Coming out in the next several weeks will be a new book entitled Gene Simmons: A Rock ‘N Roll Journey in the Shadow of the Holocaust which is basically an in-depth look at the very early years of Gene Simmons as a ‘Child of the Holocaust’. Researched and written by Ross Berg, the new book delves into the life of Simmons’ mother, Flora Klein and how she miraculously survived the brutal Nazi holocaust as a young girl and how she then raised her son on her own.
Flora Klein’s life story is simply amazing and in her youth, horrific. After surviving the concentration camps and war, a number of years later her husband walked out on her and their young son, born Chaim Weitz, who later became Gene Simmons, leaving them penniless.
Berg, who is Jewish, and an ardent fan of KISS and Gene Simmons since the 1970’s, had relatives who also had terrifying experiences at the hands of the Nazi’s much like Flora and her family dealt with (Flora as the sole survivor of her family). Berg has also experienced prejudice for his heritage that made the details of Flora Klein’s astonishing life and that of her son’s more intriguing to the author.
We asked Ross Berg to share his thoughts and motivations that inspired the book, as well as his many activities related to KISS and Gene Simmons, particularly the Flora Army, a Facebook page devoted to Simmons’ Mother. Which in turn led to the book.
Flora Klein’s story is memorable to say the least. As Berg once wrote:
“The beautiful Flora Klein was born in Jund, Hungary in 1927. When she was fourteen years old, Adolf Hitler came to power and close to 6 million European Jews were incinerated in the ovens of the concentration camps. Young Flora Klein watched as her mother walked with her own mother into the gas chamber. She later explained to her son, KISS Star Gene Simmons, that her mother didn’t want her own mother to face death alone.
Flora Klein survived the death camps because she had gone to beauty school and had some hairstyling and make-up skills. The commandant’s wife took a liking to her, and because Flora provided the wife with beauty tips, Flora was able to survive the Holocaust. ‘Survival’ continues to be a key theme in the amazing and courageous life of Flora Klein. Flora Klein continues to be her son’s greatest inspiration.
Through his mother, Simmons has said that he has learned to believe that all glasses are half full and not half empty and that although mankind was capable of unimaginable inhumanity, there was still good in the world. Flora instilled in her son Gene a fearless backbone, which he has used to become one of the most successful musicians in rock history.”
So here’s Ross Berg’s story about the genesis of the book and how Flora Klein’s story touched him.
TOUCHED BY THE HOLOCAUST
“My mother’s parents fled Germany just in time. Though they were lucky not to have ended up in the Camps, the rest of my mother’s family on her father’s side did, and all but one perished. The sole surviving uncle came to live in my mother’s house when she was a child. She ran her fingers along the numbers on his arm, and felt the loss of his presence when he often withdrew in silence at the dinner table. He had once had a wife and children at his own dinner table.”
“While my maternal father’s side of the family was being annihilated, my maternal mother’s side endured completely different experiences. Though my mother’s mother had converted to Judaism, her family was not Jewish. They were wonderful, decent people who found themselves caught up in something they did not believe in, nor want to participate in. Nevertheless, one of my mother’s uncles was put into the Hitler Youth, and two of her cousins fought for Germany against the Allied Forces. The remainder of the relatives, often starving, endured the bombings on Berlin.
The complexity of my family living on two sides of the Holocaust has contributed to my struggle with this dark chapter of history. The impact of the Holocaust on individuals at that time continues down through the next generations.”
THE CHILD OF A CHILD OF THE HOLOCAUST
“My mother, like Gene Simmons, is a ‘Child of the Holocaust’. Offspring of a Holocaust victim and a survivor of a survivor. There are many shared traits amongst Children of the Holocaust. Gene’s mother survived the Holocaust but the rest of her family perished in the camps.”
“As the Child of a Holocaust survivor, Gene was anxious to understand what his mother had experienced in the Concentration Camps but those events were too painful for her to talk about. As such, a young Gene was forced to collect bits and pieces and fragments of information on his own about the Holocaust and the Nazis that killed his mother’s entire family. But the events still remained cloaked in mystery as nothing was ever directly discussed with the young boy.”
