Ben Kingsley Honored at Holocaust Memorial Museum Dinner

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Sir Ben Kingsley accepts the National Leadership Award at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Dinner

This was the first year the National Leadership Award went to an actor, who told THR "If we can personalize that horrendously indigestible statistic, then we begin to connect with people."

Sir Ben Kingsley was honored Thursday at the annual U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Dinner, where Morgan Freeman, Kate Beckinsale and the families of Holocaust survivors joined together to fete the actor.

The dinner, held at the Beverly Hilton, saw Kinglsey receive the National Leadership Award for his portrayal of strong characters onscreen that heighten awareness of the Holocaust.

The night’s theme, “What You Do Matters,” was underscored by video appearances from Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and actor Joe Mantegna, who praised the actor's performances in films such as Schindler’s List and Anne Frank: The Whole Story.

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“Ben Kingsley is a mitzvah," said Spielberg. "From the depth of his soul, beyond his acumen as a great actor and I think beyond any of his training and any of his craft to go so realistically, authentically deep and be able to tell this story of the Holocaust."

Kingsley said that sharing personal accounts are more impactful than statistics. He told THR that the characters he has played can represent the same experiences of one's family members or friends

 “I think that one can make an extraordinary connection through cinema,” Kingsley told The Hollywood Reporter. "I’ve had the blessed experience of being caught in a shopping mall by a family of people who said to me 'how did you know about our uncle?' If we can personalize that horrendously indigestible statistic, then we begin to connect with people who will say 'my God that’s my uncle, that’s my daughter.' "

As Kingsley tearfully accepted his award, he reminded the audience that the events of the Holocaust can never be forgotten.

“When the yellow star appears on the screen we must make audiences make that connection, make that realization that there is my friend.”

Beckinsale, who just finished shooting the film Eliza Graves with Kingsley this summer, presented him with the National Leadership award.

“He really has played a huge part in I think bringing to life a lot of these survivors of concentration camps or people who were involved in this whole issue we’re talking about tonight,” Beckinsale told THR. “I think a whole lot of people wouldn’t know about it if it weren’t for the movies. He’s done it so sensitively and beautifully. ”

Beckinsale also said that although she’s not Jewish herself, she feels a close connection to the community since her adoptive grandmother is Jewish and lost members of her family to concentration camps.

“Her parents and mother were supposed to be joining her a week later and they never made it," said Beckinsale. "I think it was my stepfather who ended up tracing back all of the records and finding out what happened and they had been sent to a camp. That was pretty much when she was in her '80s and she finally had closure on it.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has received over 36 million visitors and is home to several collections from Holocaust victims and survivors. A $15 million donation from Holocaust survivors David and Fela Shapell was announced to build the new David and Fela Shapell Collections and Conservation Center.