The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program

Maxwell Smart

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Born
June 01, 1930 Buczacz, Poland

Map of Mukacevo, Czechoslovakia

Immigrated
1948 Montreal

In the town of Buczacz, Poland, nine-year-old Maxwell plays in the ruins of old castles and enjoys life with his family until the summer of 1939, when the Soviets invade and his life is turned upside-down. He adapts to the changes, but nothing can prepare him for the Nazi invasion to come two years later. Soon Maxwell is all alone in the frozen woods of Eastern Europe, hiding from the roving groups of Ukrainians and Nazis searching for Jews, while depending on the very few people he can trust. Maxwell survives by learning to build bunkers and by living in his imagination. In the bitter journey of Chaos to Canvas, Maxwell describes his transformation from a boy dependent on his family to a teenager fighting to survive and, ultimately, to a man who finds himself through art in a life beyond the war.

About Maxwell

Maxwell Smart was born in Buczacz, Poland in 1930. After surviving the Holocaust on his own, seventeen-year-old Maxwell immigrated to Canada in 1948 through the War Orphans Project. Since his arrival in Canada, Maxwell has lived in Montreal, where he has become a successful painter, opening his own art gallery in 2006.

Photos and Artifacts

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    The only document Maxwell has that shows his birth name, Oziac Fromm (Ozic From). This certificate was administered under the direction of the security police as part of the foreign control service of Bucharest, Romania. It identifies Maxwell (then Oziac) as a Jewish Polish immigrant and indicates that he is enrolled for immigration to Palestine by the Red Cross Society and is allowed to temporarily reside in Bucharest. Issued December 20, 1945. Bucharest, Romania.

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    The first photo of Maxwell taken in Canada. Montreal, Quebec, April 18, 1949.

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    Maxwell (top left) on the train from Italy to Bremen, Germany, from where he boarded a ship to Canada. 1948.

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    Maxwell and Helen’s wedding day. From left to right: Helen’s father, Srewl (Issie) Safran; Helen; Maxwell; Helen’s mother, Masha Safran; and Helen’s sister, Rhoda. Montreal, December 1950.

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    Maxwell and Helen with their daughter, Faigie (Faith). Montreal, 1958.

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    Faigie (Faith) and Lorne, Maxwell and Helen’s children. Montreal, 1960.

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    Maxwell’s first reunion with his aunt Erna and uncle Jacob after the war. From left to right: Maxwell; his daughter, Faigie (Faith); Auntie Erna (née Kissel) Klanfer; Maxwell’s son, Lorne; and his uncle, Jacob Klanfer. Tel Aviv, Israel, circa 1964.

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    Aunt Erna and Uncle Jacob. Tel Aviv, Israel, 1960s.

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    Maxwell praying at the Wailing Wall. Jerusalem, Israel, circa 1964.

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    The gravestones of Maxwell’s Aunt Erna and Uncle Jacob. The stone on the left reads: Orna [Erna] Klanfer. Daughter of Rachel and Moshe. Passed July 11, 1988. On the right: Yaakov [Jacob] Klanfer. Son of Shalom Z”L. Passed December 18, 1976. Located outside Tel Aviv, Israel, this is the only place Maxwell knows that he has family. Photo taken in 2007.

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    Maxwell and Helen Safran Smart. Montreal, Quebec, circa 1980.

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    Helen beside the sterling silver candelabra that was given to Maxwell by his aunt, Erna. The candelabra belonged to Maxwell’s mother — it was a gift given to her on her wedding day by Maxwell’s grandfather — and is Maxwell’s only remaining connection to his home in Buczacz, Poland. Montreal, date unknown.

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    Maxwell in front of his painting Autumn Rain #1 (oil on canvas, 48 × 36 in., 1984). Montreal, circa 1985.

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    Maxwell and Tina on their wedding day. Montreal, September 1994.

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    Maxwell’s daughter, Faigie (Faith), with his granddaughter Tara, age two, and his son Anthony, age seven, at Maxwell’s studio. Montreal, 1990s.

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    Maxwell’s in-laws, the Safrans, with two of his grandchildren on Passover. From left to right: Masha, Brandon, Tara and Issie. Montreal, 1997.

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    Maxwell’s friend and business associate, Eddie Stern, with his wife, Shirley. Montreal, date unknown.

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    Maxwell and Tina (front) with Tina’s brothers and sisters-in-law. In back, from left to right: Angelo and Nina Russo, and Mary and Tony Russo. Montreal, circa 1990s.

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    Maxwell (centre) with his two good friends and fellow Holocaust survivors Thomas O. Hecht (left) and David Azrieli (right). Both Thomas and David wrote their memoirs — published, respectively, as Czech Mate (2007) and One Step Ahead (2001) — and encouraged Maxwell to write his story. Montreal, circa 2010.

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    Maxwell at work in his studio. Montreal, circa 2000.

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    Maxwell at work in his studio. Montreal, circa 2000.

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    Tina (left), with Donald and Barbara Seal, who helped organize the opening of Galerie d’Art Maxwell. Montreal, September 27, 2006.

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    From left to right: Steve Mintz, Joe King, Sandra Mintz, and Tina. The Mintzes helped organize the gallery opening; Joe King helped to research Maxwell’s memoir. Montreal, September 27, 2006.

