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April 23, 1993 - Image 91

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1993-04-23

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

The Secret Window

Through
drawings,
Nelly Toll
documented
her hidden
childhood.

ELIZABETH APPLEBAUM

ASSISTANT EDITOR

F

or 13 months, a
young girl named
Nelly lived in one
room in an apart-
ment in Poland. The
room was always locked.
Nelly's only escape was
a set of watercolor
paints, which she used to
make pictures of happy
families walking through
parks, weekends in the
country and exciting
adventures on the sea.
She never painted the
Nazis, though that was
the only reality around
her.
Today, Nelly Toll is the
author of Behind the
Secret Window: A
Memoir of a Hidden
Childhood During World

War II, which features
some of the 64 paintings
she made during the war
years (the largest collec-
tion by a single artist to
come out of the
Holocaust). Ms. Toll will
visit the Detroit area 2
p.m. April 25 at the Book
Beat in Oak Park.
Ms. Toll was at her
aunt's home in Lvov,
Poland, when she got her
first glimpse of the
Nazis. She was standing
on the apartment bal-
cony on a warm summer
day in 1941. Red, yellow
and blue balloons flew
around her. Passersby
threw handfuls of flow-
ers at the feet of the
approaching German
army. The
soldiers were,
after all, the
liberators,
who had
freed Lvov
from the
Soviets.
Nelly was
among those
celebrating
that day. Her
happiness
didn't last
long.
In
1943,
Nelly's father
arranged for

DURING WORLD WAR

Nelly Toll

his wife and daughter to
hide with a gentile
couple in an apartment
building he once owned.
The action would save
them from the Nazis,
but it meant a sad,
strange existence for 13
months.
Nelly and her mother
were confined to one
room the entire time.
When any stranger
entered the apartment,
the two hid behind a
secret window in the
bedroom. They had little
news of their family
(Nelly's father came to
visit once, but barely
escaped capture), and
their protector was any-
thing but predictable.
Their host, Pan (sir)
Krajterowie, allowed the
two to stay in the apart-
ment because he had
warm feelings toward
Nelly's father, Ms. Toll
now believes. And while
he offered safety to Nelly
and her mother, Pan
Krajterowie appeared to
have serious mental
problems (he insisted his
heart could be found
near his left hip), fre-
quently beat his wife and
made romantic gestures
toward Nelly's mother.
Nelly's days rarely var-
ied. She woke up,
washed,
ate break-
fast and
dressed,
then played
dominoes
with her
mother, read
or stared out
the window.
"It was often
frozen over
with ice," she
recalls. "I
would see the
(SS) officers
with beautiful.
young Polish
and Ukrainian
women. I saw
children play-
ing. There were
highly polished,

black-lacquered car-
riages carrying German
officers. Buildings hous-
ing the Gestapo were
right near us."
Then she received a
gift: a set of paints and
blank paper. She began
to keep a diary and make
pictures showing scenes
from books or from life
before the war.
The family had lived
an upper middle-class
existence. Nelly's mother
was a pianist and chess
player who spoke
French, German and
English. Her father "was
a handsome man who
loved life, who laughed
and danced and kissed
me a lot."
Such memories, Ms.
Toll says, "produced a
palate of images that
became images on
paper."
Ms. Toll early on real-
ized the implications of
keeping a diary. "I
understood the danger
around me," she says. "I
knew there was a hurri-
cane outside of our win-
dow. I was well aware
that if I was too loud I
would be (caught and)
killed. I knew somebody
would trade us in for a
ration of potatoes.
"If I were no longer
here, I hoped the diary
would be shown to the
world at large so that
others could see the
tragedy that befell us,
the Jewish people."
After the war, Nelly's
mother searched for any
news of her husband. He
was believed to have
perished in a. ghetto.
Nelly's mother remarried
and settled in the United
States.
Today, Ms. Toll lives in
New Jersey. She uses art
therapy in her role as
counselor for a public
school. Eight of her
drawings from the war
are on display at Israel's
Holocaust museum, Yad
Vashem.



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