Hidden with her mother during World War II, Nelly S. Toll reveals her childhood story in her book, Behind the Secret Window. Toll's family is Polish Jew who lived in Lwow. The tolls had been very successful in Lwow and were better know by their business. The story begins as the Russians are leaving the country and the Germans march in. Everyone is worried about the Germans. Toll recalls how her life had been affected by living with Russian soldiers and how her father vanished into the darkness. When the Germans came, the Tolls had to move to a ghetto, a little house on Kleparowska Street. The Tolls were trying to make a secret hiding place, like other Jews did, hiding children from the German and Ukrainian police. She recalls that every time the police would come, the streets were quiet, as if they were empty. The town was like a ghost town. Nelly was sent away to a Christian family where she would be safe from the Germans for a while. Later, she learned her cousins and little brother Janek, were taken away and have not been heard from since. After that, the Tolls attempt to keep Nelly away from the ghetto as much as possible. Even with all of the chaos going on, Nelly's parents wanted her to continue with her education. So, they hired one of her Grandpa Henryk's old friends to come and tutor Nelly and her cousin. Everything was going fine, until one day Nelly had to be with him by herself. She told us earlier in the story that she liked to collect dried leaves and flowers, and she told her tutor this, also. The day she had a session with him alone, he told her he had a whole batch of dried flowers that he would give to her, if she would take off her underwear and let him look for a while. She was smart enough to know that this was wrong and ran out of the room, and didn't stop running until she reached her grandpa, in the other room. She didn't tell anyone what happened; she just refused to see her tutor after that incident.
The Toll's continued trying to find safer places to live; they even tried to escape to other neighboring countries. As all their attempts fail, Nelly and her mother live with a Polish family who hide then in their bedroom. This Polish family lived in an apartment building that Nelly's father had owned before the war began. In the bedroom that they were hiding, there was a secret place behind where there used to be a window. This is where Nelly and her mother would hide if the German police came to inspect the apartment. Nelly tells us that everyday Pan Wojtek would go to the market to sell and but goods. He would bring home meat, but most of what was popular, and easy to get, was dog and horse meat. “We never ate it- at least, I don't think we did, unless someone was fooling Pan Wojtek into thinking he was buying beef.”
Toll and her mother live in this secret place until the Germans leave Poland and the Russians once again march in. Nelly S. Toll was a young girl when she wrote the diary, which later became her published book. The book also contains her artwork. Nelly tells us that she likes to paint pictures of what she would have been doing if the war wasn't going on. She would imagine playing outside, or just being with her whole family, and paint a picture of it. Nelly said that it was what helped her get through this horrible time, because it was something that put some color into her life. It was also something for her to look forward to, and kept the hope in her life. This is very rare to find children's watercolor painting from that time in history, and we are very privileged that Nelly was smart enough to save hers.
This book is rare, in that it has a happy-ending. Anne Frank's diary ends as soldiers march in one day to their hiding place and all of the family members, except her father, are killed at the concentration camps. In this story, even though most of Nelly S. Toll's family members are killed or dragged to concentration camps, she and her mother survive and come to America. The book, Behind the Secret Window is published by the author herself, rather than published by a member of her family. This book will make readers think of their surroundings and recognize once again how lucky they are to live freely.
I really enjoyed this book, because it was like reading in the perspective of a six-year-old child. It was very easy to imagine what was going on and how it was happening. The imagery in this book was excellent, and made it much more enjoyable. I don't think I would have enjoyed this as much, if it had been done by an adult, like her mother, because a child's way of describing things helps you to really get involved in what is going on. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone form sixth grade and up.
This report prepared by Alysia Abernathy