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Watercolor of a family dinner by a Jewish Polish girl in hiding

Object | Accession Number: 1999.4.4

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    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Watercolor of a family seated at a large dinner table created by Nelly Landau, 10, when she and her mother Rozia lived in hiding in German occupied Lwow, Poland, (now L'viv, Ukraine) from June 1943-July 1944. It is part of a series of paintings about a peasant family based on Nelly's memories of the farm where she stayed briefly in 1941. Nelly was afraid of the peasants and found them unpleasant, but chose to depict them as a happy, peaceful family. For thirteen months, Nelly and her mother had to stay in a small, locked hiding space. Her mother arranged for a neighbor to get Nelly a watercolor set and encouraged Nelly to paint and write. Nelly painted 64 paintings in hiding, all colorful pictures of happy people in imaginary scenes. Lwow was occupied by Germany on June 30, 1941, and thousands of Jews were murdered by German killing squads and local supporters. In November, Nelly, her parents Sygmunt and Rozia, and younger brother Janek were confined to the ghetto. Her father paid to hide Nelly with a peasant family, but they soon sent her back because it was too dangerous. During that time, her brother, 5, was killed during a children's round-up. Around June 1943, Sygmunt persuaded former tenants, a Christian Polish couple, Krysia and Michaj Wojtek, to hide Nelly and Rozia. The ghetto was liquidated that July. The city was liberated by the Soviet Army in July 1944. Sygmunt was presumed killed. Nelly and Rozia were the only survivors of their large extended family.
    Artwork Title
    Peasant Family Eating at a Table, Lwow 1943-1944
    Date
    creation:  approximately 1943 August-1944 July
    depiction:  after 1941 June-1941 December
    Geography
    creation: Lwow (Poland) (historic); Lviv (Ukraine)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
    Contributor
    Artist: Nelly Toll
    Subject: Nelly Toll
    Biography
    Nelly Landau (later Toll) was born in 1933 in Lwow in the Galicia region of Poland (now L’viv, Ukraine), to Jewish parents, Sygmunt and Rozia Landau. Rozia was born in Lwow on January 2, 1909, to Henry and Fanny Lauerstein Reicher. Nelly's father owned several rental properties and the family was well-to-do and cultivated. Nelly's brother Janek was born in 1937. It was a large, close extended family, and many relatives lived nearby. They were part of the Mieses family, which had a rabbinical heritage extending to the 18th century. In September 1939, Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Lwow was in the eastern region, which was placed under Soviet control per the German-Soviet Pact. Her father Sygmunt, went into hiding, fearing that, as a wealthy property owner, he would be arrested. The Soviets nationalized or forced the closing of many businesses, closed religious organizations, and deported many residents to distant regions of the Soviet Union.

    In June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. The mood at first was celebratory, as the Soviets departed. Then Lwow was captured on June 30. During the first days of July, nearly 4000 Jews were murdered in a pogrom carried out by German Einsatzgruppen, known as killing squads, Ukrainian nationalists, and local residents. Jewish homes were vandalized and synagogues destroyed. There was another pogrom at the end of July, killing at least 2000. Around November, Nelly, her parents, and brother were confined in the Jewish ghetto. Nelly's father paid to have a Catholic peasant family outside the ghetto hide Nelly, then ten. After a brief stay, Nelly was returned to her family because it was too dangerous to keep her. While she was gone, her brother Janek, 5, was taken away and murdered during a Children’s Aktion. An aunt and a cousin were also taken during this selection. In March 1942, the Germans began mass deportations. Nelly and her mother were part of a large group that tried to flee to Hungary, but the organizers were deceptive and it came to nothing. Around June 1943, Nelly’s father Sygmunt convinced a Christian Polish couple, Krysia and Michaj Wojtek, to hide Nelly and her mother for a fee, with the expectation that he would join them later. Sygmunt had owned the building where they lived before the war and he knew their apartment had a boarded up window which could be remodeled to make a hidden space. Nelly and Rozia had to stay inside a small, locked room most of the time. The dorr was hidden by a hanging rug. When unexpected visitors arrived, Nelly and Rozia had to stand sideways in the blocked windowsill space. Two months after they went into hiding, Rozia arranged for a neighbor to get Nelly a watercolor set. She encouraged her to paint, to make up stories, and to keep a diary during these difficult days. In her paintings, Nelly created brightly colored pictures of happy people in a better, more hopeful world. In her diary, she wrote of her grief at losing family members, the horrible things she had witnessed, and her fears of discovery. The Germans liquidated the ghetto in June 1943.

    Lwow was liberated by the Soviet Army in July 1944. Nelly and Rozia were among a very small number of Jewish persons left in the city. The prewar Jewish population of around 110,000 had been reduced to a few hundred. Sygmunt was presumed killed during one of the Aktions. Nelly and Rozia were the only survivors in their extended family. Rozia married Herman Ostrovsky, a longtime family friend. They had a daughter. Nelly attended school and studied art. The family immigrated to the United States in 1951 and settled in New Jersey. Nelly married Ervin Toll in 1954 and they had a son and a daughter. Rozia, now Rose, 84, passed away in 1993. Nelly earned several advanced degrees from Rutgers, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the University of Pennsylvania, in art, literature, and counseling. She is a teacher, counselor and art therapist. Nelly has devoted herself to sharing her experiences to help people understand the enormous physical and emotional losses left by the Holocaust. She has also written books and plays about her ordeal, sharing her story with worldwide audiences.

    Physical Details

    Classification
    Art
    Category
    Children's art
    Physical Description
    Child's painting in watercolor and gouache with pastel and pencil on wove wood pulp paper of a family sitting at a large white table. There are 4 adults and 2 children, all nicely dressed in colorful outfits, with blue dessert dishes and coffee cups scattered on the table. A blue lamp with a yellow bulb is in the center of the table. In the back left corner is a large, gray stove with 2 pots. The floor has light brown wood planks and the back wall is offwhite with green splotches.
    Dimensions
    overall: Height: 5.250 inches (13.335 cm) | Width: 7.750 inches (19.685 cm)
    Materials
    overall : wove paper, watercolor, gouache, pastel, graphite

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    Restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The gouache was acquired by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1999.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2023-09-21 11:50:34
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn13637

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