarita as heir to the headship of the Romanian royal family after his death. The monarchy would first have to be restored and the old 1923 succession law altered to allow Margarita to succeed as Queen of Romania.
Additional information on Romania's history is found in the Catholic Encyclopedia's article "Rumania."
Brief Overview of the History of Bucovina
BUCOVINA, which is Ukrainian for "Land of the Beech Trees," was the northern tip of Moldavia and was bordered on the west by the Carpathian mountains. It no longer exists as a distinct administrative territory, however. At the end of World War I in 1918, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was violently dismembered, and following that chaos Bucovina was assigned to Romania, which then was ruled by King Ferdinand, nephew of King Carol I. Then after World War II, the northern half of Bucovina was forcibly annexed by the Russian Communist Empire, partly to punish Romania for its alliance with the Nazis. Today the northern half of Bucovina, which seems to have had a majority Ukrainian population from time out of mind, forms the Chernivetska oblast in an independent Ukraine, whereas the southern half, which also seems to have had a majority Romanian population from time out of mind, now forms the Romanian county of Suceava. The village where my grandparents were born, Tereblecea (German Tereblestie, Ukrainian Terebleche or Terebleshti, sometimes known as Porubne, the name of the Ukrainian-Romanian border crossing nearby), is now located a very short distance north of the border of Romania and Ukraine.
Reaching back to the Middle Ages, the area that would become Bucovina was the heart and core of the Romanian Principality of Moldavia, which was founded about 1300 A.D. by a prince ("voivode") named Dragos. Moldavia's princes had their seat in the city of Suceava, located in what would become southern Bucovina. The principality first achieved the status of an independent state around 1359 A.D. under Bogdan I of Guhnea. During the reigns of Stefan III Musati, known as Stefan the Great (1457-1504), and of Stefan's illegitimate son Petru IV Musati, known as Petru Rares (died 1546), the famous Painted Monasteries of northern Romania were constructed.
The Ottoman Turks, as part of their plans to conquer all of Europe and eventually convert its inhabitants to Islam, repeatedly attacked the Romanian principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia starting in the latter 1300s. Stefan the Great was a noble and tireless warrior, devoting his reign to the defense of Europe from the Turks, but after his death, his son Bogdan III was forced in 1513 to pay annual tribute to the Muslim Sultan. Moldavia decisively succumbed to the Muslim armies in 1538. From that time the region stagnated and decayed as it endured Ottoman rule, but in 1769 the Russians began to occupy Bucovina during a war between the Russian and Ottoman empires. Just a few years later, in 1774, the Austrian Empire drove out the Russians and occupied Bucovina, which was formally ceded to Austria by the Ottoman Empire through the Treaty of Constantinople in 1775, during the reign of the Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa.
When Austria acquired Bucovina, the region was sparsely populated. A census of 1775 counted only about 75,000 souls in all of Bucovina. A few years later, Karl Baron von Enzenberg, military governor of Bucovina, conducted the first formal census of Bucovina, and found a little more than 100,000 souls, not even six persons per square mile. The largest settlement was Czernowitz (Ukrainian Chernivtsi, Romanian Cernauţi), which had only 1,390 souls dwelling in about 200 mud huts. Most of the land was owned by the monasteries or by nobility, and the inhabitants were almost entirely shepherds and peasants, many of whom tended to move in and out of Bucovina seasonally. However, even in 1778 Bucovina was already a multi-ethnic land. In conducting his census, Baron von Enzenberg encountered Moldavian Romanians, Jews, Gypsies, Armenians, Hungarians, and Ruthenians.
Since Bucovina had such a small population and had suffered such decay and neglect under Muslim rule, the Austrian Emperor began to encourage immigration to Bucovina. The population quickly began to increase and to grow even more diverse, roads were built, and Czernowitz, the capital of the duchy, became a respectable city with its own university. By the time my grandparents left Bucovina, the population of the Duchy of Bucovina was more than 800,000 souls.
From 1786 to 1849, Bucovina was administered as a district of the province of Galicia. In 1849, Bucovina became a duchy and a separate crown land. It would remain such until, as mentioned above, it was annexed by Romania in 1918 in accordance with the Treaty of St. Germain. Northern Bucovina was occupied by the Russian Communist Empire beginning in 1940 and was permanently severed from Romania in 1945.