”Gene came to America from Israel as a young boy unable to speak English and he was taunted by the other children for his language difficulties and for wearing his yarmulke to school. He was an outcast based on how different he was from the other children and soon become a loner consumed with escaping his unhappiness through his own imagination. Gene withdrew into his mind – into a world of fantasy where he could transform himself from an unpopular boy from Israel to an exciting comic book hero or menacing horror movie monster.”
FAN OF ‘THE DEMON’
“People look at me strange when they find out how much my life has been affected by Gene Simmons. They can’t believe the ‘museum’ of band merchandise I’ve collected since the 1970’s. They are amazed at the vast number of rare Fanzines I have amassed all created by Gene in his mother’s home as a teenager.
“As a college student, I played in bands and performed KISS tunes. As an adult, husband, and father I worked as a Moderator for KISSOnline, started several Gene Simmons websites, self-published a book about KISS’ Elder album, and celebrated my 40th birthday with a ‘Gene Simmons Party’ – proof that the more things change the more they stay the same.”
”The genesis and odyssey of ‘The Flora Army’ goes back to Gene’s first book; an autobiography called ‘KISS And Make-Up’. I had read things about Gene’s mother here and there in interviews over the years but this was the first time I had an opportunity to fully digest her harrowing and courageous story as a Holocaust survivor. The pictures contained in the book revealed Gene’s mother Flora to be an extremely beautiful woman. I wanted to know more. I was inspired.”
“Perhaps Flora’s story of survival could educate a whole segment of the population who had never known or cared about the Holocaust before. Six million is a hard number to comprehend. Putting a face to the Shoah – an Anne Frank or a Flora Klein – can often better convey the realness of the tragedy to the next generation.”
”I felt I had stumbled upon a unique thesis of sorts: in what ways had the Holocaust affected the life and art of Gene Simmons?”
”Flora, of course, would be a prominent figure within such a study. In certain ways, Flora’s strength and fortitude reminded me of my German Grandmother. My Grandmother who had gotten us out of Germany just before Hitler put his deadly plans into action. The Grandmother I loved and missed so dearly since her death in the 1990’s. I wanted to tell this story for her as well.”
”After working as a Moderator under the wise leadership of Michael Brandvold for KISS’ official website ‘KISSOnline’, I spent some time helping the amazingly knowledgeable Julian Gill moderate his site – ‘The KISS Faq’. Julian’s computer smarts and essential ‘KISS Album Focus’ book series inspired me to strike out on my own as both a Webmaster and an author. With the help of my dear friend Leanne St. Germaine – creator of the much respected ‘Paul Stanley’s Paradise’ webpage — I was soon running my own website devoted to Gene, his childhood, his mother, his Fanzine creations from the 60’s, the Holocaust, the history of Jews and the comic book industry, personality traits in Children of the Holocaust, and more.”
“That webpage, called ‘Almost Human’, came to serve as the basic outline for this book. As my research into Gene’s childhood and Flora’s life intensified, I decided to create ‘The Flora Army’; a fond tip of the hat to ‘The KISS Army’ Fan Club founded by Bill Starkey in the 70’s. Initially little more than a logo, ‘The Flora Army’ was something I began to take public on several KISS-related Discussion Forums. I would start topics concerning the teenage life of Gene Simmons and post rare photos of Flora in Israel from the 1940’s. The response I got to the majority of these topics was anemic and I soon added the catchphrase ‘An Army of One’ to the logo as a good-natured, self-deprecating poke at myself. But I refused to give up. I believed in the power and the importance of what I was doing.”
”Around this time, I had the incredible opportunity to meet Gene at a book signing. As I was trying to explain to him all that he had meant to me in my life, and that my mother had also been a child of survivors, my two-month old daughter began to cry. Gene immediately and lovingly turned his attentions to my daughter and entwined his pinky finger with hers. As my daughter stopped crying, Gene took me aside and gently explained to me that his mother Flora often used this same trick to get him to stop crying when he was a baby. This was obviously just one of the many special coping methods and survival techniques that Flora had passed on to Gene and his eyes lit up as he spoke of her. I felt so privileged to have Gene reveal to me one of Flora’s parenting secrets. I took it as a bit of a sign. I had to keep moving forward. I had to write this book.”
