Rafail Klein was born in 1922 in Kiev, in an assimilated Jewish family. His father, Solomon Klein, was a doctor and a member of the Bund, a leftist Jewish party; he died in 1930. Rafail's mother Dina, née Tsitronblat, was also a doctor; she died of tuberculosis. Rafail was brought up by his paternal uncle Boris. He had a governess who taught him German and French. In 1938, Boris was arrested. Rafail went to Samara, on the lower Volga, where his maternal uncle lived. He finished high school in that city. Dreaming of becoming an actor, he went to Leningrad (present-day St. Petersburg) and began to study at the Faculty of Acting of the Leningrad Theater Institute.
In June 1941, the Soviet-German War broke out, and Rafail Klein, who was then a third-year student at the Institute, volunteered to serve in the Red Army. He felt that, in a war like this, all young and able-bodied Jews had a moral duty to serve on the front lines. Rafail's own frontline service turned out to be brief. In August 1941, after several days of fighting at the Luga defensive line southwest of Leningrad, he was seriously shell-shocked and abandoned in the field by his retreating Red Army comrades. Rafail was found by peasants, who sheltered him, nursed him back to health, and advised him to join a partisan unit in the woods. The partisans proved to be false: When the Germans declared an "amnesty" for all Soviet irregulars who would surrender to them quickly, these "partisans" defected to the German side. Rafail wandered off, and, several days later, the Germans identified him as a Soviet soldier and took him to a POW camp. Rafail decided to conceal his knowledge of German. However, when his captors began to beat the peasant woman who had given him shelter, he yelled in good German: "Leave her alone, she did not know that I was a soldier!" Immediately, the captors asked him whether he was Jewish, and Rafail answered that his father was German, but his mother was Jewish. The captors' response was: "Ai-ai-ai, Schande, Schande! Poshol!" [German and Russian: "Oh, oh, shame, shame! Go away!"]. The officer escorting Rafail to the POW camp asked him why he had said that his mother was a Jew, seeing as he did not look Jewish. Rafail said that he was circumcised. The German exclaimed: "Who will bother to look at you there? Never tell anyone that you are Jewish."
Rafail passed through several POW camps. He used a cover story, according to which he was a Russian named Aleksandr, or Sasha. He made several abortive escape attempts, but was invariably caught and returned to the camp. His excellent German saved his life time and time again. In the fall of 1942, Rafail was transferred to the Staatsgut [former kolkhoz] of Vokhonovo (some 15 kilometers west of Gatchina, south of Leningrad), where he was both a forced laborer and an interpreter. The population of Vokhonovo was Russian, while the surrounding villages were inhabited by Ingermanland Finns, who were hostile to the Russians. The peasants of Vokhonovo saw themselves as a community under siege, and for this reason they protected "Sasha" as a fellow Russian. Rafail tried to escape from the Staatsgut Vokhonovo, as well, but was caught by the local Finns and handed over to the HQ of the Spanish Blue Division. The Spaniards spoke neither Russian nor German, and Rafail communicated with them in French. They passed him on to the Germans with the "benign" story of how he had got to be there.
Rafail made his last, "successful" attempt to escape in the early spring of 1944, when the Red Army approached Vokhonovo. He was interrogated by the Soviet counter-intelligence agency SMERSH. The "investigator" claimed that Rafail was a former collaborator with the Germans, who had recruited Russian POWs for Vlasov's pro-Nazi Russian army. Rafail flatly denied the accusations, so the investigator began to beat him and threatened to have him shot by firing squad. At this point, Rafail broke down, signed all charges – and was sentenced to death. In May 1944, while Rafail was being held in a Leningrad prison, his death sentence was commuted to 20 years of hard labor in Gulag camps. He served his term in camps in the Komi Autonomous Republic, in the sub-Arctic zone. In 1955, long after Stalin's death, Rafail Klein was released. He settled in the Komi Republic, where he performed at a theater in Syktyvkar (the capital of the Republic); wrote prose, poetry, and scholarly works, and worked as a teacher. Under the pen name Aleksandr Klein, he published several autobiographical books, the most famous of which is Ditia smerti [A Child of Death].
Rafail Klein died in 2009.