Award-winning veteran actor and story teller Sir Ben Kingsley was among the dignitaries at the first day of the Let My People Live Forum in Prague, and used the opportunity to explain why in his view Europe has failed to fully come to terms with the crimes of the holocaust.
Noting that his own role in several holocaust-related films, Kingsley said he felt "privileged as an actor to have my costume embellished.. dare I say… signified, dignified, possibly humiliated, sadly, with the yellow star on three occasions. And it is because of that… the great Jewish diaspora and Israel itself has allowed me to be a witness, a story teller, a voice."
He said he felt an acute sense of "gratitude and awareness of the profound responsibility I do have as an actor and a storyteller in bringing the Shoah, the Holocaust to the minds of young people who knew nothing about it," and urged the world to be "vigorously persistent in telling the story of grief-stricken Europe."
One of the greatest tragedies, he insisted, was the fact that in his view "Europe did not grieve in 1945. It moved on. It found another enemy, it found other issues.
"The first step in healing is for us to collectively grieve – we have missed that crucial step."
As a result, he warned, "we are in terrible danger, because of missing the step of grieving, of sliding back."
Kingsley said that actors could play a key role in helping Europe achieve "catharsis" by "triggering grief" through their work – but cautioned producers and directors to stick to the facts and not stray into the realm of fiction.
"Don't make funny stories up, don't make 'what if?' stories up – stick to the facts, and allow Europe to grieve," he said.
"Hitler said 'who will remember the Armenians?'" he noted, in a reference to the lack of international response to the Armenian genocide which played a part in emboldening the Nazis' actions. "We must never never ever allow somebody in the future to say 'who will remember the Jews of Europe?' Everybody will."
But he lamented that some in Europe were determined to forget – ironically, as a pretext to perpetuate anti-Semitism – relating a particular experience he had at the set of one of his films in the Hungarian capital of Budapest.
An old man approached the movie's cast to ask what they were filming. Upon hearing the production would be about the holocaust, he retorted "It never happened, and if you don't shut up it will happen again!"
"How about that? Isn't that totally screwy?" asked an incredulous Kingsley.
The Let My People Live Forum event, organized by the European Jewish Congress is taking place from the 26-27 in the Czech Republic to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.