Ben Kingsley’s many Holocaust roles prompted by need to ‘speak out’

The acting star said he was reverse-motivated by an antisemitic grandmother.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Sir Ben Kingsley’s many starring Jewish roles in Holocaust movies over the years were motivated by a need to ‘speak out’ against the antisemitism of his grandmother, he recently told Parade Magazine.

When asked if has a “pull” to movies like Schindler’s List, where he played the Nazi-businessman-turned-Jewish-savior’s right-hand man, Itzhak Stern, he said, “I must answer very candidly, and it’s an answer that disturbs me but it’s the truth.

“I remember as a schoolboy watching a wonderful television documentary series which examined World War II….. Alone in the house, I watched the liberation of [Nazi concentration camp Bergen] Belsen…. I think I was maybe 11 or 12… but I think my heart stopped beating for a little while. I went into deep shock as a child.”

The “disturbing” part of the story, he said, was that a few days later, he had a conversation with his maternal grandmother, “who was inexplicably but quite vigorously antisemitic. So, the two impressions came to me almost simultaneously, and as a child it was very difficult for me, impossible for me to counter my grandmother’s outburst, but I think a seed was planted in me that said to me, ‘One day I will speak.’”

Kingsley revealed several years ago that this grandmother’s negative view on Jews was molded after she was abandoned by a Russian-Jewish man who had impregnated her.

In a 2015 interview, the actor said he had felt he had a “profound responsibility” as an actor “in bringing the Shoah, the Holocaust to the minds of young people who knew nothing about it before Schindler’s List.” Holocaust awareness was of supreme importance, he noted, “because we are in terrible danger…of sliding back.” Asked if he thought the Holocaust could happen again, he immediately answered, “Of course…. We must never, never ever allow someone in the future to say, ‘Who will remember the Jews of Europe.’ Everybody will.”

Kingsley became friends with Holocaust survivors Simon Wiesenthal, the famous Nazi hunter whom he played in a 1989 TV biopic, and Nobel prizewinning author Elie Wiesel. He also pledged to dedicate an “appropriate” performance to Wiesel, he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA). He kept that promise while filming “Operation Finale,” a movie about Israel’s capture of Adolf Eichmann, although Wiesel had died two years earlier in 2016, he told JTA.

The 79-year-old actor also starred as Otto Frank in a TV miniseries called “Anne Frank: The Whole Story” – Both Holocaust roles earned him Emmy nominations.

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Other Jewish characters he has played include gangster Meyer Lansky in a film about another Jewish mobster, Bugsy Seigel, and a Mossad agent in “The Red Sea Diving Resort,” which described Israel’s mass rescue mission of Ethiopian Jews.