Nelly S. Toll was born to a well-to-do Jewish family in Lvov, Poland (present-day Lviv, Ukraine). Her early childhood was shattered first by the incursions of the Soviet Army and then by the Nazi invasion of Poland in World War II when she was six years old. Her father, younger brother and cousins vanished. After an unsuccessful attempt to flee the country, Nelly and her mother spent the years 1943-1944 in hiding in a secret room in the apartment of a Polish Catholic family. During this time, Nelly wrote stories and painted pictures, conjuring for herself the illusion of a normal childhood. She also kept a diary recording the horrors of everyday life. She and her mother survived the war and emigrated to the USA. The diary was adapted into a play produced at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey. She earned an MFA in art history from Rutgers University and a PhD in Reading, Writing and Literacy from the University of Pennsylvania. She became a professor of Humanities at Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania, and lectures extensively with her art. Her memoir, illustrated with her own watercolors, Behind the Secret Window, was first published in 1993. She is also the author of three other books, When Memory Speaks: The Holocaust in Art (1997), Without Surrender: Art of the Holocaust (1978), and Integrating Art and Literature for Elementary and High School Curriculum.