The Village of Tereblecea
TEREBLECEA today is a small town in Ukraine with a population of about 8,000. It is located on the plain near the Siret River, just a very short distance north of the Romanian border, and although Tereblecea is in Ukraine, many if not most of the inhabitants are still ethnic Romanians. In my grandparents' youth (that is, more than 100 years ago) Tereblecea was only a village -- or rather, it was two villages. The original village of Tereblecea was a small settlement of Romanians, but in 1789, during the time of Austrian rule, Germans began to move to Tereblecea, or "Tereblestie" as it was called in German. The new, German area of the village was known as Deutsch-Tereblestie, to distinguish it from the original Romanian Tereblecea (Romanisch-Tereblestie or Rumanisch-Tereblestie), part of which was known as Prisaca ("Apiary," place of bee hives).
The Austro-Hungarian census returns of Bucovina for the years 1869, 1880, 1890, and 1900 are available at the Czernowitz weblog of genealogical researcher Edgar Hauster. For the 1869 census, no distinction was made between the Romanian and German sections of Tereblecea. In 1869, Tereblecea had 539 houses, 1,648 men, and 1,607 women, making a total population of 3,255 souls. For subsequent census tallies, the Austrian government counted Romanisch-Tereblestie and Deutsch-Tereblestie separately, and in 1890 even took a separate count of the residents of Prisaca. The later censuses also included statistics for religion and ethnicity. The census figures for Tereblecea in 1880, 1890, and 1900 are as follows:
1880 1890 1900 ---- ---- ---- Romanisch-Tereblestie Houses 453 502 560 Men 1,201 1,307 1,431 Women 1,170 1,293 1,402 Total 2,371 2,600 2,833 Catholics 401 525 479 Orthodox 1,919 1,964 2,201 Jews 42 55 52 Other Religions 9 56 161 Germans 74 170 221 Ruthenians 173 77 90 Romanians 1,887 1,957 2,159 Other Ethnicities 237 391 356 Deutsch-Tereblestie Houses 178 190 213 Men 550 652 655 Women 553 626 657 Total 1,103 1,278 1,312 Catholics 224 265 212 Orthodox 21 81 115 Jews 59 88 96 Other Religions 799 845 889 Germans 1,075 1,187 1,219 Ruthenians 15 37 18 Romanians 10 45 68 Other Ethnicities 3 5 -- La Prisaka Houses 3 Men 8 Women 7 Total 15
It is possible that the original founding of Tereblecea resulted from the devastating Tatar-Mongol invasions of 1241 A.D., as Wilhelm Messner, a former schoolteacher from Deutsch-Tereblestie, explains in his 1985 book Die schwäbisch-pfälzische Bauernsiedlung Deutsch-Tereblestie von ihrer Gründung bis zur Umsiedlung 1789-1940 ("The Swabian-Palatinate Farm Settlement German-Tereblecea from its Establishment until the Resettlement, 1789-1940"). Although Messner's book focuses on Deutsch-Tereblestie, it also is valuable for what it says about the history and culture of the Romanians of Tereblecea. The following passages from Messner's book were translated by Irmgard Hein Ellingson, who shared her translation with me in two emails from Dec. 2001 and Feb. 2002.
