The nickname “Two-Gun” evokes images of a rough-shaven cowboy in the Wild West. Actually, the nickname belonged to one Morris “Moishe” Cohen.

An immigrant child from Poland to London, young Cohen was drawn away from his observant home to boxing arenas and minor crime. In 1905, at age 18, when he was released from the Hayes Industrial School for wayward Jewish boys, his parents sent him to Canada in the hope that a new location would reform him. While trying agrarian life, Cohen learned to shoot a gun and play cards.

In Saskatchewan, Cohen befriended the local Chinese population, and, during World War I, worked with Chinese laborers rebuilding Belgian railroads. Subsequently, in 1922, Cohen managed to find a job in China as a bodyguard to Sun Yat-Sen, the leader of the nationalist revolution. While working for Sun, he was wounded, after which he always carried two guns.

After Sun died in 1925, Cohen, now a general in the Chiniese army, remained in China training troops. When the Japanese invaded in 1937, Cohen fought against them, and, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Cohen helped Sun’s widow, Soong Qingling, escape, but was himself captured. He spent two years in a Japanese prison camp.

In 1943, Cohen settled in Montreal (where he was briefly married). His ties to the Chinese people were so strong that, after 1949, he was one of the few people able to travel to both Taiwan and communist China.

Cohen’s close relations with the Chinese proved beneficial to the Jews. At the founding conference of the United Nations, Cohen arranged meetings between the Chinese delegates and important Zionists, which were vital in achieving China’s support for protecting the rights of Jews in Palestine.

Cohen died in 1970, in Salford, England, where he had been living with his widowed sister.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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