Pittsburgh—The story of jeweler Mieczyslaw Goldman, both heart-wrenching and uplifting, is the focus of a new play at Pittsburgh’s Prime Stage Theatre.
Goldman’s customers may have been surprised to learn the somber backstory of their cheerful neighborhood jeweler, who was a Holocaust survivor.
He told his life’s story through a series of audio tapes recorded over the years, in the hopes that someday someone would write about his story. Goldman died in 1996.
Years later, his daughter, Lee Goldman Kikel
, listened to the tapes and answered his request, writing her 2019 book, “Perseverance: One Holocaust Survivor's Journey from Poland to America.”
Playwright L.E. McCullough adapted the book as a play, titled “Perseverance,” directed by Art DeConciliis, which will hit the stage this month.
In an interview with National Jeweler, Kikel shared details from her father’s life and how it feels for his family to see his story come alive on stage.
He was better known as Melvin to his customers at his now-closed G&S Jewelry Store in Pittsburgh, which opened in the 1960s and closed in 1988.
He emigrated from Poland to Pittsburgh in 1950, settling down with his family in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, which had a sizable Jewish population at the time.
“My dad’s family started off as a typical Jewish family in Poland, and even though there was antisemitism, they just lived with it,” said Kikel. “But quickly, things turned very dark.”
During World War II, Goldman spent his teenage years in the Auschwitz concentration camp. He lost loved ones, his home, and his health, arriving in the U.S. penniless.
His story is one of hope, however, and that’s what Kikel hopes the audience will take away from her book and the play.
“My father persevered. He just had hope,” she said. “He listened to what his father had said about living on to carry on the name. My grandparents instilled that so much in him that he just somehow carried it. It’s a large message of hope and there are a lot of life lessons weaved into the story.”
As Kikel promoted her book at speaking engagements, she got a better sense of his reach in the community.
“Almost everywhere that I’ve spoken, someone will stand up or raise their hand, and say they knew my father and my father made their jewelry. It’s incredible.”
It’s amazing how many people knew him, she said, considering his business was only promoted by word of mouth.
“He was very quiet and low-key, and that’s why a lot of people came to him. People trusted him,” she said.
Goldman served customers from various religious backgrounds, making a number of religious pendants, even some items that were blessed by popes.
He counted players from the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Steelers among his clientele.
In addition to his inviting personality, Goldman was a “crafty designer,” said his daughter.
“Someone had requested a totem pole. My father had no idea what that was. So, he walked over to the Carnegie Library in Squirrel Hill and went to the children’s section to look it up,” said Kikel.
“Somebody who worked for the city of Pittsburgh driving a garbage truck; his wife called my dad and said, ‘I want a solid gold garbage truck with diamonds and rubies for the headlights and taillights.’ And he crafted a garbage truck.”
A pool table pendant also was among his most memorable creations, she added.
Goldman had creativity with the expertise to back it up. He attended the Gemological Institute of America in New York, earning his Certified Gemologist Appraiser designation.
Kikel has been sharing her father’s story with a focus on Holocaust education initiatives, but she said she was excited to highlight another important aspect of his life.
“I wanted to talk more about his creativity and what he did,” she said. “He would be thrilled that someone in the jewelry world cares.”
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In-person performances of “Perseverance” will be held April 15 at 8 p.m. and April 16 at 2:30 p.m.
With dress rehearsals approaching, Kikel said what she’s seen so far has moved her and her family to tears.
“David Nackman, who plays my dad, he just has the accent and the mannerisms and it’s like he knew my father,” she said.
“Even if you don’t know much about hardship or the Holocaust, everyone can take something away from this because you see these characters from the book come alive,” she added.
Following the April 15th show, there will be a post-play discussion with Kikel and playwright McCullough, as well as Marek Skulimowski, president and executive director of the Kosciuszko Foundation, which promotes cultural exchanges between the U.S. and Poland.
The discussion will be led by Daniel Shaner, a holocaust educator who was named “Educator of the Year” by the Holocaust Center.
A recording of the play also will be available from April 24-May 7 for the public.
Tickets will be available for $10, going on sale in mid-April. There is special pricing available for students and group viewings.
For more information or to buy tickets, visit the Prime Stage Theatre website.