A poet, novelist, journalist and lawyer, Abraham Moses Klein (1909-1972) was best known for his works The Rocking Chair and Other Poems and The Second Scroll. Born in 1909 in Ratno, Ukraine, Klein immigrated to Montreal with his family while he was a young child. He attended McGill University as a political science student, where he co-founded the McGilliad literary magazine in 1930 and was associated with the Montreal Group of Poets. He then studied law at Université de Montréal. An active member of the Young Judaea Zionist youth group, Klein served as its national president in 1934.
From 1932 to 1955, Klein was editor of the Canadian Jewish Chronicle and addressed subjects such as Nazism in Europe, Canadian Jewish social issues, and Zionism. In 1939, he began a long professional relationship with Samuel Bronfman and the Canadian Jewish Congress, working as a speechwriter and public relations consultant during one of the most critical moments in Canadian Jewish history, when the Congress was fighting domestic antisemitism as well as trying to save the Jews of Europe from Nazi oppression. In the midst of this busy period, Klein published in 1940 his first collection of poems entitled, Hath Not a Jew.
Poets like Klein signaled a new genre of modern Canadian writing that addressed contemporary issues and realities. He was profoundly affected by the Holocaust, and was politically aligned with the Left in the post-war years. To that effect, he ran for Parliament as a Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) candidate in 1949, but lost the election. Fluent in French, Klein understood the challenges and nuances of French Canadian politics, which made him a unique figure in the English-speaking Jewish community, and for that matter, in most of English Canada at that time. In 1948, Klein published The Rocking Chair, a series of poems about Quebec’s Francophone culture, using Montreal locations as sources of inspiration and establishing parallels between French Canadian and Jewish culture. This collection won him a Governor General’s Award. In 1949, Klein traveled to the newly established nation of Israel, as well as to Europe and Morocco. His experiences, entitled “Notebook of a Journey”, were published in the Canadian Jewish Chronicle. The events Klein discussed in his articles and subsequent speeches upon his return to Canada influenced his only novel, The Second Scroll. Published in 1951, this book challenged the accepted boundaries of the Canadian novel. The book dealt with autobiographical themes as well as with the Holocaust and the founding of Israel. Despite the success of his novel, Klein suffered a nervous breakdown, ceased writing, and withdrew from public life by 1955.
Compiled by Valérie Beauchemin and David Gilbert
Anctil, Pierre. “A.M. Klein: du poète et de ses rapports avec le Québec français.” Tur Malka, Flâneries sur les cimes de l’histoire juive montréalaise. Sillery: Septentrion, 1997. 109-131.
Hyman, Roger. Aught From Naught: A.M. Klein’s The Second Scroll. Victoria: University of Victoria, 1999.
Klein, A. M. Le second rouleau. Trad. Robert Melançon et Charlotte Melançon. Montreal: Boréal, 1990.
Klein, A. M. La chaise berçante. Trad. Marie Frankland. Montreal: Éditions du Noroît, 2009.
Klein, A. M. The Rocking Chair and Other Poems. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1948.
Klein, A.M. The Second Scroll. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1997. Afterword by Seymour Mayne.
Pollock, Zaillig. “A.M. Klein: Biography.” Canadian Poetry Online. 2000.
Treherne, Brian. Canadian Poetry, 1920-1960. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2010.
Tulchinsky, Gerald. Canada’s Jews A People’s Journey. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.
Tulchinsky, Gerald. "The Third Solitude: A.M. Klein’s Jewish Montreal, 1910-1950." Journal of Canadian Studies 19.2 (1984): 96-113.
*Images courtesy of the Jewish Public Library Archives and the Canadian Jewish Congress Charities Committee National Archives.