Tommy Thayer of the rock band Kiss in his on-stage persona, the Spaceman.

It’s surprising, amazing even, the links to today that can snake unexpectedly out of the past. One such connection revealed itself to me as I worked on my new novel DOWN A DARK ROAD. The focus of the novel is based on true events—the discovery of a Nazi death camp, Gunskirchen Lager, in Austria near the end of WWII in Europe. The discovery was made by a young US Army infantry lieutenant and his platoon.

The lieutenant, Jim Thayer, survived the war and went on to become a successful businessman and prominent civic leader in Oregon. He and his wife raised a daughter and four sons, one of whom, Tommy, went on to become the lead guitarist for the immensely popular rock group Kiss.

Tommy Thayer and his father, the late Jim Thayer in 2013.

That’s where a surprising link to the past emerges. The cofounder of Kiss is the flamboyant Gene Simmons. Gene’s mother, Flora Klein, was a survivor of the Nazi death camps. In fact, she was in the same complex, called Mauthausen, of which Gunskirchen Lager was a part. Perhaps if Jim Thayer and his troops had not stumbled into Gunskirchen when the did, many more prisoners in the Mauthausen complex would have died. As it was, thousands already teetered on the verge of starvation when the US Army showed up.

It’s possible that if Jim and his platoon, and other units of the army’s 71st Infantry Division, had arrived just a day or two later, there would have been no Flora Klein, no Gene Simmons, and no Kiss.

So it pleased me greatly when Tommy–I’d worked closely with Tommy and his brother, John, on the novel–told me that Gene was eager to get a look at DOWN A DARK ROAD. He’ll get an early peek at it. But the rest of you will have to wait until May 9th.

Then, I hope you’ll find your journey down a dark road in WWII Austria both riveting and informative.


  1. Edd Lawhon on February 9, 2023 at 4:05 pm

    Interesting story Buzz. This will be a wonderful anniversary present because May 8th is our anniversary. Can’t wait

  2. Karlyn Campbell on February 9, 2023 at 7:24 pm

    Great preview Buzz! I remember Thayer’s – an office supply store in Beaverton. If I remember correctly, Jim was also Mayor of Beaverton. I’m looking forward to the new book!

    Also, May 9 is Sarah’s birthday!

    • Buzz Bernard on February 20, 2023 at 1:06 pm

      Special note to any of my old BHS friends still in Oregob: I’m working at setting up a book signing in May at Annie Bloom’s Books in Portland.

      • Buzz Bernard on February 20, 2023 at 1:07 pm

        Should have proofread more carefully . . . still in OREGON

  3. Peter Sugar on December 5, 2023 at 6:51 pm

    Incredible… Gene Simmons Mother was in the same transport as my father…it seems..

  4. Holly M on January 20, 2024 at 7:07 pm

    My father was part of the 71st who liberated that camp. Interesting

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