Gene Simmons Pays Tribute to His Mother at Yad Vashem Benefit Gala

Sophie Simmons, Gene Simmons and Shannon Tweed - Yad Vashem Gala - Getty - H 2017
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There wasn't a dry eye in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel Ballroom as Gene Simmons accepted the Legacy Award on behalf of his mother.

KISS co-founder Gene Simmons gave an emotional tribute to his mother, Flora Klein, a Holocaust survivor, at Wednesday night's Salute to Hollywood: Keep the Memories Alive From Generation to Generation benefit gala in support of Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem.

"[The Holocaust and World War II] happened yesterday, and if we don't pay attention to that, we are doomed to repeat it," Simmons said. "That means hate speech. Any hate speech directed at any person — different nationality, different culture — is actually a threat to you because you can say, 'Oh, it's them.' You're next. You're also a them. And I'm a them. We're all them to somebody. We better wake up to that idea."

Noting that her generation will be among the last to live with Holocaust survivors, Sophie Simmons echoed her father's sentiments, emphasizing the importance of educating future generations about the Holocaust but also expressing discontent with the Trump administration's attempts to enact travel bans in the United States.

"We're a country built on immigrants and survivors, and what's happening right now when we're closing our doors to that is shocking to me because my family wouldn't be here. Both my parents are immigrants," Sophie Simmons said.

Gene Simmons emigrated to the U.S. from Israel with his mother when he was 8 years old. His wife, Shannon Tweed, was born in Canada.

Gary Foster, producer of the movie Denial — based on the book History on Trial: My Day in Court With a Holocaust Denier by Deborah Lipstadt — was honored with the Vanguard Award at Wednesday night's event. Foster said the timing of the movie's release, just before the 2016 election, was perfect and that under a Trump administration, the movie is more important now than ever.

"It would've been enough to tell Deborah's story, but to have a film that elevates an issue that is so much in the news and on our minds these days made it even better," Foster said. "There is a difference between truth, lies and opinion. There is a difference."

Rita Spiegel accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of her family at the benefit gala. Her parents, Abraham and Edita Spiegel, survived the Holocaust, but their two-and-a-half-year-old son, Uziel, perished in Auschwitz.

Noted as "one of their most powerful and lasting contributions to world Jewry and humanity" by the American Society for Yad Vashem was Spiegel's parents' contribution of the Children's Memorial at Yad Vashem, which represents the 1.5 million children who died in the Holocaust, including Abraham and Edita's son.

"Not only for us, the Jewish people, but for all people everywhere, it's important to remember the evil that happened so that it shouldn't happen again," Spiegel said. "We mustn't ever be complicit about evil. And the world belongs to all of us."

With an arm around his grandson's shoulders, Tom Spiegel, Rita Spiegel's brother, said, "I'm hoping Yad Vashem will educate young children, like my grandson, about what happened to their family."

Hosted by the ASYV and the Jewish Life Foundation, the fourth annual benefit gala hosted a sold-out room of more than 500 guests and raised over $800,000.

Yad Vashem works to provide education, research, documentation and representation of the Holocaust to preserve the memory of those who died.