Epilogue: Stephen Goldman, first director of the Florida Holocaust Museum, remembered as a passionate and creative educator

Published October 10
Updated October 10

ST. PETERSBURG — Friends and colleagues remember Stephen Goldman as dedicated to the Florida Holocaust Museum and its lessons of tolerance.

He was the museum’s first director and helped it grow and move from cramped quarters in Madeira Beach, where one of its most powerful artifacts — a 15-ton railroad boxcar from Gdynia, Poland — had to be kept outside, to a three-story, renovated former bank building in downtown St. Petersburg.

In 2004, he received the Loebenberg Humanitarian Award for “his strong moral convictions.” The Award is named for Walter and the late Edie Loebenberg, founders of the museum.

Goldman would go on to become executive director of the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art in Tulsa, Okla., before taking a similar position at the Holocaust Memorial Center on the Zekelman Family Campus in Farmington Hills, Mich.

But he kept his connections with the Florida Holocaust Museum. Erin Blankenship, curator of exhibitions and collections at the museum, said she even traveled to Michigan to install an exhibition Mr. Goldman borrowed from St. Petersburg.

“He was very kind and a great person to work for and I’m glad that we had an opportunity to stay in touch, even after he moved away,” she said, recalling that Mr. Goldman hired her as the museum’s registrar and let take her newborn son to work for the first three months.

Mr. Goldman died suddenly on Sept. 18, after a fall. He was 72.

His son Zachary, 36, the youngest of Mr. Goldman’s three adult children, said his father was always present for his early morning and late-night hockey practices.

“He was so supportive of my passions and interests, and my oldest sister, Shimon, who was a swimmer in high school,” he said. It was the same for his other sister, Chava. “He would just always support her in her academic pursuits. ... Kind of whatever you needed, he was there, very present and loving.”

“His most important thing was being a father in life and then doing for the community and giving,” said Mr. Goldman’s wife, Sylvia. “And that’s what he did for his whole life, teaching about hate and tolerance.”

The couple, who had been married for 48 years, met when Mr. Goldman was working with a theater in Kingston, Ontario, her Canadian hometown. They married six weeks later.

“He was a good guy. One of the good ones. He was fabulous,” she said. “From the moment I met him, I was crazy about him.”

Mr. Goldman graduated from Brandeis University, went to Yale and transferred to Carnegie Mellon University, where he got a master’s degree. He taught theater at the State University of New York at Brockport and Florida State University and worked for the Anti-Defamation League in Tampa and Orlando, and for various other Jewish organizations. Then he joined the fledgling Holocaust museum.

“He put it on the map and he got it accredited,” Sylvia Goldman said.

“He was passionate about the museum and our mission and about the Tampa Bay Community,” Blankenship said.

Bob Davidson, president of Exhibits and More in upstate New York, collaborated with Mr. Goldman to design the museum’s exhibits in preparation for its move to St. Petersburg.

“He was a gifted writer. He was a great teacher. It was his vision as to how we told the story of the Holocaust at the museum,” said Davidson, adding that Mr. Goldman had been his college advisor at SUNY Brockport.

“He went from being my mentor to being a coworker and to being my best friend. We knew each other for 47 years. He was my son’s godfather. He cared about people. He cared about what he did. He’ll be seriously missed by many of us who had the good fortune of knowing him and working with him.”

John Loftus, author and former federal prosecutor with the U.S. Justice Department’s Nazi-hunting unit and a former president of the Holocaust museum and vice chairman of its board, called Mr. Goldman “a wonderful guy.”

“Steve was the first professional we hired. He had a master’s in fine arts and it was that extra training that gave him the ability to take such a creative approach to designing the museum. Elie Wiesel said it was his favorite museum, because we taught the why of the Holocaust and ended with hope,” Loftus said.

“His role as an educator really brought together all of his skills in order to convey and share the information that’s so important to share about the Holocaust,” said Paula Parrish, director of administration and human resources at the Morean Arts Center and a longtime friend.

But Mr. Goldman was not content to simply convey the lessons of the Holocaust. In 2003, the museum opened the exhibition, “A Legacy of Courage, Vision and Hope: African-Americans in the Legal Community in Pinellas County.”

“It’s an excellent fit with the Florida Holocaust Museum,” he said then. “We talk about genocide and racism and prejudice in all their iterations.”

As the museum prepared to move to its new home at 55 Fifth St. S, he reveled in the idea of what the larger space. The exhibits would promote hope, he said.

“We can show young people that in the worst of times, that in spite of the threat of death, people were willing to risk all to save a child, to save a family, to save a couple of families,” he said during a 1997 interview. “In spite of all the evil out there, we must say, no matter how bad things are, they can get better.”

“I think that was kind of the core of his being, was to help improve the world,” Zachary Goldman said, referring to the Jewish teaching of tikkun olam, or repairing the world. “I think that thread weaves through his entire professional career.”

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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