Would you like to hear the true story of a boy, whose life was saved by art? Here it is.
This boy’s name was Mai. He was born on April 27, 1930, in Minsk, BSSR (present-day Minsk, Belarus), in a late 19th-century building on Myasnikov Street. Mai‘s father, Wolf, was a gym teacher at a secondary school in Minsk and trained young gymnasts at summer camps. Wolf also was an intellectual—as a young man, he had dreamed about becoming a doctor and completed three years of medical school. However, when his daughter Bella was born, seven years prior to Mai, Wolf stopped his medical studies to look for ways to support his new family. Wolf was also a very good violin player and enjoyed drawing.
Mai‘s mother, Basya Kagan, was a housewife and paid close attention to her children’s education. She loved poetry, could recite many by heart and even tried her hand at writing poems.
World War II changed the lives of the Dantsigs. Nazis invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, and air raids on Minsk started almost immediately. By sheer luck, the Dantsigs managed to escape the burning city only on June 27. After about a month on the road, the Dantsigs found themselves in the remote Russian city of Ulyanovsk (then Simbirsk) on the banks of the Volga river.
Life in Ulyanovsk was extremely hard: everyone was constantly hungry. Mai would go to a town market, where they sold seeds, would grab a fistful of them, crack a couple of seeds open and save the remainder for the rest of the day. Being a newcomer, Mai was often bullied by the local kids.
His mother, Basya, started working at a textile factory in Ulyanovsk. Once, the factory needed a sign made and Basya offered Mai‘s help. The boy did a wonderful job, and as a reward got an entire loaf of bread. From then on, Mai tried to help his family as much as he could and kept accepting every offer for signs and banners from the factory, becoming a true helper and the breadwinner for the family.
In July 1944, Soviet troops liberated Minsk from the Nazis and the Dantsigs decided to return to their hometown at once. Mai returned to school but dedicated a lot more time to painting, which he began to enjoy more and more. As a result, Mai Dantsig became a renowned Belarusian artist, who gained prominence for his scenes of the German-Soviet War and depictions of his native city—Minsk.