Skip to main content

Chaos to Canvas

Maxwell Smart’s memoir is now available in a new edition titled The Boy in the Woods, published by HarperCollins. Purchase the book here.

In the town of Buczacz, Poland, eleven-year-old Maxwell plays in the ruins of old castles and enjoys a quiet life with his family until the summer of 1941, when the Nazis invade and destroy his childhood forever. Maxwell narrowly escapes deportation and certain death, and soon finds himself all alone in the frozen woods, hiding from roving groups of Nazis and Ukrainian collaborators. Lonely and in despair, afraid and starving, Maxwell must rely on the kindness of a farmer and on his own resourcefulness and imagination to survive. In the harrowing yet inspiring journey of Chaos to Canvas, Maxwell eloquently 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 war.

Introduction by Carol Zemel

At a Glance
Postwar Austria, displaced persons camp; Romania
War Orphans Project
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Art by author
Educational materials available: Maxwell Smart Activity

240 pages, including index

Recommended Ages

*Note: If you are affiliated with an educational institution, books can be ordered free of charge. For more information click here.

Photo of Maxwell Smart

About the author

Maxwell Smart was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic), 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.

Explore this story in Re:Collection

The only sounds breaking the grim silence of the forest were the chirping of birds and occasionally the cry of an animal…. I would imagine shapes and dream of travelling through endless space. I created my own little world of safety.