UN chief Guterres visits 'Book of Names' installation

Kiss frontman Simmons wants to rock Holocaust memorials with Never Again concert

Music icon, whose mother survived Nazi death camps, says at ‘boring’ UN commemoration that Jewish community needs to get more groups involved in remembrance activities

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Kiss frontman Gene Simmons at the United Nations in New York, January 26, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
Kiss frontman Gene Simmons at the United Nations in New York, January 26, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

UNITED NATIONS — Gene Simmons, the bass player and co-lead singer of the iconic rock band Kiss, called for widening identification with the Holocaust beyond the Jewish community during a Thursday event commemorating the genocide at the United Nations.

Simmons’s mother survived the Nazi death camps as a teenager, then moved to Israel after the war. Born Chaim Weitz in the northern city of Haifa, Simmons moved to the US as a boy, identifies as Israeli and remains involved in pro-Israel advocacy.

The glam rocker was critical of an event he attended featuring Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan, Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at UN headquarters in New York, held a day before Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The ceremony was well-intentioned but “boring,” said Simmons, calling on the Jewish community to get other groups involved in Holocaust awareness and activities.

“We must connect the Jewish Holocaust to all hatred that goes on around the world throughout history,” he told The Times of Israel on the sidelines of the event, suggesting a multi-ethnic music event.

“Nobody wants to be preached at so if you have Holocaust remembrance events, concerts, music, a ‘Never again’ music festival — great idea — where people of all nationalities, all creeds, all religions, all skin tones get together,” he said. “You buy a ticket, it goes to charities and of course Yad Vashem and other organizations to try to stop this hatred.”

“We should have U2 up there, people that mean something,” he said. “Who says it is much more important than what they’re saying.”

Gene Simmons of Kiss performs at the Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati, August 29, 2019. (Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

He also connected the Holocaust to other expressions of hatred and discrimination, including the war in Ukraine. Many Jewish groups describe the Holocaust as a singular event in scope and intention and have rejected comparisons to other tragedies. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky drew fire from some Knesset members last year for comparing the Russian invasion to the Nazi genocide.

“You’ve got to connect the Ukrainian story to the Holocaust and all peoples and colors otherwise they’re not going to care,” Simmons said. “Have an Armenian representative up there who says, ‘I abide and feel the pain of the Jewish Holocaust because we Armenians lost 1 million men, women and children at the hands of the Turks.'”

“When Martin Luther King marched on Birmingham, next to him was a rabbi,” Simmons said. “If you ignore the hatred of somebody who is different from you, guess what, you’re next, so we got to look out for each other, share the pain. The Holocaust is not the exclusive domain of Jews.”

Israel’s UN envoy Gilad Erdan, left, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, center, and Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan, right, view a Holocaust installation at the UN Headquarters in New York, January 26, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

During the Thursday event at the UN, Guterres visited a Yad Vashem installation called the “Book of Names” alongside Erdan and Dayan.

The installation contains the names of all 4.8 million Holocaust victims who have been identified, and blank pages to symbolize the other 1.2 million deaths.

The UN General Assembly will hold an additional memorial ceremony on Friday.

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