Nine Gates festival highlights Shanghai’s role in Jewish history

Lustig Train Project, photo: Vít Pohanka

This week, Prague is hosting the seventeenth edition of the annual Nine Gates festival of Czech-German-Jewish culture. The event, which got underway on Wednesday, takes place at Prague’s Bubny railway station, where during World War II Czech Jews boarded trains to concentration and death camps. This year, the festival focuses on a lesser-known chapter in the history of WWII: Shanghai’s role in sheltering thousands of European Jews.

Lustig Train Project,  photo: Vít Pohanka
As in the previous years, the Nine Gates Festival brings the successful Lustig Train Project, a theatrical performance inspired by the famous novel A Prayer for Kateřina Horowitz by Arnošt Lustig, which takes place in the actual train cars that transported Jews to concentration camps.

This year, the Lustig Train carries the name "The Train of Salvage" and as part of the accompanying program is dedicated to China, which, along with the Dominican Republic, was the only country in the world in the late 1930s to keep its doors open to the Jewish refugees from Europe. Over 30,000 Jews were saved due to the visa-free policy.

Pavel Chalupa, the head of the Nine Gates festival, says this little known chapter in Jewish history is all the more important in view of the current migrant crisis in Europe:

“Some 450 Czechoslovak Jews were saved this way, although the lists that are available are incomplete. An exhibition dedicated to the topic will be on display at Bubny Station. It will include panels with names of the people and places where they came from. In some cases we also succeeded in tracing their stories and how their lives continued after repatriation.”

Due to the enormous success of the previous editions of the Lustig Train, The Bubny train stations will again come alive with the theatrical adaptation of the novel “A Prayer for Kateřina Horovitz”, which is set in 1943 on a train to the infamous Auschwitz death camp in Poland. Over the past four years, over 70 performances have been staged not only in the Czech Republic but also in Slovakia and Poland. Pavel Chalupa again:

Bubny train station,  photo: Jan Groh,  CC BY 3.0
“I think the performance has been so successful thanks to the authenticity of the environment. There are trains passing by while the actors are performing. And this is exactly what happened during the war years, when Jews were taken from this station to concentration and death camps. There were trains filled with people, while normal life unfolded by, with people going to work or on trips. And this is what makes it so authentic and also so chilling.”

Apart from theatrical performances and the exhibition dedicated to China’s role in saving thousands of Jews, the Nine Gates Festival of Czech-German-Jewish Culture will also offer a series of lectures and film screenings. The festival will run at Prague’s Bubny station until August 31.