“He was just a regular person,” are the words that playwright L.E. McCullough used to describe Melvin Goldman.
And Goldman did appear to be a ‘regular person.’ With a successful jewelry business in Squirrel Hill and a wife and daughter, he seemed to have it all. But Mieczyslaw “Melvin” Goldman had seen horrible atrocities before he immigrated to the U.S. in 1950. Having survived the Holocaust and life in the ghetto and Auschwitz, he lost nearly everything and everyone he loved. But he not only persevered, but thrived as a businessman in his new hometown.
Goldman’s story has been made into a book by his daughter, Lee Goldman Kikel of Hampton, and will come to the stage in April through a joint venture with Prime Stage Theater and the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh based on Kikel’s book, Perseverance: One Holocaust Survivor’s Journey from Poland to America.
Each April, in honor of Holocaust and Genocide Awareness month, Prime Stage Theatre partners with the Holocaust Center to tell an important story through their enGAGE program, aimed at engaging others in education, understanding and actions against the atrocities of genocide.
Goldman’s story is told through his own words, thanks to recordings he made in the late 1970s while working at his store, G & S Jewelry in Squirrel Hill.
“He had the foresight and wisdom to preserve his story, knowing how important it was. I was in college at that time and eventually those tapes were put inside a box on a closet shelf in my parents’ house,” Kikel said.
Years later, when Kikel’s son, Jason, was going to study in Berlin, Kikel, her husband, John, and their son mapped out a trip to Europe to visit Jason and to see where their families had lived. “We wanted to go to Lodz, Poland where the Goldmans had made their home. The family had been in Poland for over 400 years,” Kikel said.
When Jason suggested that she listen to her father’s tapes before their trip, Kikel heard her father’s voice for the first time in nearly 20 years. “I felt a combination of sadness and gladness. I then listened to an amazingly detailed story about my father and our family,” she said.
While Kikel learned about her relatives and her father’s life, she also heard a request from her late father—a request that someone put his story into a book. “I took on this arduous project to honor my father’s wishes and to keep our family’s memory alive. My father’s story is relevant today because there is still hate, upheaval, and genocide in the world,” Kikel said. “My father hoped that telling his story would help people to never forget.”
Kikel’s book was published in late 2019, then COVID hit, putting plans to share the book and Melvin’s journey on hold. Last year, Kikel began receiving more and more requests to share Melvin’s story and the book with local libraries, organizations, and groups. She also became a generations speaker—someone in a family whose relative had been a Holocaust survivor—through The Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.
“This is so necessary because as more and more survivors pass, someone has to tell their story,” Kikel said.
Among those interested in Melvin’s story was a friend who shared the story with Wayne Brinda, the artistic director at Prime Stage Theater. “Wayne reached out to me and wanted to adapt my book into a play,” said Kikel. “Prime Stage believes my father’s story is an important one to tell. Everyone can relate to Melvin’s story on some level.”
Once Kikel was on board with the project, Brinda contacted McCullough, who is well-known for his plays on historical figures and also a Prime Stage board member. “He asked, and I said, ‘Absolutely!’” exclaimed McCullough.
As McCullough adapted the book for the stage, he felt that his main task was to make sure that the storyline kept revealing the essential character of Melvin Goldman—what it was about him that allowed him to survive the Holocaust and then rebuild his life in Pittsburgh.
“Every scene has to not just give facts about what happened and what happened next, but it has to keep showing the audience how the character is developing as they watch,” he said.
In doing his research, McCullough not only read the book, but listened to Goldman’s tape recordings and found a wealth of material for his project in both. “Fortunately, Melvin Goldman gave us a lot of insight into his emotions and thoughts. He was a great storyteller and really made people and events come very vividly to life,” McCullough said.
While Kikel has been busy sharing her father’s story through presentations, appearances and book discussions, the live stage production will allow people to experience the story on a different level. “I know the play will reach a wide and varied audience,” said Kikel.
“Perseverance will bring some of Melvin’s stories to life in a creative and artistic way, where people can find meaning and hopefully learn some life lessons.”
McCullough hopes that people who are intrigued by Goldman’s story will be motivated to learn more about their own family histories and realize how regular people may have had unusual lives. “Learn your own family history, find out how you got here. It might not be as dramatic as Melvin’s story, but it is important to know,” he said.
There are still important lessons to be learned from Goldman’s story, Kikel said. “Melvin’s story is very important because there are still atrocities being committed. There is still antisemitism, hate against others and a lot of misunderstanding in the world,” she said. “So many years later, statistics show that many people don’t even know that the Holocaust happened. And there is also a lot of misinformation.”
There will be two live performances of the play on April 15-16 at the New Hazlett Theater; the play will then be streamed internationally starting in May.
For more information about Lee Kikel and the book Perseverance: One Holocaust Survivor’s Journey from Poland to America, visit https://www.leekikel.com. For tickets and more information about the play, visit https://primestage.com and The Holocaust Center at https://hcofpgh.org/events.