How This Secret History of a Holocaust Survivor Made Its Way from Audio Tapes to a Pittsburgh Stage

The world premiere of ‘Perseverance’ opens April 15 at the New Hazlett Theater and tells the story of a Polish teenager sent to Auschwitz who later owned a Squirrel Hill jewelry store.
Melvin Goldman Shortly After Arrival In Squirrel Hill 1950s


The audio tapes had sat in her closet for a decade. But finally, in 2015, Lee Goldman Kikel pulled them out to listen to them for the first time. They contained the audible memoir of her father, Melvin Goldman, who told the gripping story of growing up a Jew in Poland, being sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp and then later becoming a jewelry store owner in Squirrel Hill. 

After listening to the tapes, Kikel began writing the joint memoir “Perseverance: One Holocaust Survivor’s Journey from Poland to America,” which tells her and her father’s entangled story of the atrocities he experienced and how he overcame them. The book was published in 2019, and now it is being produced as a play by Prime Stage Theatre in partnership with the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.

“Even if you don’t know anything about the Holocaust, or genocide or anything, I think you can relate,” Kikel says. “You’ll see hate, you’ll see sadness, you’ll see grief, and I think that with human behavior, I think people will be able to identify with my dad.”

Goldman grew up in Łódź, Poland, where he trained as a sheet metal worker in his father’s factory. A bustling industrial hub renowned for its textile sector, Łódź had the second-largest Jewish population in prewar Poland. Still a teenager at the onset of the Nazi invasion, Goldman was forced into the city’s Jewish Ghetto and then later sent to Auschwitz. 

Melvin Goldman 1970s


“Over the years, people have asked me, ‘What did [Goldman] say? Did he talk about it?’ And I think it was typical for Holocaust survivors to not say too much,” says Kikel, a full-time author who lives in the North Hills.

“I knew there was a giant loss of family, and I know my dad never had a chance really to grieve, but he never told me all the horrible things that happened,” she says. “I think he wanted to protect me.” 

By the end of World War II, Goldman was 21 years old, weighed less than 80 pounds and was declared 70% disabled by doctors. He was told he had little hope of ever walking again. 

He stayed in several rehabilitation facilities across Germany for the next five years. According to Kikel, “he refused to go back to Poland. He thought there was too much blood that was shed.” So instead, he came to Pittsburgh.

Trailing his brother who had moved to Pittsburgh, Goldman arrived in Squirrel Hill on the last day of 1950 not knowing a word of English but, miraculously, having reclaimed the ability to walk. Over the next several years, he attended night classes, learned English and met his wife, Mildred, at a boarding house in Squirrel Hill.

Goldman founded G&S Jewelry Store at the corner of Darlington Road and Murray Avenue in the same neighborhood. Beloved by customers and talented at his craft, Kikel recalls a commission he did for the wife of a former garbage truck driver. He created a solid gold garbage truck pendant with diamonds and rubies for headlights and taillights. 

While customers knew Goldman in his showroom as “upbeat, positive and encouraging,” he would retreat into the privacy of his back office to recount his tumultuous past into the black spools of audio cassette tapes. He started recording in the 70s and let the brutal tale unfold chronologically.

“He felt that the story was so important he did not want it to vanish, and so he bought a tape recorder and cassette tapes and started to tape, and he did it while he was working,” Kikel says. 

Goldman died in 1996 at the age of 73 from “war-related” health issues, according to Kikel. The tapes passed from his wife’s closet to Kikel’s, untouched until 2015. Urged by her son to listen to them in preparation for a trip to Poland, Kikel says her father asked in the tapes that someone turn his story into a book. And that’s just what she did.

Melvin Goldman And Grandson Jason Kikel 1994


The book, “Perseverance: One Holocaust Survivor’s Journey from Poland to America,” tells Goldman’s story in three parts. The first is a direct transcription of the tapes. The second is Kikel’s autobiographical account of growing up with her father. Part three is an appendix notating all of Goldman’s life — including the exact death camps he was held at and the medical compensation he received. 

In 2021, Prime Stage Theatre decided to adapt the story for its annual Holocaust and Genocide Awareness Month performance this April. The theater adaption is primarily set in Goldman’s jewelry store where audiences will hear his story as it first emerged over the tapes, with characters from his past life coming in and out. 

L.E. McCullough, the playwright who took the winding story from page to stage, says his first goal in putting the script together was to “ground [Goldman] in reality.”

“In the end, what the audience is going to remember is the person that is speaking to them, and in this case, it’s Melvin Goldman,” McCullough says. “So who is he? What does the audience need to know? And, you know, what should they carry with them when they leave?”

Lee Kikel And Melvin Goldman


In writing the play, McCullough says he listened to more than 15 hours of tapes and worked closely with Kikel to best adapt the story. He’s written more than 150 plays about history, though he says “Perseverance” may be his most important one yet. 

“All the things like the intolerance that existed in 1930s Europe still exist everywhere, sadly, and we’re seeing that,” he says. “I think as artists, we have a responsibility to keep telling stories that will somehow encourage our audiences to think more deeply about things like intolerance and how we treat each other.”

The play, which was directed by Art Deconcilis, will be performed at 8 p.m. on April 15 and at 2:30 p.m. April 16 at New Hazlett Theater in Allegheny Center. It can also be available virtually April 24-May 7. Tickets are available here.

When: 8 p.m. April 15 and 2:30 p.m. April 16
Where: New Hazlett Theater, Allegheny Center
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Categories: The 412