Wednesday, April 25, 2012
The True Adventures of Two-Gun Cohen
Shorter articles about Two-Gun can be read Here:
Two-Gun Cohen; Chinese
Spy Master and a second Moishe!
B J K
Morris "Two-Gun" Cohen was the one and only Jewish Chinese General and,
for a time, was head of the Chinese Secret Service! One of his colleagues was
Dr. Moses Schwarzberg, a Russian Jew who helped save China, for a time,
from the Communists.
The official languages (in order of importance) in the Chinese Secret Service,
during the time of the Two Moishes, were Chinese, Yiddish and English.
Born in Poland to a large (eight children) observant Jewish family, Abraham
Morris Cohen was a handful almost from the time he could walk. His father beat
him when he was three years old for wandering away from his East London home.
A sturdy lad, he responded to Christian boys' bantering by – at age eight –
knocking out a 12-year-old. A boxing promoter signed him to fight
He called himself "Fat Moisha" or "Cockney Cohen," but would never enter the
ring on a Friday – the Jewish Sabbath. He feared his father's wrath.
1890's London with widespread poverty
at a time when Jack the Ripper spread terror.
He was often hungry; his family was poor – so he earned pocket change by picking
pockets. Ultimately, he was recruited by a man known as "Harry the Gonof"
(the Yiddish word for "thief" – a Fagen-like creature right out of a
novel. ) Arrested, he was sent, at age 12, to a variety of reform
schools. His angry
parents borrowed the money and sent him, aged 16, to a friend farming
then in the Assiniboia territory – later part of Saskatchewan.
Cohen's life changed drastically one evening in Saskatoon. He delighted, on
Sunday evenings, to dig into a large Chinese dinner and then gamble in the back
of the café. But, when he turned up one night at one of his favorite haunts, he
found the aged Chinese restaurant owner, Mah Sam, being held up by a hoodlum.
Cohen wasn't going to have his plans for the evening interrupted – so
he sidled up
to the thug, whacked him in the head – disarmed him – and then threw him bodily
out of the restaurant.
To the Chinese, he became a hero at a time when anti-Asiatic feeling in Canada
was even greater than its anti-Semitism. Cohen became the only white man
admitted to the ranks of the secret Chinese Tong.
Ultimately, Morris Cohen journeyed to China – now being led into modernity by
Dr. Sun Yat Sen, and he became commander of the President's 250-man bodyguard.
Morris Cohen in a Canadian regiment during World War One
Several attempts were made to assassinate the President. On one occasion, Cohen
fought off three assailants attacking Sun on a train. He was nicked in
his left hand.
The wound made him think. "Supposing it had been my right arm. As soon as we
got back to Canton, I got me a second gun, another Smith and Wesson revolver."
Journalists dubbed him "Two-Gun" Cohen.
Two-Gun was of great service to the Chinese. A veteran of World War I, he taught
his new friends boxing and the use of weapons. He became a military adviser, and
an arms dealer. In 1922, he was named Director of the Chinese secret service.
Morris Cohen had a very limited knowledge of Chinese, but in his new post, he
was able to use Yiddish quite a bit. One of his confreres was interpreter Moishe
Schwarzberg, and the two would chat in Yiddish!
The Schwarzberg story is stunning in itself.
Morris Cohen, at the right in the white suit, with Chinese President Sun Yat-Sen
and future President Chiang Kai-Shek.
At the beginning of the 1920s, Moses Schwartzberg was fleeing the newly-born
Soviet Union. He had been a member of a revolutionary group at the University
of Moscow, whose members, were marked for death after they tried to kill Soviet
Union founder Lenin in 1918 (a plot devised by yet another Jew, Shlomo ben
Hirsch Rozenblum – known to the British Secret Service as Sidney Reilly –
and whose career was fictionalized as James Bond. But that's another story.)
Schwartzberg's flight took him to Siberia, then a lawless region. As he crossed
over the border into China, then locked into a Civil War between a democratic
party headed by Sun Yat-Sen and a swath of powerful war lords, he stumbled
across the near-frozen body of an elderly Chinese man. The man still had a faint
pulse, and Schwartzberg dragged him to a nearby Russian Cossack village, and
brought him back to consciousness. To the Jewish doctor's surprise, the Chinese
man spoke Russian and after a time, feeling that he was dying, he turned over
to Schwartzberg a message from the Soviet Union's leaders to Dr. Sun (plus
gold coins to bribe his way).
The people of the border area between Siberia and China
The doctor made his way to Shanghai but found his way to the President barred by
a highly-protective bodyguard. Schwartzberg gathered that the "huge man with a
shaved head and two pistols in his belt" was in charge but when he
his case, in Chinese and Russian, the chief bodyguard responded, in English,
"Who the hell are you and what the hell do you want?"
When he learned who he was, Cohen switched to Yiddish. A collaboration of the
two Moishes was born. When Schartzberg made his presentation to Doctor Sun,
it became apparent that the Chinese President couldn't read Russian. The
multilingual Jewish doctor was immediately offered a job as an interpreter.
Two-Gun put it this way: "Listen, kid, how would you like to stay on
as Dr. Sun's
confidential secretary. He likes you." And so Chinese spies worked in Chinese,
Yiddish and English!
(Dr. Schwartzberg completed his medical degree in Berlin, practiced medicine in
Hong Kong and Peking, but fled with his wife and daughter to Chungking when
the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941. After the war, he organized the
Shanghai Regiment with 1,200 Jewish volunteers to fight for newborn Israel.)
This picture of the "upper echelon" showing Two-Gun Cohen, in the white suit,
seated with President Chiang Kai-Shek on his right, verifies his importance
in Chinese leadership.
Two-Gun becomes a General
Two-Gun was named to command the Chinese 19th field army. Time Magazine,
in 1931, reported that Cohen "was gazetted by the Canton government a
Brigadier General." He led Nationalist troops in fighting against both the
Japanese and communist Chinese.
When the Japanese entered World War II, in 1941, Cohen was captured in
Hong Kong. The Japanese now had a great enemy – but they didn't know it.
By identifying himself as a Canadian businessman, he fooled the Japanese.
Ultimately, Morris Cohen was among a small number of prisoners released in
exchange for important Japanese officials held in the US. He returned to Canada.
"When we pulled into Montreal," he said. " I picked up my parcels and stepped
down on the platform – a free man."
On Friday, Dec. 3rd, 1943, the Montreal Gazette reported "A few dozen men and
women met early yesterday at Bonaventure station for the sole purpose of meeting
the fairytale Chinese general, a Jew by birth a Canadian Citizen, Gen. Morrice
Cohen a former aide-de-camp to the famous rebuilder of China, Dr. Sun Yat sen."
Hong Kong – seized by the Japanese in December, 1941.
Cohen married a Montreal woman but the affair didn't last. He planned to return
to England – but he had one great service to offer to the Jewish people.
In 1945, the United Nations was being formed in San Francisco. And a resolution
proposing the partitioning of Palestine into two states – one Jewish
and the other
Arabic – was to be submitted to the new organization. The international Jewish
community was on hand to do what it could to see that the Resolution was passed.
Two-Gun flew to San Francisco and convinced the head of the Chinese delegation
to abstain from voting when he learned they planned to oppose partition. That
abstention ultimately helped ensure passage of the measure
partitioning Palestine –
and allowing the creation of Israel.
Two Gun's gravestone in Manchester.
He died in Manchester and was buried there with a trilingual headstone – in
English, traditional Hebrew and in Chinese (a tribute from the people he served
so well.) The tribute identified him as "Mah Sam" – as close as the
get to Morris Cohen. It means "clenched fist."