The Film: Toby’s Sunshine

The film project grew out of Toby Fluek’s visit to a Judaic Studies class on the History of the Holocaust taught by Dr. Robert Kovacs. Rakhmiel Peltz had been impressed by Toby Fluek’s work for many years and invited her to Drexel. He first took note of her in the documentary film, Image Before My Eyes. Then in the early 1990s, while he was living in Northampton, Mass., her two new books appeared for sale in a local bookstore on Main Street, and he purchased them for his young children. In 1995, he spoke at a conference of Holocaust survivors in Miami Beach, Florida, where he met Ms. Fluek for the first time. However, it took until December, 2001, for him to arrange a program where she could present her work. Drexel Judaic Studies student Brooke Smiler ’02, a Film and Video major, video-recorded the lecture on that occasion. During a meeting over lunch that day, Rakhmiel decided to make a film about Toby’s life and art. Her images were so unique for teaching about Jewish life before the war, and being fearful that her art books would soon be out of print, the group around the lunch table that day decided that a film would provide a permanent teaching tool. The project took six and one half years to complete.

Produced and planned by a Drexel team under Rakhmiel Peltz’s direction, the early stages developed under the artistic direction of veteran Israeli filmmaker, Amiram Amitai. The project utilized the skills of Drexel-trained experts, as well as the technology of Drexel’s state-of-the-art sound-recording studios, DUTV, and Instructional Media Services. Whenever needed, the project enlisted professionals in film and Jewish history and education. We started with the intention of making the film in Yiddish, Toby’s first language. We soon discovered, however, that her fluency in English and natural charm would make it easier to reach larger audiences in English. Certain scenes in which Yiddish was the more natural communicative means, as well as the songs, remain in Yiddish with English subtitles. This is also the case of three of the additional filmed interviews that are included on the website.

Toby Knobel Fluek is a unique teacher of the lessons of survival gleaned from the rich home and communal life that nurtured Jews for centuries in eastern Europe. Her drawings and paintings focus on the traditional Jewish life of her childhood village in eastern Galicia, Poland (today part of Ukraine). Her style has an allure that attracts the contemporary student. Education about the life and culture that thrived before the Holocaust and was then destroyed has been the most difficult realm to present successfully to younger generations. The Judaic Studies film project team researched the background of the film and worked with Ms. Fluek, her Holocaust survivor contemporaries, and her family, to create a film that conveys the vibrancy of life that Toby Knobel Fluek has presented to us in her art.

Toby’s Sunshine: The Life and Art of Holocaust Survivor Toby Knobel Fluek, 2008, 51 minutes.