On January 30, the South Jersey Jewish Community lost Nelly Toll, a beloved Holocaust Survivor who passed away at the age of 88. An artist, therapist, professor, and lecturer, she was instrumental in the creation of the JCRC’s Esther Raab Holocaust
Museum & Goodwin Education Center. She was also the author of “Behind the Secret Window,” an award-winning memoir about her years in hiding during World War II.
Born in Lwów (now Lviv) Poland, in 1933 to the Mieses family, Toll was only six years old when the Nazis arrived in Poland. In 1941, the Germans occupied Lwów and Toll was expelled to the ghetto with her family, where her brother, only five, was seized
and murdered. After two years in the ghetto, Toll’s father convinced a Christian couple to hide Toll and her mother, Roiza. For 13 months, eight-year-old Toll remained in hiding in a small, bare room, where her mother encouraged her to paint and keep a
Upon the liberation of Lwów in 1944, Toll and her mother, the family’s two sole survivors, remained in Europe while Toll studied art. They immigrated to the United States in 1951, first settling in Vineland before Toll moved to Cherry Hill with her
husband, Ervin. Toll, who had brought her childhood watercolors and diary with her, continued painting, penned books and articles, earned Master’s Degrees in art, art history and education, as well as a Doctorate in counseling and art therapy. Toll
became a therapist as well as a university lecturer of art and literature.
In 2003, Penguin Random House published “Behind the Secret Window,” which featured Toll’s diary entries and watercolors from her time in hiding. The book became the inspiration for an exhibit at the Massillon Museum in Ohio, which produced a
documentary created with 2D & 3D animation of Toll’s paintings. Today, eight of Toll’s pieces are in the permanent collection of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Israel, while 12 others were auctioned to private collectors by Sotheby’s
in New York. In 2016, Toll opened the exhibit “Art from the Holocaust” at the Yad Vashem- World Center for Holocaust Research in Berlin, alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Throughout her life, Toll continued to speak extensively about her experiences in the war, teaching a Holocaust course at the University of Pennsylvania and sharing her pictures, testimony, and insights with students in schools, synagogues, and at events.
She was also one of the original founders of the Esther Raab Holocaust Museum & Goodwin Education Center, which continues to offer life-changing Holocaust education opportunities to students, teachers, and community members throughout the South Jersey
region and beyond.