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    Maxwell and Tina with Alvin Segal as he receives a cheque from the proceeds of the gallery opening for the Segal Cancer Centre of the Jewish General Hospital, in memory of Helen Smart. Montreal, September 27, 2006.

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    Maxwell and Tina with Earl Pinchuk, the head of “Art for Healing,” a program in the dialysis department of the Jewish General Hospital, to which Maxwell donated four of his paintings. Montreal, circa 2006.

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    Family at the opening of Galerie d’Art Maxwell. From left to right (back row): Maxwell’s daughter-in-law, Sharon; his son Lorne; his son Anthony; Maxwell; Tina; Maxwell’s son-in-law, Ian; and his daughter, Faigie (Faith). In front, Maxwell’s grandsons Brandon (left) and Adam (right). Montreal, September 27, 2006.

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    The immediate family of Maxwell’s daughter, Faigie (Faith). Clockwise, from left to right: Maxwell’s granddaughter, Tara; his son-in-law, Ian; his grandson Jay; and his daughter, Faigie (Faith). Montreal, date unknown.

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    Tina and her son, Anthony. Montreal, 2008.

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    Heaven and Music #1, oil on canvas, 18 × 24 in., 1963.

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    Awakening, oil on canvas, 60 × 52 in., 1970.

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    Power and Victory (section), oil on canvas, 50 × 118 in., 1972.

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    Ecstasy, oil on canvas, 36 × 24 in., 1976.

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    Composition in Red, oil on canvas, 90 × 66 in., 1980.

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    Machinery, oil on canvas, 40 × 30 in., 1986.

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    Harmony in Blue, oil on canvas, 24 × 20 in., 1994.

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    The Dancer in Motion, oil on canvas, 72 × 48 in., 2002.

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    Eclipse #6, oil on canvas, 72 × 48 in., 2003.

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    Ice, oil on canvas, 48 × 36 in., 2013.

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    Dreaming, oil on canvas, 40 × 30 in., 1973.

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    Joie de Vivre No. 3 (section), oil on canvas, 36 × 36 in., 2004.

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    Composition in Green, oil on canvas, 52 × 84 in., 1975.

The Book

Cover of Chaos to Canvas

Chaos to Canvas

The only sounds breaking the grim silence of the forest were the chirping of birds and occasionally the cry of an animal. It seemed that I was the only human being on earth. I became intensely aware of the world around me and would imagine shapes and dream of travelling through endless space. I created my own little world of safety.

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Chaos to Canvas

"You Are the Only Hope."

I remember my mother repeated to me many times, “Try to save yourself.” And then, “I don’t know how. I can’t help you, as I myself don’t know what to do. I know we are doomed to die. Try to walk away when you’re outside. If there is any opportunity you might have outside, just try to save yourself. Just be strong, my son, and take a chance, and God will be with you. If you won’t take this chance, you will not survive. Try, my son. I am helpless, but I know that you’re capable. You can do it. Just try. There is probably nobody left from our family except for us. If you follow me, it will be the end of our family. You are the only hope.”

My mother made me feel important. She made me feel like an adult, a person on whom you could depend, like a man and not a child. She continued talking quietly and constantly. She was sure that if I walked away, I would survive, and if I remained with her, I would die. She urged me to save myself and gave me the courage I needed to continue living. During the entire war, and throughout all the unimaginable hardships I endured, her words were my hope, my security and my strength to continue living. Her advice made me strive to save myself and gave me the inspiration that I needed.

Later, when I was alone in the woods, I used to talk to God. I screamed at him in my mind. When I was in a horrific situation and needed to express my pain, I appealed to God. I wanted him to help me when I needed help: when I was cold and hungry, when I was wet and living outside in the open during winter, when I was sick with a cold or a fever or when I was injured. Who was there for me to complain to? Most people have their mother, father, a member of their family or a friend. I had no one. I had only God. Sometimes I spoke loudly, hoping he would take notice. I would raise my voice as I would with my mother when I was angry. The difference was that my mother used to listen and help. God simply listened, but I felt that at least I had someone to cry to about my pitiful existence. I was extremely angry with God when I was wearing rags and was alone and starving in the cold. God is a witness to my suffering.

The next day, my mother and sister and I were forced to walk to an awaiting truck — like cattle being transported for slaughter. Not knowing where we were going, we were panicking. Hundreds of people and children were there, and the police were shouting and shooting. People were hysterical as they were falling over each other and were being separated from their families. We could not climb onto the trucks quickly enough, so we were violently pushed, kicked and beaten with clubs. I witnessed two policemen pick up a child by an arm and a leg as she struggled to climb onto the truck and throw her in like a bag of garbage.

I clearly remember Zonia’s arms around our mother. Then my mother pushed me away from boarding the truck and insisted, “Now is your chance to run.” I knew I could not run because if I did, I would be shot. But I stripped off my armband and began walking slowly toward the nearby bridge. The bridge over the Strypa, so familiar to me, split the city in half. It was not a large bridge, possibly fifty or sixty feet long. It was made out of wood and was only wide enough for people, horses and wagons to cross. I started to walk across and was approximately halfway when I saw an SS officer walking from the opposite side. Immediately, I froze and thought, What do I do now? Should I continue walking?