An excerpt from

The Strangest Dream: Canadian Communists, the Spy Trials, and the Cold War
by Merrily Weisbord

Montreal. Winter. 1937.

The good thing about Ben's Restaurant was the crackers, as many as you could eat. Having warmed his hands around the steaming bowl, Danny broke open five packets and quickly crumbled them into his soup. He needed the sustenance. He had left home early that morning to walk to the business section of Montreal. He was apprenticing in the offices of a chartered accountant he had met while waiting on tables at a Trout Lake summer resort near Ste. Agathe. He would eat and then walk to McGill University to take his accounting classes, the only professional training given at night and, therefore, the only profession open to a student without money. After classes he would walk home to St. Urbain Street to study, bundled up in an overcoat, warmed by the coal his mother had managed to save. Out of four children Danny was the only one going to school, the chosen one. His sisters, Sarah and Ruthie, skilled and nimble with their hands, made hats and finished lampshades, and his tough older brother Abe lived in the pool-halls and on the street. His blacksmith father, the forger of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) ties, was out of work, and his mother made do by sewing at home. She, who had taught herself to read and write Yiddish and to speak English, who treasured books and conversation, was his muse. She believed in education and in him.

It was a short walk to McGill and a longer walk home. Danny was tired, but at least the exercise reminded him that he was only twenty-three years old, an athlete who had played for his high-school basketball team and had flown through the air in gymnastic competitions. Danny loved sports, but even more did he love Anna, whom he had courted since they had bet in the Baron Byng high-school gym when they were fifteen. When he got home, she would be visiting, waiting for him, a round-faced, Inuit-like icon. She would look at him, giving value to his manhood, reinforcing his discipline. At the end of the year, when he graduated, he would ask her to be his wife. They would have children and be together always. The prospect made him feel as good as an hour's workout on the parallel bars. It was bliss.

Yet, in the Jewish working-class district around St. Urbain Street, the frightening blasts of Nazi power and the weak whimpers of Western compliance were discussed daily. In cafeterias on The Main, not far from his home, workers and intellectuals met after work or, if they were unemployed, during the day. Along the neighbourhood streets, in the pool-halls and corner stores, laid-off workers gathered and talked. The community was made up of people who had come to Canada ten to thirty years earlier, who had gone through hard times; some of them had taken part in the 1950 Russian uprising, such as Danny's own mother, who had seen a brother killed. Many had been members of left-wing political parties in the old country and they now found a support system in fraternal socialist organizations in Canada--in Ukranian, Russian, Lithuanian, Polish, and Hungarian cultural groups, or in the United Jewish People's Order (UJPO)-which were pro-Soviet and pro-Communist. At all times in the St. Urbain Street area there were at least five widely read communist papers, in French, English, Yiddish, Russian, and Polish. The communists were actively engaged in the neighbourhood, trying to link the struggle for better wages with the need for social change, warning of the rise of fascism and the danger of another world war. Danny's mother belonged to the Consumers' Association and to the UJPO. With the Consumers' Association she led a meat strike which cut the cost of kosher beef. In the UJPO she organized food and rummage sales which subsidized concerts, lectures, plays such as Waiting for Lefty, in Yiddish, and a mandolin orchestra. On her evenings out, she sang with the UJPO choir. Working-class songs and songs of freedom were Danny's lullabies.