WWII veteran remembered for his generosity

"Queen Mother" & Toronto Scottish Regiment, Toronto 1939

Sam Cohen, a retired regimental sergeant major who fought with the Toronto Scottish Regiment machine gun unit in Europe in World War II, died on April 18 (2007) at 101.

Cohen served in France, Belgium, Holland, Germany and Luxembourg and was decorated with many medals, ribbons and citations for his war service. He was a career soldier until the age of 60.

In France, Cohen was wounded by shrapnel fire during a bombing raid. After retiring from the army, he went to work for a security company until he was 78.

Cohen was active with the General Wingate Branch 256 of the Royal Canadian Legion.

On his 100th birthday, Cohen told this reporter that one of the highlights of his life was returning to the Netherlands in 1970 for the 25th anniversary of that country’s liberation.

Cohen lived in a house on Shaw Street in Toronto, which he purchased after he returned from the war, until his 100th birthday, when he moved into L’Chaim Retirement Home.

His parents came from Kiev, Russia, and met and married in Toronto. His family name was “Kagan,” but it was changed to Cohen by an immigration officer because his father, David, who did not speak English, told the officer he was a “kohen.”

Cohen’s father had a butcher shop at College and Markham streets. Cohen, who was born in 1905, attended Harbord Collegiate Institute. He operated a grocery store on Lippincott Street during the Great Depression.

He ran into financial problems because he extended credit to many of his customers, who were unable to repay him. He was known for his generosity throughout his life.

Cohen closed the store and enlisted in 1940. When he went overseas, he left behind his then 10-year-old daughter, Theresa, and one-year-old twin daughters, Joscelyn and Marilyn.

At the funeral service, Cohen’s granddaughter, Gianna Kasman, spoke of her memories of her grandfather and his love of family and sports.

“My grandfather was famous for his love of all the Toronto teams — the Blue Jays, the Raptors and the Maple Leafs.” She said that he read the sports sections of the newspaper every day.

“He was so vital. He experienced more things in his long, incredible life than most, and [was] completely with it right to the very end.”

She added that her grandfather’s longevity defied all medical logic. “He smoked two packages of unfiltered cigarettes every day until he was 100 and enjoyed eating foods that were not healthy.”

Cohen, who was buried in the Jewish War Veterans Memorial section at Mount Sinai Memorial Park, was predeceased by his wife 16 years ago.

He is survived by his daughters Theresa Strom, Joscelyn Kasman and Marilyn Weinrib, his sister Hilda Gould, seven grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. ♦

This article first appeared in the Canadian Jewish News and appears here courtesy of the author. © 2007 by Cynthia Gasner.