Jews and Government Officials Join for Festival Celebrating Czech Jews

A festival of Czech- and German-Jewish culture has opened in Prague with a ceremony remembering the transports of Czech Jews to Nazi concentration camps.

Representatives of the Czech government and embassy officials from Slovakia, Austria, Italy, Hungary, Poland and Germany held a minute’s silence at the June 27 ceremony in Prague’s Holesovice district, from where more than half of the total of 80,000 Czech Holocaust victims were sent to their deaths during World War II.

The third “Nine Gates Festival of Czech-German-Jewish Culture,” which is taking place over seven days in Prague and other Czech locations, includes films, concerts and lectures mainly featuring Jewish themes.

One of the highlights is a screening of the movie “The Diary of Anne Frank,” much of which was filmed in Prague.

In a speech in the Czech Senate, the festival’s president, Arnost Lustig, said members of Czech, German and Jewish cultures lived peacefully before World War II, and the festival should remind people of their coexistence.

Lustig compared the fate of the wartime Jewish generation to Atlantis, “lost in the sea forever.”

“Jewish people were lost in a mass murder, and have no graves,” he said. “Only memory has remained. They can only live in images.”

Lustig, a famous Czech writer who now lives in Washington, said the festival is an attempt by the living to pay homage to the dead.

“Yet it is with life that we return to them, as if across an emotional bridge. Through film, theater, singing and dancing. Through beauty that renews the meaning of all things,” he said.

The Czech Republic’s culture minister, Pavel Dostal, said the Nine Gates Festival named after a book by Czech author Jiri Mordechaj Langer — reminded citizens of the 1,000-year history of the Jewish people in Czech lands, of “its vitality, its wisdom and creative potential, and its significant contribution to Czech culture.”

“It also brings a testimony of a past filled with great personalities, spiritual riches, artistic achievement, but also with suffering,” he continued. “It cannot leave aside the tragedy of the Holocaust, but its message turns to the present.”

The festival, he told guests, touches upon contemporary topics such as life in a multicultural society, the need for tolerance, the fight against racism and xenophobia, and the acute problem of terrorism.

“The ultimate goal of the festival is, however, to bring joy, and inspire a love of life and faith in the future,” he said.

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