“One morning, it came to my attention that Nick Simmons was going to be signing his new comic book at ‘Meltdown Comics’ on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. I printed out a working copy of my book cover – listed my contact information on the reverse side, grabbed my camera, and headed out. Nick was shy but friendly and graciously signed his comic book with a shiny silver pen and posed with a picture of my two young children and myself. ‘Well, thank you for coming out’, his manager said. I mustered up my courage and clutched the printout I had brought with me.”
“I leaned in to speak a little more personally with Nick. The ‘Gene Simmons Family Jewels’ film crew had a camera pointed directly in our faces. ‘Nick, I am writing a book about your father’s childhood, and…….’ Before I could get the rest of my sentence out, Nick excitedly took the copy of the book cover from me and examined it with great interest. I finally broke in: ‘Well, because the book deals with your father’s childhood – I was hoping that I could interview Florence for the book. Is there anything you could do to help me to make that interview happen? All of my contact information is on the reverse side.’”
“Nick pondered my request for a moment and then said, smiling, ‘Wait…..you wanna talk to my Grandmother? Gosh, I don’t know if I can help you with that one.’ Nick again studied the paper I had given him. ‘I’ll tell you what. Can I take this home with me?’ ‘Absolutely’, I answered. ‘I’ll take this home with me. But I’m not promising anything…..’ We shook hands and I went on my way.
”Months passed and I heard nothing from Gene’s camp about the book. I was disappointed but continued to work on my project day and night. During this period, I discovered Facebook and decided to bring ‘The Flora Army’ to this new social networking juggernaut. Once again, I filled my page with information about Gene, his childhood, his mother, his Fanzine creations from the 60’s, the Holocaust, the history of Jews and the comic book industry, and personality traits in Children of the Holocaust. I posted sample chapter ‘vignettes’ from my book-in-progress and continued to try to educate others about the Holocaust and the heroic life of Flora Klein.”
“When I logged on to Facebook one day, there was a mysterious message from a user named Adam Freeman announcing the following on my page: ‘The ‘Flora Army’ is going to be featured on Gene’s TV show next Sunday night.’ I thought for sure this individual was pulling my leg and I didn’t even respond to the post. A week went by and I kept seeing Adam Freeman’s message on my page. Highly skeptical, I finally responded with: ‘Do you mean Flora herself is going to appear on Gene’s TV show or the program is literally going to spotlight my ‘Flora Army’ Facebook page?’ ‘Yes, Gene’s TV show is going to showcase your ‘Flora Army’ site exclusively’. ‘How do you know this?’ ‘Because I’m the Executive Producer of Gene’s television show.’
“At the conclusion of an extremely touching episode where Gene visited the Anne Frank home and spoke with a local family who had been touched by the Holocaust – photos and content from my ‘Flora Army’ site began to fill the screen as Gene’s family commented:
Nick: ‘Apparently there’s a Facebook fan page for Grandma called THE FLORA ARMY.’
Sophie: ‘It’s a group of dad’s fans who are now Grandma’s fans who have a Facebook page just for Grandma and everything Grandma does.’
Shannon: ‘I love the pictures.’
Nick: ‘And I guess they read Dad’s book, it tells about her and they say it’s honoring this courageous woman – and I was like…..really….I didn’t expect that, but ummm……..it’s cool!’
”Within hours, membership on ‘The Flora Army’ Facebook page shot up to 25,000 members. The next day Gene posted on his ‘Twitter’ account: ‘A kind thank you to all of you who are saying nice things about my Mother on ‘The Flora Army.’”
”Recently Gene Simmons was in the midst of visiting Israel; to the hospital where he was born, the Café where Flora once worked, to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. In recent press conferences – Gene has declared Israel, definitively, as his true home. After 61 years, it appears the little boy from Haifa has come full circle in his return to the Holy Land.”
”Events have come full circle in my life as well. It is my hope that both of my children grow to see their religion as something glorious and beautiful; to learn of the Holocaust without allowing it to define their entire notion of Judaism. It is my dream to educate and alert the next generation to the horrors of the Shoah so that such an atrocity is never permitted to occur again, to educate the next generation.”
“This book is about a mother and a son. Let their story of strength and survival inspire and their darkest tragedies move you to educate your children.”