On the origin and name of Tereblecea, Messner says:
"The village Tereblestie, once Telebecinze, Tiriplesj, or Tereblecea, called Triwlescht in Swabian dialect, and now called Porubnoe, lies on the plain on the left bank of the Sereth River. . . . The word Tereblestie is most likely of Tatar or Turkish origin, and the village could once have been a Tatar or Turkish settlement. The name could derive from the Tatar word tebletsch referring to a Tatarenschanze, a Tatar entrenchment, which was reportedly located east of Romanian-Tereblestie at the edge of the forest, or from the Turkish word telebi, which is said to mean beautiful." (Messner, pp.19, 153)
Elsewhere in his book, Messner says:
"At the time that the Moldavian principality was established [i.e. circa 1300 A.D.], Bukovina was occupied by the Cumanen or Kumanen whose name is retained in the name of the village Komanestie, Tatars (the name Tereblestie, earlier Tatarescheny, refers to them), Ruthenians (the Ukrainians whose language is evident in the names Bukovina, Czernowitz, Sereth, and Suczawa), and Wallachians (Romanians)." (Messner, p.15)
If it is true that Tereblecea started out as a Tatar settlement, then it is not impossible that my grandfather's village is about as old as the medieval principality of Moldavia itself. On the other hand, the placename could just be a late survival or memory of the medieval Tatar invasion. In any event, Tereblecea is known to have already existed by the early 1700s, as is shown by a comment from Grigorie Nandris, a member of the Romanian Parliament prior to 1940, in his foreword to Dumitru Nimigeanu's book, Hell Moved Its Border. Nandris says Tereblecea "has twelve times experienced the horror of a Russian military occupation since 1711, when Peter the Great, in his desire to secure for his country 'a window on the world,' was defeated in his disastrous campaign on the river Pruth."
Moving on, Messner's descriptions of the dwellingplaces and clothing of the Romanian farmers of old-time Tereblecea are a delight, and give a partial sketch of what life was like for my Olar and Paskar ancestors, who were peasant farmers from Tereblecea:
"The houses of most of the Romanian farmers were small wooden structures with clay-plastered, whitewashed walls. A house typically had an entry room which also served as a place to store various tools and also one or two rooms with clay floors. One room was used as a kitchen. Broad benches were placed against the walls and these were covered with handmade wool blankets and carpets made with beautiful designs and colors, with sheep pelts, and cushions. The benches were used for seating and for sleeping. The top of the oven, the cuptior, was also used as a place to sleep.
"The furniture was limited: in addition to the benches, there was a table and various trunks or chests but rarely a cabinet.
"Benches were also placed along the outside walls of the house. The yard was small; the drinking water was brought from the village well.
"The houses and business places of the more prosperous farmers and the Greek Orthodox priest were similar in size and furnishing to those of the German settlers, but the lower edge of the shingled roof extended far out beyond the house wall and was supported by narrow beams or rafters. The ridge of the roof was decorated with wood carvings as was the chimney. Each property had its own well. The influence of the German settlers was evident in these establishments.
"Many Romanians wore their homemade Nationaltracht, or folk costume. The men wore white, snugly fitting linen or woolen trousers, with white long linen shirts, broad leather belts with colorful decorations and yellow nail heads or broad colorful woven sashes, black broad-brimmed hats or fleece caps, short fleece vests, long fleece pelts extending below the knees or brown heavy woolen tailored farmers' smocks, and their feet wrapped in linen or wool and then placed in Opanken, a kind of sandal. [NOTE: the Romanian word for them is opinci]
"The few prosperous farmers in Romanian-Tereblestie wore 'German' clothes (haine nemtesti).
"The dress of the Romanian women consisted of linen blouses that extended practically to their knuckles with a wrap-around skirt made of a length of black or red wool that was one to three meters long, and embroidered on one side up to the belt. A woman's belt or sash was smaller than a man's. They wore scarves for their head covering. On their feet they wore Opanken but on Sundays, holidays, and festival days they wore leather shoes or boots. The poorer girls went barefoot in summer. Vests, long fleece pelts, and the brown woolen farmers' smocks were also worn by women. The blouses that women wore on Sundays, holidays, and festivals were embroidered on the shoulders, sleeve, and bodice. For jewelry, women wore many strings of colorful glass beads and imitation coral. Wealthier women wore chains made of coins." (Messner, pp.102-107)
I have singled out for emphasis the words, "The poorer girls went barefoot in summer," because they brought to mind something my father told me about my grandmother -- she wouldn't wear shoes, and even in winter or cold weather, despite my grandfather's telling her, "Why don't you put some shoes on," still my grandmother would go around the house in bare feet. This habit of my grandmother's would seem to be an indication of her peasant status.
