Prime Stage Theatre remembers Anne Frank March 1-10
On stageAnne Frank play, “Perseverance” screening share the stage

Prime Stage Theatre remembers Anne Frank March 1-10

"There’s a moral imperative about what’s right and wrong and if we don’t talk about it, that’s a problem,” he said.

John Neiman stands next to photos of his friend Otto Frank. (Photo by David Rullo)
John Neiman stands next to photos of his friend Otto Frank. (Photo by David Rullo)

John Neiman credits Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father, with helping him decide to become a priest.

“In 1979, we were talking and he stopped me midsentence and said, ‘It’s wonderful that you love my family and want to honor their memory and all those who died, but if you want really want to honor their memory, you should do what Anne wanted to do with her life and that is, do good for other people,’” the retired priest remembered.

Otto Frank died during Neiman’s first day of seminary, “So, I always felt that he was there with me,” he said.

Neiman came to the priesthood late in life — he was 29 before making the decision. His interest in Anne Frank, though, started early.

He first read Anne Frank’s diary, “The Diary of a Young Girl,” when he was in fifth grade. He next watched the television movie — getting special permission from his mother to stay up late. The future priest spent the next several years learning as much about the Netherlands and the Holocaust as he could.

In 1974, Neiman wrote Otto Frank a letter telling him how his daughter’s diary had impacted his life. To his surprise, Frank wrote back and explained that he received hundreds of letters and couldn’t keep a regular correspondence with anyone. Neiman assured him that wouldn’t be an issue.

“I wrote back and said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll write you. You don’t have to write back.’ But, of course, he did, and we became very good friends through the mail,” Neiman recalled.

Neiman even visited Frank several times throughout Frank’s life.

“He was such a kind, loving, good person,” Neiman said. “We became very close and spent hours talking about everything. The only thing he wouldn’t discuss was the betrayal,” he said. (Anne Frank and her family were betrayed to the Nazis by an unknown person.)

Neiman has spent a large portion of his life collecting things relating to the Holocaust, the Frank family and their experiences, often at his own expense.

John Neiman, a retired Catholic priest, has spent his life collecting information about Anne Frank. (Photo by David Rullo)

He will talk about his experiences and his relationship with Otto Frank on Saturday, March 2, after a Prime Stage Theatre production of “And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank.”

Directed by Art DeConciliis, the play is based on the recollections of Holocaust survivors Ed Silverberg and Eva Schloss, teenage friends of Anne Frank in the early 1940s.

It was through the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh — with whom Neiman has been in contact since moving to the area from his native Los Angeles after retiring — that the priest was introduced to Prime Stage Theatre’s Artistic Director Wayne Brinda.

Brinda, Neiman said, asked him to speak to the cast before the play started, which he did in February.

“I was very impressed by the cast I met that night,” Neiman said. “They seemed like very good, dedicated people.”

Stacey Rosleck is one of the actors Neiman met. She plays two roles in the production: “Ed’s Mother” and “Mutti.” This is the fourth play she’s done with Prime Stage Theatre.

A Christian, Rosleck said she was drawn to the play because she believes the Holocaust is a story that needs to be told.

“We can’t forget and, for me, I mean, to see humans go through such horror, we owe it to them to tell their story,” she said. “It’s just about being someone who keeps their memory alive, who honors them, who reminds people that these families were ripped apart. It’s not guaranteed that it couldn’t happen again.”

A veteran of the stage, Rosleck has acted since 2001 but took a long break until 2010 when she started to work in community theater regularly.
She likes working with Prime Stage, she said, because its mission is about bringing literacy to life.

“We’re there to serve a story and to make people feel something,” she said. “This isn’t the first story they’ve told about the Holocaust. I think there’s something especially significant about being on their stage.”

This is the third work about the Holocaust that director Art DeConciliis has done with Prime Stage.

He recalled watching “Cabaret” as a young child and remembered being struck by the impending oppression and the horrible atmosphere that was percolating in Germany at the time in which the musical was set.

“Then, as I learned more about the Holocaust, there’s a moral imperative about what’s right and wrong and if we don’t talk about it, that’s a problem,” he said. “Through my artwork, I’m hoping to influence younger generations of people.”

DeConciliis has directed nearly 200 shows, including works that are part of Prime Stage’s enGAGE Program, which partners with the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh to engage the world in education, understanding and action against the atrocities of genocide.

He said that when he works on a piece about the Holocaust, he addresses the cast.

“I tell them this can’t just be another Holocaust piece. I say that because I think we naturally became numb to things as a defense mechanism. And I think sometimes people become numb to the entire scenario of the Holocaust and I want to make sure each time the audience sees the piece that I work on, they take back something fresh from it,” he said.

The director said that his work with Prime Stage has taught him more about the Holocaust.

“I think that has made me a better citizen. Each piece has touched me differently,” he said.

A special screening of the Holocaust-themed “Perseverance” will take place on March 4 at 7 p.m., during Prime Stage’s run of “And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank.” The play had its world premiere as part of the enGAGE program. It is an adaptation of Lee Goldman Kikel’s 2019 memoir chronicling her father Melvin Goldman’s postwar journey of healing and renewal in Pittsburgh during the 1950s and 60s.

“And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank” will be staged March 1-10 at the New Hazlett Theater. For more information, visit PJC

David Rullo can be reached at

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