Head-coverings for married women was another aspect of traditional Romanian dress among peasant women from the time of my grandmother's childhood: "Among the Roumanian peasants, no married woman is ever seen with her head uncovered; on the other hand, girls must always go bare-headed. Hence the expression 'be fain to veil her head' means wishing to be a wife." (The Bard of Dimbovitza -- Rovmanian Folk-Songs Collected From the Peasants by Helene Vacaresco, translated by Carmen Sylva and Alma Strettell, 1892, p.130)
The descendants of my grandfather's older brother Mihai Olar have informed me that the old Romanian houses of Prisaca, including the houses where my Romanian grandparents were born and lived, were demolished by the Russian Communist Army around 1940. During World War II, the Russian Communists invaded Romania and occupied northern Bucovina and Basarabia. The Nazis had recently relocated the Germans of Tereblecea to Germany. The Romanians of Tereblecea resisted the Russians, so their homes were destroyed and they were forcibly relocated to the recently vacated homes in Deutsch-Tereblestie. Anyone in northern Bucovina who resisted the inhuman Communist regime, or who were caught attempting to cross the new border into Romania, or who was merely suspected of being unhappy about the daily crimes and atrocities that the Communists committed in the name of freedom and progress, would be arrested, tortured, murdered, or deported to slave labor camps in Siberia. The horrors that befell northern Bucovina in general, and Tereblecea in particular, under Russian Communist occupation in those days are recounted in Hell Moved Its Border, the memoir of Dumitru Nimigeanu (Dimitrie Nimigean), which was published in 1960. Nimigeanu was one of those deported to Siberia, later miraculously escaping to freedom in the West.
Additional information on Tereblecea is found in Irmgard Hein Ellingson's translated excerpts from Messner's book, at the website of the Bukovina Society of the Americas, here.
The Romanian Surname "Olar"
IN THE United States and Canada, the surname "Olar" is not especially common. Also, some Olar families in North America are not of Romanian descent, but are German, Polish, or Ukrainian -- in those cases, sometimes surnames such as Olarski or Olarovich were shortened to become "Olar," or a surname like Oehler, Ohlier, or Oilier was respelled as "Olar." Among ethnic Romanians in Europe, the Olar surname is not necessarily a common name, but it is also very far from rare. In fact, among ethnic Romanians there are eight variants of the Olar surname: Olar, Olaru, Olari, Olariu, Olarescu, Olaroiu, Olaras, and Olarasu. All eight variants come from an ancient Latin word, ollarius, which means "a potter," a maker of pots (cf. the Portuguese word for potter, oleiro). "Olarescu" signifies "son or descendant of the potter." In past centuries the occupation of potter was almost as commonplace as the occupation of smith, so there is no chance of a single genealogical origin of those Romanian families that bear the five Olar variant surnames. Furthermore, even among Romanians with the surname of "Olar," more often than not they would not be descended from the same ancestral village potter. (For more information, see my Other Romanian Olars page.) Incidentally, my father and his brothers and sisters have said that our surname used to be "Olaru" or "Olariu." In the 1920 U.S. Census, our family name is spelled "Olru," which apparently stands for "Olaru." However, we have found that my grandfather's baptismal certificate spells our surname "Olar," whereas the parish records of Tereblecea spell our surname indiscriminately "Olar," "Olari," and "Olariu." But my grandfather's brothers and cousins appear in immigration records as "Olar," not "Olaru" or "Olariu."
In an electronic communication in February 2011, Daniel Florin Predoiu, a doctoral student at the Universite Laval in Quebec City, Canada, offered this insight into the development of the "Olar" variants:
"Romanian family names had 'suffered' a process of 'modernization,' and the old forms received a 'u' final. This process was not yet begun when the Romanians from Bukovina emigrated to the New World. That's why most of the Olars living today in Romania call themselves "Olaru." Another example of the same situation: the name of two brothers who immigrated in Montreal before 1914, George and Constantin CASVANEAN. Now, in their native village from Romania all of those from there call themselves CASVANEANU. Casvanean or Casvaneanu means nothing else than 'inhabitant of CASVANA,' which is a village in Bukovina (today in Romania). So a Casvanean from here (Canada) who would like to find his relative there should have to look for CASVANEANU."
To learn more about Romanian surnames, I highly recommend the About Names webpage of Romanian genealogical researcher Cosmin Ciocan.
Continue reading about the Olar genealogy at Nine Generations of Olars.
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